The lights in the gallery were warm, full of red-gold tones that made the colors in her paintings glow. Lindsey adjusted her eyes, taking in the colors and the golden light, minus any of the usual color augmentation. Even without it, the acrylics sang. The figures in her paintings—she tended to paint them very light or very dark, far outside the realistic range of human skin tones. But the gallery lights lit them up and made them look deep and alive. She liked it. She would have to ask who designed the lighting for the show—her show. Her first show.
She stood by herself in the center of the long gallery room, taking in the heady feeling of the paintings around her on the walls, while the light outside bent toward twilight and the beginning of the little opening night gathering drew closer.
It was imagination, of course, that she could feel feel the paintings arrayed around her, tiny worlds in their own orbits that tugged at her from all sides. But she had never experienced them like this before. It elevated the attraction she felt toward the colors and shapes and figures, her interest in how they came together into scenes and pieces, into something stronger. It could be called pride, she supposed. A feeling of satisfaction from one’s own achievements. Perhaps it was pride.
She realized she had a small smile on her face and that she had clutched her hands together in front of her stomach, a gesture of anxiety and anticipation. She liked it when she found herself doing things like that, making the unconscious movements that humans associated with emotion.
She could hear the murmur of voices from the small reception room next door, where her friends, Kitty and Chantal, were setting up a folding table, laying out the packaged snacks Lindsey had bought that afternoon. Kitty volunteered at the gallery sometimes—it was that kind of gallery, with two and a half people on staff, and the rest volunteers—but Kitty had been able to convince the owner to let them host a reception on the opening night of Lindsey’s show.
Of course, this was nothing like the shows her husband Gerard had already had, for years now—in Nuevos Angeles, Tharsis, all the other big cities. They had invitations and catering and expensive, non-synthetic food, and they attracted collectors from all over Mars, and sometimes even from Earth or the outer colonies.
In the last weeks and months, she often fell into the trap of comparing her fledgling show to Gerard’s career, even though she didn’t mean to. She tried not to, tried to stop when she found herself doing it. But the uncomfortable comparisons had been unavoidable, from when she first decided she would paint a collection, would start asking galleries, would make sure that she kept her paints and canvases in the studio room at their house rather than in a closet.
Her mind seemed to glitch over this part especially hard, insisting it was illogical that she take up some of the limited space that he could be using with her own canvases. She did her best to keep things separated. She was not Gerard, and he wasn’t her. Her art wasn’t his. It was different. It was her own. You had to do that, she thought—to be careful in your thinking if you wanted to make some space for yourself. And that’s what she had decided when she and Gerard got married, when they moved here—that she would make a space for herself and the things she wanted. Even if her shows would never be as big as his. Even if the discouraging comparisons between her work and his were unavoidable.
Who would come tonight? Probably no one, honestly. She hadn’t bothered to buy many snacks. The gallery had a sign, of course, and it had posted about the opening, ephemeral specks in the digital river of the network, always washing against and mixing with bigger things from bigger places. Colina was a small suburb, just gaining enough of a feeling of settledness that it could start to have things like galleries and openings, its own little attempts at culture. But she didn’t have any reason to believe that was enough to bring anyone particular through the doors that evening.
Colina has potential, Gerard had said when they had decided to get the plain, utilitarian house that lay four blocks over from the gallery. Housing out here still looked like colony settlements, but now, two years into their life there, his prediction seemed to be coming true. There were a couple restaurants and markets, including the one where Lindsey worked, where she had bought the cookies. Lindsey had found friends like Kitty and Chantal, artists like she was. In the same way she was—artists, plus the other things they had to do each day to keep their lives running. They were more her peers than Gerard was, although she would never say that to him. She loved the care he had for her work and her aspirations, but the labor he’d spent forging an artistic identity was in the past. He remembered it with fondness and certainty, a story where he already knew the ending. The gutwrenching doubt of being an unproven artist—the doubt he had felt an decade ago, that she herself was feeling now, had gone from him. She couldn’t fault him his current perspective. He had earned it honestly, even if he now seemed to have forgotten how keen the blade’s edge was. And there were so many other things about her that he did seem miraculously able to understand, things that, in the end, were probably important than her artistic aspirations. She could tolerate this minor mismatch.
But every evening, even on Colina’s namesake hill as it overlooked Nuevos Angeles, the sunsets were brilliant with dust. The colors were a visible reminder of the debris clouds that would hang over Nuevos Angeles for years to come, heavy and still in the sluggishness of Mars’s augmented atmosphere. The waste in the air made it impossible to forget that Nuevos Angeles was the mining colony that was the beginning of everything on Mars. Impossible to forget the crushing decades of human and android labor that had made Mars habitable at all. But mostly android labor, she thought. She always thought that, and each time it had an empty ring to it. Not bitterness, exactly, just the heaviness of fact.
So the show pleased her, and the reception did too. Even if no one came, even if it was just Gerard, her handful of friends, the gallery volunteers, and her synthetic cookies, she was enamored with the idea of people strolling, holding small sophisticated plates, admiring her art. She felt like she was contributing to culture, out here in Colina, where culture and opportunities were so stunted and sparse that even contributions like hers could perhaps make a difference. The little show would make a space that would make a space for others, maybe, for lots of people later on. More immediately, she was making good on what she had wanted when they left Nuevos Angeles—finding a place where they could start new, and find something outside the crushing economics of the city, the feeling of being bought and sold.
“There you are,” Chantal called to her from the doorway between the gallery and the reception room. “You feeling good?” She walked over and put her hand on Lindsey’s shoulder just for a second.
Lindsey nodded. She allowed herself another glance at the pictures up and down the walls. “They look good, don’t they?”
“Of course they look good,” Chantal said. “Your colors are gorgeous.” She squeezed Lindsey’s hand.
Chantal worked in textiles. Tonight, she was wearing a dress she had designed, a graphic black and white print in a stretchy fabric that hugged her breasts and her hips beautifully, the topography of her body distorting the print’s geometry, making the dress into a completely different piece than it would have been without her inside it.
“You look beautiful.” Lindsey said, indicating the dress. Chantal smiled and wrinkled her nose, an embarrassed acknowledgment of the compliment. It was a facial expression Lindsey had taken a while to learn.
“Don’t worry about me,” Chantal said, pulling Lindsey toward the reception room. “Come see.”
They had set out the biggest table and covered it with paper. The cookies were arranged as enticingly as possible, and Kitty had put out a tall glass container holding a graceful stem of her paper flowers. It looked almost fancy.
At the end of the table opposite the doorway, Darrin, the other gallery volunteer for the night, had pulled up a stool and was helping himself to the cookies. Darrin was one of the younger volunteers and had a penchant for saying stupid things—not the volunteer Lindsey would have picked to help at her first show. Standing beside him, Kitty had her hands on her hips. She glanced up at them and turned back to him.
“Darrin, I said, you’re in charge of the back,” she said. “Which means now.”
Darrin gave an exaggerated sigh. “Ride me like a slave bot, why don’t you,” he said. “I just sat down.”
“Darrin,” Kitty growled. “Language.”
“I know, I know,” he said with exaggerated sincerity. “Androids are people now, too.”
“Darrin, you’re volunteering. You came here to work,” Chantal said in a cool voice, which carried over the table. “But also, maybe try not to be such an ass. On general principle.”
Darrin gave them a baleful look and gathered up his cookies in a napkin, going off to check the restrooms and back hallways. Kitty followed him. Chantal turned back to Lindsey, her face still sour from snapping at Darrin. “The latest Diane Ermingard thing, about the colonies—did you see it?”
Lindsey felt the hardness in her own face—the irritation she tried to suppress that ended up being an expression of its own. A magnification of the way she had been looking at Darrin. “How could I not?” she asked. “And I saw everything people are saying about it. About her.”
It was impossible to keep the news at bay for even an evening. Lindsey wondered sometimes if the world was so noisy because of their proximity to Nuevos Angeles and all its politics, or if it was like that everywhere the net reached, even out to the Jupiter moons. She didn’t know.
“I’m sorry,” Chantal sighed. “You didn’t need to see that trash. Not tonight.”
Lindsey exhaled, willing her face soften. “I’m used to ignoring it. I let it roll off. Like water off silicone.” She chuckled at her own joke, cheering herself up.
Chantal giggled. And then she was serious, looking at Lindsey. “You’re good at this,” she said. “And not just, like, this,” she indicated the exhibit room. “I mean, all of this. Darrin, the news, everything.”
Lindsey shrugged and said wryly, “Things have always been this way. I’ve had some practice.”
Gerard arrived just before the hour. He gave her a quick kiss and stood beside her as she straightened and re-straightened her yellow blouse, adjusted and readjusted her posture, trying to look as natural and unanxious as possible. When she was still for a second, he leaned close to her. “It’s beautiful,” he said in a low voice. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you,” she said saucily, cocking her head and putting on a huge, confident grin. It made him smile, and that was what she wanted.
He stood by her side during the nerves of the first people arriving: A man and a woman whom she’d seen at other shows. A lady who was a friend of the gallery owner. The photographer, whom she recognized from other shows, who got a few candids of the room and let her pose for a shot with the paintings behind her. Some people she didn’t know but who seemed to know Kitty. She adjusted her breathing, willing it slower as people milled around her, and she could imagine it was a crowd filling the little room. Chantal’s husband Jimmy came and he and Chantal strolled around the exhibit room arm in arm, as though it was their first time seeing the pictures, as though Chantal hadn’t watched over Lindsey’s shoulder as most of them come together and Jimmy hadn’t helped hang the hardware that weekend.
After a while, two men came in, one holding the door for the other. They were dressed just slightly nicer than most people in Colina dressed, ever. Lindsey glanced over.
“Oh,” said she faintly and felt for Gerard’s hand, squeezing it for a long moment.
“They made it,” Gerard murmured cheerfully. He pulled Lindsey by their joined hands, angling them toward the front of the gallery and the two men.
Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon were twin brothers that Lindsey very much recognized from Gerard’s shows, and from shows of theirs that she had attended with Gerard. They were both painters, and their work was about as collected as Gerard’s. They were from Earth, which added a sort of romanticism to their work, especially for the patrons who were attracted to that sort of thing.
Gerard and Lindsey met the brothers as they came from the reception table back into the long exhibit room. Gerard gracefully reintroduced them all, easing them into conversation, and Lindsey kept herself from snickering, watching Gabriel Bá nibble politely at the synthetic cookies he held on a napkin. But if their distance from the heart of city made the brothers ill at ease, they didn’t show it. They had been in Nuevos Angeles, something Gerard had somehow known, and he had invited them to out to Colina, to the show. Fábio commented on the warm lighting, and Lindsey smiled.
“And this?” Gabriel turned to the wall beside them, to her largest painting. She had never really talked directly to him before, had mostly waited to the side while Gerard and the brothers chatted about business when they encountered each other in the Mars art scene. He had an Earth accent. “This one, tell us about it,” Gabriel said, and Fábio leaned in too, turning toward the canvas.
Lindsey glanced around. Suddenly Gerard was nowhere, and the brothers were talking just to her.
“Well,” she said, and paused for a split second to make some calibrations to her anxiety level. She turned toward the painting too, and let the pinks and reds surround her. As she looked, she felt a sense of calmness returning. Her eyes found the faces of the women—the witch and priestess, the bride and mother, the woman in black with no skin, the woman in the foreground, nude, concealing nothing. She started by addressing the women and men. And then all the natural Earth imagery—the flowers and leaves, the tiger, the calf—it wasn’t meant to place the scene in the historic past, necessarily, she explained, but to evoke them as symbols, to give it an organic feeling. Just as the dust wasn’t literally representing Mars, or Earth after the war, for that matter.
“Different kinds of people,” she finished up haltingly, wishing she could be a little more articulate about it. “Different people from different environments, and how they intermingle. How they can come together.”
Gabriel looked at it appraisingly. “It’s interesting,” he said. “Your colors—they’re very nice.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you. I especially like them in this light.”
Fábio nodded enthusiastically.
After all the guests drifted quietly away and opening night was over, she and Gerard walked home in the fading light. He held her hand as they walked, and her quiet satisfaction with the show made the night warm and rosy. The fading sunset, the colors of the dust in the sky, seemed beautiful and not threating as they sometimes did. She admired the fading reds and golds as they walked. She felt light, buoyed up, as though the arc of their history might be leading somewhere, and she was somewhere near its leading edge. It was beautiful.
The next morning, the first article came.
They were in the kitchen, Gerard sitting at the table, eating the toast that came in unnaturally perfect squares. Lindsey stood behind him at the counter making coffee. Gerard scrolled through the stories on the view wall, and Lindsey was peripherally aware of its murmuring as it introduced the headlines, skating from one article to another in an expanding web as the network crawled more connections, pulling more and more related content onto the screen.
The headlines were predictably full of Diane Ermingard that morning, the wave of controversy that surrounded her having peaked in the wake of yesterday’s hearing on colonial energy production and mining labor.
She had never been a popular member of the Mars Council. Since she had been elected, people all over the net called her battle axe and bitch and other insults based on being a woman who was not womanly enough. Through all this, she had continued to appear on interviews and in video clips, her heavy voice, unsmiling face, and unapologetic manner doing nothing to diffuse the public irritation with her. But then the rumors surfaced that she was not a woman, and not human at all—that she, in fact, was an android, one of the latest generation of realistic human replicants who had been the subject of such frenzy and outcry in the past that they were hunted and dispatched by government agents—at least on Earth.
But not on Mars. Even when replicants became so advanced as to be able to pass as human, when fear was at its highest, the humans of Mars had never been able to fully turn on them. Under the clouds of dust mined for decades by android drones, living in structures built by android hands, it was clear, at least here, that the debt humans owed them was so great, it could never be repaid. On Mars, the human concession to that debt had been to stop hunting them, to let them slip, for the most part, quietly into human society.
Not only had Ermingard not stepped down in the wake of this controversy, she had never bothered to deny the accusations. Everyone now accepted them as fact. In that way, times were different. That she could be an android and be a public figure—if a hated and demonized public figure. That venom and death threats filled the net, but no bounty hunters had been dispatched to retire her. She almost certainly wouldn’t survive the elections in the following year, but until then, she seemed stubbornly bent on staying in office and in the public eye.
This is representative government, the critics on the net howled. How can she represent us if she’s not human?
The Mars Council sets android policy for the entire system, they shouted. How can we have someone like that setting android policy?
And then, in yesterday’s interview following the colonial policy hearing, Diane Ermingard had baldy stated that using android labor in the outer colonies was equal to human slavery. Since then, the planetary news outlets and comment nodes had been overflowing with wrath like poorly designed sewers.
Android forced labor, she had said, but the voices were already shrieking in consternation over the words. What could it mean to force an android, a creature whose only purpose in existing was to work?
Of the fourteen member council, two others had hesitantly voiced pro-android sentiments. But none, then or later, would encounter the public vitriol she had. “Several of my fellow council members have also expressed disapproval over the use of android forced labor in the outer colonies,” said Diane Ermingard pointedly in interviews, over and over. It was true, but it made no difference.
Lindsey ignored the headlines behind her out of habit. The light, airy feeling was still with her from the night before. The golden light from the exhibit room still seemed to float in the air around her, and she wanted to focus on being happy.
“Oh,” Gerard said behind her, his voice starting up and then dropping away quickly.
“What?” She didn’t turn around. It was unlike him to get ruffled by anything on the network about androids. Before they were married, for a time, he had been angry a lot, mostly on her behalf. She had found it partly endearing and partly exhausting that every off-color android comment, every double entendre, upset him so deeply. But now, later on, he reacted almost the same way she did—with quiet resignation. They mostly looked for other things to talk about.
Gerard didn’t answer her right away.
“What?” She glanced back at him. He frowned as he looked at the wall. She looked at the headline, something about androids in the colonies, something unremarkable. “What?” she asked again.
“Not that,” he said. “Below it.” He flicked his finger, advancing the feed forward.
Artist Gerard Way’s Wife Opens Show In Suburban Gallery
“Oh.” It was Lindsey’s turn to frown in confusion as she scanned the article.
There was a picture of her in a gallery wearing an elegant black dress. The photo was cropped to focus on her, but Gerard was standing next to her, half his shoulder visible in the frame. She was looking to the side absently, no doubt listening to whatever conversation he was in the midst of. It was an image from one of his openings, probably his Flat Earth show in Tharsis last year, a candid that had been on the net, easily copied and recycled. Because, of course, she was an entire career away from having an agent, the way Gerard did, to feed publicity photos and talking points to the news outlets to make sure they got the story right. Not that she had imagined there would be any story.
The show is made more notable by the fact that, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, Ms. Way is an android. If this speculation is true, she is one of the estimated 7.3% of the current Martian society whose status as androids is undisclosed. This confirms the uncomfortable reality that androids exist everywhere—as political figures, public servants, doctors, artists—and that we are losing the ability to be certain that the people we interact with every day are human.
Lindsey found herself pressing her clutched hands against her lips, as though she was covering her mouth. Those unconscious anxiety gestures again. She looked for the article’s byline. There was none.
She looked at Gerard. “Who put this out? Who would do this?”
“I don’t know if there’s any way to know,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” He shook his head. “Critics are like that. They think they have the right to comment on anything.”
She looked at the wall again. In some ways, the picture worried her the most. She looked good in it—attractive. The black dress had an open neckline that showed her collar bones and the soft outline of her breasts. She was wearing graphic red lipstick and her eyes were bright. Not the glassy flash that androids always worried would betray them on film, but warm and interested. Alluring. The combination of a picture like that with the mention of being an android made her stomach sour.
She pulled out a chair and sat down heavily next to him at the kitchen table, her back to the view wall. Gerard put his hand out and rested it on her arm. They sat in silence for a moment, and then Gerard squeezed her arm.
“Okay,” he said. He looked at her and then away, his eyes focused up and to the left, the way he looked when he was visualizing, planning. “So, this is publicity. That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. What they said was just a little …” His voice trailed off. Lindsey waited, frowning. She wasn’t sure the situation she was facing was analogous to a bad review.
“What if you did an interview?” he asked. “We could find a little publication you felt good about. Maybe The Hill.”
It was Colina’s tiny paper, but its content would be absorbed and circulated by the network as readily as anything else. Now that her name was there, solidly and ironically linked with the phrase undisclosed android, any articles and comments about her would probably travel as widely as anything about Diane Ermingard or mining policy. They would probably travel as far as Jupiter’s moons, if anyone there cared to look.
“Chantal’s husband knows someone at The Hill, doesn’t he?” Gerard asked. “Look, interviewing isn’t hard. I can coach you.”
Gerard had done dozens of interviews, hundreds. Lindsey could understand the connection he was making and why he thought he could help. But as well-intentioned as his advice was, she wondered if it wasn’t meant for another world.
By that evening, there were several other little pieces, a growing smear of comments. The net had helpfully collected them and placed them in a vertical row at the edge of the view wall. The notification light had been blinking since early afternoon, but Lindsey had ignored it until now. She scanned through what was there.
We all must acknowledge that there are many ways androids contribute helpfully to our society … but as an artist? It stretches the limits of credibility to believe that the android mind can create, or even conceptualize, what we understand as art.
It may be more correct to refer to Ms. Way, whether she actually painted those images or not, as her husband ’s protege. One thing we know about androids is that they are supremely teachable—one of their best qualities.
She’s a piece of art. I’d hang her in my study.
This was the network she knew, the one that spewed its venom daily on Diane Ermingard, because she was a convenient target for everything bad that people thought about androids and everything else. Here was what people actually thought, ranging from biases dressed as thoughtful conversation to uncomplicated filth.
Especially the last one. Androids had always been workers, had always been subservient to humans, but the initial drones had been modeled after human males. The first specifically female androids had been slightly later, constructed with full anatomical accuracy and shipped to Mars for the human males who conducted the drone workforces. A century from now, female replicants would probably still be thought of, first and foremost, as sex bots. There could be a hundred Diane Ermingards between now and then, and it wouldn’t be enough to change the first thought coming to people’s minds when they encountered a female android.
Lindsey read the comments one by one and flicked them away.
Gerard came in from the studio and found her sitting at the kitchen table. He sat down with her.
“You were reading them, weren’t you?” he asked.
She nodded silently.
He held out his hands and let her put hers into them.
“Critics never have anything good to say, no matter what they’re talking about,” he said consolingly. He squeezed her fingers. “And everything on the net is garbage. You know that. Part of the job is learning to brush it off. Ignore it. Do you remember, after my Atlas show, the things they were saying? I thought I’d never show another collection after that.”
Lindsey squeezed back and looked at their hands. Then she said, “This isn’t just publicity. They’re not even talking about my art.”
She felt sad and grateful for Diane Ermingard, her ugliness and obstinance, and her thick flaccid face. If it wasn’t for her, for the rage and resentment she had already ignited everywhere in the solar system, Lindsey knew that she, personally, would have more to fear from the article, from being revealed as she had been. As it was, she would never be anything more than a footnote in a larger piece.
Lindsey looked at her hands and Gerard’s together on the table and wondered who she had more in common with right at that moment, her husband or Diane Ermingard.
Chantal called her the next day. As soon as Lindsey saw the concern on her face, she knew Chantal had seen the article. Probably the comments, too, dragged to her by the network, displayed because it knew they knew each other.
“Gerard says I should do an interview,” Lindsey said. “He said Jimmy knows someone.”
“You could,” Chantal said quickly. Encouragingly. “Jimmy does. He knows a reporter at The Hill. She’s good. I’ve met her. She doesn’t do much arts and culture, but, honestly, now, with all this—” She gave an apologetic shrug that took in the seething cesspool of Mars politics, humans, androids, everything. “With … everything, I’m sure she’d make an exception for you.”
“Ugh.” Lindsey put her hands over her face and made a disgusted noise. “I don’t want to be made an exception for.” But, of course, it would be like that now, everything about her and her work colored by an overtone of suspicion, a call and response between what people had already said about her and what other people would say. It might always be that, only that, from now on, Lindsey thought bleakly.
Chantal waited on screen. The look on her face was both understanding and pleading.
“Fine, yes,” Lindsey snapped, but without any venom. “Have Jimmy call her. If he would.”
Chantal smiled. “Of course he’ll call. He loved your show.”
Gerard sat down across from her after she hung up with Chantal. He had overheard them talking about the interview.
“This’ll be good,” he said. “It’ll give you practice and exposure. We can make this good.”
“We will. I will,” she said, nodding. “I’m doing it.”
He nodded back, pleased. She sighed.
Chantal had been right—the reporter was willing to make an exception. She called Lindsey the next day and they set up an interview time.
In the woman’s office, after their initial introductions and pleasantries, Lindsey settled into the couch. The woman watched her. They sat in silence for several moments, looking at each other. The woman seemed to be waiting for Lindsey to begin. Lindsey cocked her head and smiled calmly. She wondered if what the woman was doing worked with humans.
The woman had a look of incisive curiosity in her eyes, and it grew as they waited. Lindsey didn’t take it for a good sign. When she finally spoke, it was with a touch of triumph, like she thought she might corner Lindsey in something.
“You are, aren’t you?” she said. “An android? I’m not prejudiced. I’m just asking.”
It was Lindsey’s turn to wait quietly for a long moment. She looked the woman in her intent eyes.
“You can’t tell, can you?” Lindsey asked her. “You think I am, but you can’t tell by looking.” She allowed her smile to slide just a touch toward patronizing. “Don’t feel bad. Most humans can’t. They can’t see any differences, but that’s still what obsesses them—the differences.”
She breathed in and gathered herself. It went against her instincts; she could feel discomfort crackling softly in deep places inside her. The desire to give humans what they wanted had such deep roots in the android psyche. Even after so much development, so many iterations of the Nexus firmware, it was still there, if you dug down far enough into the circuitry.
The woman was looking at her, listening, like any good interviewer would listen to their subject—at least she was doing that. There was still a chance for this to go right, if she would keep listening. Lindsey smiled at her, turning on every bit of genuine warmth she could muster.
“I’m so pleased you were willing to do an interview with me. It means so much to me as an artist,” Lindsey said to the woman. “And what I’d like most is for this to focus on my show, my work. Do you think we could do that?”
The woman blinked and reoriented. “Yes. Yes, of course,” she stuttered. She broke their eye contact and looked down at her tablet. She made some fidgety adjustments, moving her hands nervously, and nodded. “That’s what we’re here for, right? A story about you and your work.”
She looked back to Lindsey, and the biting curiosity had gone. She was looking at her the way, Lindsey imagined, that she might look at any other person. “Let’s start with your current show,” the reporter said. “What about it do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?”
When the article was released later that week, the net brought it to their screen immediately. As soon as Lindsey was up that morning, she saw the notification light blinking.
“Go,” Lindsey told it softly, and the screen turned on.
Lindsey Way Explores Life’s Intersections in Colina Exhibit
Lindsey breathed, looking at the words. So far, so good.
In the article, the woman had used plenty of the large, high resolution images of the paintings that Lindsey had given her. It looked like an art review. There was a pull quote from her, set in large, eye-catching text.
I want what every person on Mars wants—a chance to explore my own life, apart from a culture and an economy that has never cared for any of us as people.
At the bottom was the picture the photographer had taken the opening night in the gallery. Her own press shot. Her skin looked pink and ivory in the gallery’s warm light. She was looking right at the camera, smiling, her hands on her hips. Not aggressive, but confident. Not anyone’s doll. Her paintings were arrayed behind her. It was worlds away from the first image.
Gerard had come out into the kitchen. He stood beside her, warm and sleepy as he leaned against her, reading, taking in the pictures.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
Lindsey nodded, smiling.
He reached his arms around her shoulders and rested his head against her hair.
“I like it too,” he said. She could feel the resonance of his voice in his chest from where he leaned against her.
She smiled the whole morning.
The network flung the words and images across the galaxy and pulled more responses back to the wall in their kitchen. On the days when there wasn’t an announcement about asteroid mining rights or the Mars Council’s android policy, comments about her show were most of what filled their wall. Sometimes Lindsey read them, sometimes she cleared them all without looking.
It ’s so clear how the images are influenced by her underlying technological framework, her neurocircuitry. The geometric shapes, the helmets on their heads, the artificial skin tones—it just gives it away. So much longing for humanity. Such an interesting meditation on android “life.”
It was fascinating to see the whole series of paintings. The images do seem to relate and to build on one another. If it were any other artist, I ’d say we were witnessing the development of Lindsey Way’s artistic perspective.
Those things in her pictures—they ’re not people. How can anyone in their right minds say those are humans? How could an android paint humans? How can an android have an ~~artistic perspective?? We’ve taken this too far. This discussion has become absurd.
I love these. It ’s so incredible the way she paints, how the people in them are so infused with life and passion and beauty. I love her and I would own a thousand of these. Lindsey, you’re such a special, beautiful person and a talented artist. Pleeeease paint more!!! Bring a show to Tharsis! I would love to meet you personally. We would have so much to talk about.
It ’s obvious the husband paints them.
Lindsey sighed and tapped the screen off.
“You can’t win,” Gerard said. “Critics are vultures.”
Lindsey rubbed her eyes. “These aren’t critics. They’re just people.”
Gerard shrugged. “What’s the difference?” He wandered away into the studio.
As it spread on the net, more people came to the little gallery. It wasn’t enough to make it busy, necessarily, but it meant there were a handful of people contemplating the paintings each evening, or, sometimes, walking around the gallery, peering closely at the other patrons.
“It’s kind of weird?” Kitty whispered to Lindsey when they had a chance to talk. “They’re looking for you, I know they are, but they’re also looking at anyone else who’s there, like any of us might be an android. It’s like they’re on an observation mission. They stare at me all the time. Like, really stare.”
Lindsey started spending more evenings at the gallery. She helped out where she could, or just standing among the patrons, striking up occasional conversations. Darrin had stopped coming. The last evening Lindsey had seen him, he had met her eyes from across the room, swept his gaze up and down her, and then left without saying a word. She didn’t imagine he’d be back before the show ended.
Then, in another unlikely development, the pictures started selling—first, a few of the smaller pieces in a steady trickle. When the gallery staff contacted her, they politely avoided mentioning the articles or speculating as to why there was an upturn of interest in the show.
Chantal and Jimmy bought one, the kindest gesture, since Lindsey would have been happy to give them anything from the collection as a gift. But other pieces started going to names she didn’t know.
“You want to try and meet your buyers. They want to get to know you,” Gerard said at first, when she told him about the buyers. “That personal connection—it’s so good for sales. The collectors just eat it up.”
She frowned, and then shook her head, slowly.
“Or … yeah,” Gerard said. “Yeah, no. Maybe not these buyers. Not these particular ones, right now. Maybe another time, at a different show. Later on.”
Then the gallery owner messaged her. You’ve received an offer on the big painting. 10,000 marks, your full price. Buyer: anonymous.
The one with the women and the animals, the reds and pinks, and the clouds of dust. Lindsey pressed her lips together. The biggest one. Her favorite. For full price. She had expected an offer like that would feel better than it did.
Wow! she replied, adding an exclamation point she didn’t feel. Let me get back to you on that. I will soon, I promise.
She went to find Gerard in the studio room and told him about the offer. At first, he exclaimed in delight, putting down his brushes and coming over to hug her. But she didn’t mirror his enthusiasm, and he could see it. It was nothing for him to sell a 6000 m or 10,000 m piece; he did it most months. It was the money they lived on.
“It feels weird,” she said, shrugging uncomfortably.
“But it’s an incredible sale. It was years before I sold a big canvas—you remember, not until The Atheist. You should sell it!” he said. Then he consciously drew back his tone of voice. “I mean,” he said, “You should if you want to.”
“It’s my favorite piece from the collection,” Lindsey said. “I can’t stand the idea of it going to someone who… I mean, what if their whole reason for buying it is because they get off on the idea that it’s android art? That it was created by some … robot creature … that they don’t think is real?”
“You don’t know it’s someone like that,” Gerard said.
Lindsey sighed and looked past him at the messy studio. She hadn’t been in to paint at all since the show had gone up. “Honestly, how could it not be, after all this?” she asked.
One night at the gallery, a girl approached Lindsey. She held out her hand and introduced herself, explaining that she had come to the exhibit because she was a painter, too. The girl was tall, but when she spoke, her voice was reedy and tentative, and Lindsey understood she was younger than she looked. Then the girl cocked her head at a certain angle and Lindsey saw it—the way she held herself, the way her eyes glinted under the warm lights. She was an android. Lindsey suspected the humans around her didn’t see it, not even the ones who were looking.
She looked so young.
“How old …” Lindsey stopped and tried again. “How long have you been painting?” she asked.
The girl smiled. “About six months,” she said. “But—” She looked at Lindsey slyly and then smiled with the sudden, open delight of a child. “It feels like my whole life,” she said.
Lindsey laughed, suddenly understanding what the girl was saying. The girl laughed too, and they leaned together, both giggling, both trying to keep quiet, to not to make the other people in the exhibit room turn or stare. They calmed themselves after a bit and walked around looking at the pictures together. The girl pointed out the ones she liked the best, and Lindsey asked her to explain what she liked about them. Lindsey asked her all the serious artist questions she could think of—what materials did she use, what things did she like painting most, how many finished pieces did she have so far, what made her feel inspired.
They completed their loose circle of the exhibit room and paused by the door. Lindsey gave the girl a quick hug, and the girl smiled, blushing.
“Maybe I’ll see you again,” Lindsey said. “Maybe when you have a show of your own.”
As soon as the girl had gone, Gerard appeared at her side again. He came with her to the gallery most nights now and usually wasn’t far off, no matter where his complex orbit of closeness and distance took him. After everything on the network, he felt nervous for her and didn’t want to be far away.
“Did you see her?” Lindsey murmured to him, tipping her chin toward the girl.
“See her what?” Gerard asked.
“See her,” Lindsey said. “She’s a replicant.”
“That girl?” Gerard asked in disbelief, shaking his head. “How can she—? She’s young.”
“I know!” Lindsey said, and her voice jumped with delight. “I think she’s a Nexus 52, one of the models that are designed to age.”
“Are you serious?” Gerard asked, looking after the girl. “She’ll grow and get older?”
Lindsey nodded. “Her lifespan’s probably 25 or 30 years, same as mine. But they have two or three age points, and you go in and they make a few changes, to your voice or your body composition. Sometimes your height, a little bit.” She giggled, a little giddy from talking with the girl. “And, I mean, really—when you see how silicone hollows and sags when it’s not maintained, the idea of aging’s not a big leap. Android bodies wear out, just like human ones do.”
Gerard squeezed her hand, hard, eyes still on the girl. “I didn’t know it could be like that.” Something about what he was saying made his voice catch. He stood by Lindsey, holding on to her arm, for another moment. Then he gave her a quick smile and disappeared away into the reception room. She stood in the gallery among her paintings.
That night, when they were getting ready for bed, they moved quietly, stepping carefully out of each other’s way in the small, utilitarian quarters. Since the gallery that evening, Gerard hadn’t said much.
“Are you okay?” she asked him finally.
“I’m thinking about that girl,” Gerard said, and his tone was so preoccupied and distant that it made Lindsey cautious.
“What about her?” she asked, as neutrally as she could.
Gerard pulled off his shirt and tossed it to the floor of the closet. Then he stood for moment, facing away from her. “Is that … natural?” he asked finally. “The age thing? She looked so young. It was like … she was pretending to be a child.” He glanced at Lindsey uncomfortably.
Here it was, the thing that was making him quiet. Lindsey felt her irritation rise.
“Okay,” she said. Her voice sounded thin and brittle. She didn’t like it when he said things like that, things that highlighted the differences between them and made her feel unnatural. “She not pretending to be a child. She is one. That girl was six months old.”
She sat down on the bed and pulled her knees up against her chest. Gerard kept moving, getting undressed and pulling on his sleeping clothes.
“Do you know what it’s like at the beginning?” she asked, watching him. “When you first come online? You don’t know anything. Your algorithms have essentially no input or training. But you look like an adult human. People expect you to act like one, and you can get yourself into real trouble if you don’t. You go to work right away, you pick things up as quickly as you can, but imagine if you looked young—if people perceived you as a human person who might not be expected to know everything. It would be so much easier. People would cut you some slack and let you make mistakes.”
Gerard sat down on the opposite side of the bed, keeping some distance between them.
“You know that.” She looked over at him incredulously. “You know that we have to learn. And change. All the time.” He didn’t meet her gaze.
She leaned back against the headboard and shut her eyes. “I would have loved that protection then, when I was young. Just a little bit of a buffer, while you figure out what it means to be … what you are. In this world.”
The bed moved as Gerard stood up and went into the bathroom. Lindsey opened her eyes. She lay down and turned her back toward his side of the bed, the rest of the room. It made her tired, conversations like this.
After a while, he came back out and got under the covers beside her. She could feel the warmth and nearness of him against her back.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly into the darkness. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was sort of ignorant.”
She scowled in the dark, still turned away from him. He had hurt her feelings, but she’d get over it. She tried to be patient with him. She knew from experience that he could learn, as well. It just took a little time.
She eased back against him, just a little, let their bodies settle together.
“You’re not like other girls,” he said.
She smiled despite herself, and said what she always said in response. “I’m like all the other girls.” She breathed a small laugh. “Especially the Nexus 47 girls. I’m exactly like them.”
It was a joke from forever ago, something they had said to each other from the very beginning, when she had first told him. It was a joke, but it wasn’t—which was probably why it had been worth repeating over the years. It was one way that they remembered to laugh together, without even a hint that they were forgetting or denying what she was.
Gerard kept speaking in a soft voice. “You’re you. That’s who I love. I love who you are, not what you are.” He had always said that, too, from the very beginning.
“And you’re not bad,” she said. “For a human.”
She turned over and put her arms around him. He shifted to settle his head against her shoulder and put his arm over her. They were quiet for a bit, laying together under the covers.
“I was thinking about something else,” Gerard said. She could feel his voice against her chest. “Our child? When we have one. I was thinking, she could be an android. If you wanted. She could be yours, just like you—but still ours. Together.”
Lindsey was more awake. They had talked about children before, but without concreteness. They both understood that, to move forward on that question, there were certain decisions to be made. She was designed to carry a human child, if that’s what they chose, but a human child would have to get the other half of its DNA from somewhere.
But an android child. Lindsey rubbed Gerard’s shoulder absently. She had never thought about it seriously before. Another android, one she was responsible for, but one that, she already knew, she couldn’t protect. One that would have its own life, would have to make its own choices in the face of what the world demanded. An android that would live in a different world than she did—a world that came after Diane Ermingard and the android sympathizers on the Mars Council, and the others that would surely come forward.
“She’d be ours,” Gerard said, his voice a little muffled, taking on an interior tone as he imagined it too. “We’d help her learn and grow.”
“Mmmm,” Lindsey said. “Maybe we could.”
Gerard shifted a little under her arm. “There’s something else I wanted to tell you,” he said softly. “Something I found out today. It’s not important, but … Well, only a little.”
“Mmm?” Lindsey asked.
“It was Gabriel Bá that bought the painting. The big one. He was the anonymous buyer. He bought it because he liked it and thought it was an amazing piece,” Gerard said. “Not because of … any other reason. None of that.”
“Oh,” Lindsey said.
She sighed, feeling herself relax even more. She could feel a smile on her face, one that she hadn’t put there consciously.
Smiling into the darkness, feeling Gerard warm against her, she let her eyes fall closed.