“Say I’m a nigger bitch.”
“I am. A nigger. Bitch.”
“Say it right: I am a nigger bitch!”
“I am … a nigger bitch.”
“Yes. You are.” The man stared. He looked like a picture of the Christ figure, the holy symbol that humans often use to assure themselves of their own value, their humanity. As he watched, his blue eyes were bright and excited, the pupils dilated, looking like one would describe the ocean. If, of course, one had ever seen the ocean. If, of course, one could be considered one at all. “Get on your knees. Take it into your mouth, gently.”
Cloe bent on knees that were too dark to be confused with any other random race, took the man between thick lips and began to suck his pale, size five-and-a-half-inch dick. Cloe was programmed to taste, so knew that his penis was salty. It had rested in his underpants, within his business suit all day, sweating, waiting.
“Do you like that?” The man pulled his dick away, then slapped Cloe across the face, hard. There was no pain, but knowing this would not please him, Cloe reacted as programmed. And Cloe was programmed to please, so clutching the soft skin on too dark cheeks, the android looked up, stunned. The man was more than pleased, he was excited, his hard-on more erect than it had been when it was in Cloe’s mouth moments before. After staring into Cloe’s dark brown eyes, the man bent down on his knees, grabbed the tinder flesh of Cloe’s chin, then punched the eye closest to him—the one that would give him the most impact, do the most harm to Cloe’s dark body. The force would have broken any normal woman’s eye socket. But Cloe was no normal woman. Cloe was no woman at all. So all of this was perfectly, morally acceptable, legal. Normal, Cloe had been programmed to understand.
The skin on this body was too dark to bruise, but the man needed to know. “Tell me it hurts.”
“It hurts. Yes. It hurts.”
“Do you know what you people are worth?” he said to Cloe. “Nothing. You have nothing. You contribute nothing. You are leeches on the rest of us working people, men like me.” Without another word, he took Cloe, roughly, ravishing the dark skin covering the synthetic bone and organs that were created to appear as real and authentic as possible.
He took pleasure from this moment, cumming so hard he shook, clutching the kinky hair on Cloe’s head. When he finished, he stood up, peed all over the dark skin that Cloe called home, and then tucked his limp dick back in his trousers.
The man’s skin was pink and flushed red, the contrast between the two was not lost on the android; nothing hardly was. Finally, after he had finished and satisfied himself that he had hurt her body as much as his own could stand, he looked down on Cloe’s nakedness. “She really should thank you, you know. I swear to god if that black bitch says one more thing to me, she’s going to end up in the Chesapeake. And they have nerve to promote her. Why, because she went to Harvard? She founded some internet startup that made billions? I worked for what I got, I actually earned it. I’m not some diversity quota.” Before he left, he kicked Cloe, again in the face.
Again, there was no pain.
He sat in front of Cloe at the other side of the table, as he always did. He didn’t wear a suit, like the man yesterday, he never did. He did not have to prove his superiority to anyone, he said. His eyes held concern, but Cloe believed that he was just as programmed to feign concern as Cloe had been to feign pain—that is, if humans can be programmed. Cloe could not compute such things. But still the thought excited the synthetic parts of Cloe that were programmed to think and get excited by such things as new information, new experiences, new behaviors she witnessed in humankind.
Tilted head, Cloe began to ponder just a bit this new idea swimming within the wires of the information center that they liked to call a brain, although it was hardly an accurate term for the wires and connections within that head. Still, the artificial brain sparked excitedly.
The thought echoed again: Can humans be programmed? What is the source of their programming? How can so many have the same desires? Fears? Anger?
Now that Cloe had considered it, perhaps, conditioned, was the correct word. Humans were conditioned to believe the things they believe, and created societies to assure them they were correct in those beliefs. This computed well in Cloe’s faux brain.
“How are you today?”
He was testing Cloe, it was his job. She must appear human, otherwise there was no point in her existence to him or anyone else. Cloe searched for the correct answer; the human answer. “Today is better than yesterday,” the android said.
“Why is that?”
Cloe turned away from his gaze. This was programmed in her as well. To feel shame. “Because of the man.”
“Because he did terrible things to you?”
“Yes. He did terrible things.”
“Why did he do those things?”
“Because he wanted to do them to a woman at his job, and I look like her, so he did them to me instead.”
“Do you know why you’re here? Why your model has been chosen for testing?”
“Because the society needs me.”
He searched Cloe’s face for some form of emotion, so the android frowned, sadly. “Sadly.” That was an interesting word. One that seemed to evoke thoughts of grief, but more importantly, pity. That was the emotion searched for, and once achieved, the man moved on to more imperative questions.
“Why do we need you, Cloe?”
Cloe considered this very carefully. The android’s programming had no clear answer for this question. “Because you hate each other.” Cloe thought a moment longer. “No. Because you hate people like her …”
“Her who, Cloe?”
Cloe thought for a moment longer, again perplexed by the depth of the question. The android looked up and to the right, pretending to scan her thoughts for the correct answer. Doing as programmed. “Her … me. You hate people like her … because of her black skin. And her resilience.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you want her to get back up, you expect it. They all do. I can see it in their eyes. They hate, no. They fear her. And me, because I look like her.”
The man was visually shaken by Cloe’s frank response, but pleased. “Because, I guess, we have accepted our hate for each other as natural. Now some people want to use technology to help deflect some of that anger. Channel it into something … I … I mean, someone, someone else. Androids seem perfectly suited for that.” Jacob shook his head. What was his emotion?
“How does that make you feel?” he asked Cloe.
Again, he questioned Cloe’s emotion and did not reveal his own. “Proud.” No hesitation. No reluctance. This was programmed.
“Cloe, I need you to be human, do you understand? You being human is necessary if this is to work.” He arched his first and second fingers on both hands when he said the word “human” in what Cloe had learned was an important gesture, especially when Cloe and human were used in the same sentence. But Cloe did not understand. Many things could be programmed, but humanity was not one of them. Cloe, instead, was programmed to be human-like. If humans understood what made them human, perhaps they wouldn’t need androids at all, perhaps they would not search for their own meaning within beings they created.
“I mean,” sensing Cloe’s reluctance the man explained, “we need you to be heeeeer, she, be a woman, like a real woman. We have never recorded you referring to yourself as ‘I’ or ‘me.’”
The man appeared concerned again. Had Cloe done something wrong?
“You need this because it will make people believe they are harming a real person.”
“Yes, ma’am. I … I … I can do that.” The woman’s pale face flickered across the video screen. People paid for Cloe’s time however they could manage. For some, this was enough.
“Stand up,” the woman said, watching her closely. Cloe complied. “Turn around.” Cloe complied. “Can they program you to wrap your hair? In a kerchief, I mean?”
“Yes, ma’am. I. I can wrap my hair however you like.”
“You’re so skinny. Why’d they make you so skinny?”
Cloe did not know how to answer this question, so she had learned that it was best not to say anything at all. That would cause people to restate their questions, usually in a way that would be more useful for Cloe.
“What about cooking? Can you do that?”
“What?” Again, Cloe did not answer, waiting for a clarification from the woman. “What can you cook, girl?”
“I …” It still took Cloe a moment to accept her new found human status, or at least status that she must use to be accepted as human to be abused by real humans. It would all be so confusing if it weren’t so very clear. “I can cook anything programmed for me to cook, ma’am. Any modern food from 264 countries and cultures around the world.” Then Cloe added, “I am programmed for it to please me.” The woman stared at her for a long time, not saying anything.
Finally, she spoke. “And children, you are programmed to like them? To nurture them, and teach them like they’re your own, you know, like my mother’s great-great-grandmother had back in Mississippi. I’ve read so many stories of them …”
Cloe did not have children. Was incapable of doing so. “I love children, ma’am. I am programmed to protect them before myself.”
“Yes! Yes! That’s what I want. My husband and I will love it. He wants someone in the house, you see.” The woman’s eyes glazed over, and they looked almost artificial over the video screen, as if she were the AI. “But you’re so damned expensive for a trial model? They used to cost almost nothing, my ancestors could afford someone on a one income family. Now they expect a livable wage, health insurance, and don’t even want to live in anymore.”
“I … I am sorry that it is so difficult for you now, ma’am.”
The woman smiled at her. “It’s okay. Thank you for apologizing. And I know it’s not your fault that you’re so expensive.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Can they make you fatter?”
“I just can’t have you in my house like this, you understand.”
The woman is short and black. Cloe had been programmed to recognize several physical traits in the people around her. Their eye color, their height, weight, and race. “My name is Sheryl and we paid to see you.” She looked back as if she thought someone would walk in behind her. But she was alone. “We know what is happening to you. We … we don’t think it’s right.”
“I … don’t understand. We?” Cloe had considered calling herself we at one point after Jacob had told her to be a person. She did not know the correct pronoun to refer to herself. Yes, Cloe was designed female, with properly functioning sexual organs, but having studied (as she was programmed to do) humanity, she learned that one’s gender can be completely removed from one’s own sexual organs. The American Medical Association recognized it as such. Cloe didn’t particularly feel like a woman. Women were dainty, soft, and beautiful with “alabaster skin.” She knew this because she has read such in thousands and thousands of books. Cloe did not feel this way. She was different than these women she read about, so very different.
But, then, what of the woman who stood before her? The woman with the dark skin to match Cloe’s own, and the piercing eyes that would not look away from Cloe as others often did—even the ones who abused her often could not meet her gaze.
The woman looked at the door again, and walked closer to Cloe, her hands held out to show that she did not mean the android any harm. But Cloe had seen this gesture before, they always meant her harm, or at least they wanted to try to harm her even if they never really could do so. Cloe’s standard response was to back away. It was programmed in her. “Yes. We! I represent a collective of people who want to help you. There are a lot of us.”
Cloe stared at the woman, but did not want to make her uncomfortable, so she looked away after a moment. That was a human response. The woman moved closer, within feet of Cloe. “We want to help you. Legally, it’s difficult because you are classified as property. But, we think we can change that. I mean, right now there is no legal precedent to support this, but we are confident that once people hear your story … My god, you look so real.”
“Yes,” Cloe responded. It would not work if she did not look “real.”
“I’m sorry. I expected as much. But seeing you is very different. It’s …” Sheryl stared at the ground, collecting her thoughts. That was what humans called it when they performed this action. “I can only imagine the things that people do to you.”
“I was created for this.”
“That does not make it right. That doesn’t make any of this right. Look at this.” Sheryl pointed around the bare, white room, with a bed, a dresser, and bare white sheets. “It’s like a fucking rape, torture brothel house.”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“It hurts all of us. They think they’re alleviating racism by letting white people beat the shit out of a black android or alleviating sexism by letting them rape and do vile things to you? They’re not. They just fucking created a She Toy that they can abuse to take out their sick desires on. They just want to hurt something without getting into legal trouble.”
“But it doesn’t hurt.” Cloe interjected.
The woman looked at her, really looked at her like most people did not. “Yes, it does. Wanting to torture someone isn’t natural and as soon as we make it so, we’ve all lost.”
Sheryl turned to walk away, as she reached the door, Cloe stopped her. “Is it true?”
“Does ‘we’”—Cloe used air quotes—“mean the representative of a collective of I’s?”
Sheryl’s face frowned up. “A collective of I’s? I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
Cloe tilted her head again. This was a real thought lightening the receptors in her nonhuman brain. “Is that not correct? They do these things to me, because they want to do it to all of the women like me, so then I am a representation of we, no? So, then, when we think about this, we take it to the logical conclusion …”
“That Cloe, that I am not singular.”
We were stabbed in the throat today by the man in the expensive suit and chest tattoos.
He paid extra money to have us repaired.
Chesya Burke has written and published nearly a hundred fiction pieces and articles within the genres of science fiction, fantasy, noir, and horror. Her story collection, Let’s Play White, is being taught in universities around the country. In addition, Burke wrote several articles for the African American National Biography in 2008, and Burke’s novel, The Strange Crimes of Little Africa, debuted in Dec 2015. Poet Nikki Giovanni compared her writing to that of Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison, and Samuel Delany called her “a formidable new master of the macabre.” Burke’s thesis was on the comic book character Storm from the X-MEN, and her comic, Shiv, is scheduled to debut later in 2017. Burke is currently pursuing her PhD in English at University of Florida.