When the robots came, we did not know they were robots.
I was culled years later, when the myths of their rule on my planet had already overtaken fact. I was 19 and clever, but confident I was going to die.
I was brought into the city in the hold of a transport ship. Through the bars I could see their migration, or formation for war. We didn't know. There were massive, golemlike Stalkers - high as skyscrapers - remote controlled and used to pick the urban landscapes clean of hiders. These guarded the Cullships, floating barges for bodies. The robots made no distinction between dead and alive until you didn't follow orders. They didn't understand disease. The Cullships reeked.
The human-sized robots were skinned, with hair and clothes, but their thin-lipped mouths did not move to talk or eat. Their eyes were replaced by a strip of smoky glass - a screen embedded in an expressionless face. Their hands fell lifeless at their sides - they gave orders telepathically. No force necessary. If you refused, your body simply stopped working and you fell to the ground. Dead or asleep, the ones who watched never wanted to know.
I was lucky because I was pretty. I had three silly boyfriends back in my bumfuck town and, it seemed, the robots had a taste for beauty, too.
Off the Cullship, they shuffled us underground and through corridors. I was ordered into a room crammed with people. It looked like it had been a worker's dorm - a small bed, a tiny closet, a set of drawers with people sleeping everywhere, huddled together and probably wishing they would wake up from this robot dream.
I was given orders to be ready in my suit in an hour, so I didn't sleep. Being late was reason enough to be frozen, and my whole mind was occupied by staying alive.
In less than an hour, I stood by the door in my suit - a dark blue sack that was one size doesn't exactly fit all. I remember thinking how funny it was that my vanity was a bit injured by being forced to look ugly.
More crowds, lines, corridors, and I was thrown in with two other girls about my age. We didn't talk.
Halted for a second in front of a glass wall, streams of blue suits on the other side plodded in the opposite direction. An old man, in a fuzzy gray sweater, backpack and glasses stopped and stared. He was so bold and without fear that I should have guessed he was with them, but at the time I thought it was endearing in a cute, lecherous kind of way. He looked at me, and then the girl to my left and to my right, and back at me. Then he looked at the warden and mouthed some words to her through the glass. He scanned the three of us again and then walked off.
The warden pulled us out of line and ordered us into a small side room with a huge bath tub, told us to wash up and to be ready in six hours. Sleep! I was ecstatic. After a quick discussion with Sophie and Jamilla, we agreed to bathe and sleep in shifts. When my skin hit the water, I felt my whole body sigh with relief. I hadn't been warm in days and I could not have imagined being lucky enough to be clean, too. I figured I'd already be dead.
When the warden came back, she was alone. She lead us into a much fancier area of the complex. The corridors were marble and carved or mirrored glass rather than concrete, and we began to see brightly lit signs and doorways, like a city shopping center. Through a curving, glass enclosed staircase we went down - passing a sign in vibrant red light that said "Men of a certain age."
When we came to the bottom, we were in some kind of store, with no sales clerks or other shoppers. The warden ordered us to "shop and have fun." We looked at each other, questioning it, for a moment. Was this some kind of trick? Or was this robot empire a paradise instead of the nightmare?
Sophie was the first to crack - she squealed with a giddy, silly abandon and ran into the racks of clothes. What else was there to do? Better to shriek and enjoy it now than think about the horrors that awaited. We had no choice, and no control anyway.
We tried on clothes for what seemed like hours, flattering each other mercilessly and running around like headless chickens. The warden stood by the stairs, watching or not watching. Who could tell?
Sophie was the first to find the lingerie. She came dancing out in some frilly white thing and pranced around, doing a childish impression of a sexy strip show. Jamilla, jealous, ran into the rack and found her own vampy gear. I watched as the warden turned her head almost imperceptibly to follow them, her eye screen seemingly focused on the scantily clad girls. I thought it best to follow suit.
It took a long time for me to find what I was looking for, and when I came out - dominatrix diva all the way to the whip - I saw the old, sweatered man stop at the top of the last step. I watched his hungry eyes sweep over the girls and lock on me. His eyes moved over every curve, saliva gathering in the creases of his softly muttering mouth. When his gaze finally met mine, I could see anger and excitement in his expression. Could almost read as, "this one will be the most fun to tame," telegraphed across his mind. I smiled wide, opening my lips just so and dropping my eyes. Playing the docile, dirty girl always did it for the old men in town, why not this one?
When I raised my eyes again, he was gone. The warden ordered us up the stairs. Sophie stopped, "what about our clothes? I don't want to walk around in this!" The warden's face didn't flinch. And, still across the room, I could see Jamilla touch Sophie's arm softly and whisper something. But Sophie was unhinged and she understood what was coming, but her mouth just wouldn't shut. Under her breath the words flowed, but the fear forced the volume up and out, and before we could make her stop, she was screaming "...can't make me! I will never, never, never go with that old man! You can't make..."
She went rigid and dropped to the floor like a board. In what felt like three strides I was at Jamilla's side, hands on her shoulders, pushing her towards the stairs. The whole time whispering "Jamilla, do not scream. Do not refuse. Keep walking and everything will be ok."
In the past...
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