By Cyn Bermudez
Esmy attached a second arm to the latest construct, a titanium coil wrapped in a thick synthetic skin. She pierced the skin impatiently with jagged stitches sewn like a lopsided smile. The needle penetrated with ease, and she hoped this time the sutures wouldn’t rip before The Wakening.
The variable sun sat low in the sky. A deep red light poured in through the small rectangular window at the top of the hub — a river of blood and dust that sparkled in its rusted age. The light reflected off the metal band that wrapped around the neck of the construct, its reflection cut by the shadows that moved along the band like dark splinters on zipper teeth. She called them humans, though the constructs needed more than the preservation modules could provide, and she needed to conserve parts. Compromises needed to be made.
“Almost finished, Solly,” Esmy said. She liked the name Solly, even on the nine-hundredth incarnation of its use. “Simple Solly.” Esmy sang as she mounted the lips.
The eyes were an opaque patchwork of cornea and circuits and wires; faux lashes fluttered around the ruby red pupils of stone and glass; they shone like fire in the night, rivaling the crimson glow of the ancient sun. Esmy prepared afternoon tea as she decided on whether hair was an attribute important enough to have. She strived where she could for authenticity.
“Well, it’s not like the theory was widely accepted, Solly.” She tossed strings of twisted fiber to the side. The whistle of the teapot grew louder, roaring as if answering the dry heat that banged against the hub walls. Esmy loved to make tea, though she didn’t drink any. Dried green leaves swirled in hot liquid while vapors of salty-sweet iron and tar escaped into the air, leaves sinking in a whirlpool to the bottom. Esmy bent over, her long metal torso arched high above the kettle, her hand waving to scatter and lift the steam to her nose, the warmth enveloping her spindly fingers.
Esmy propped the construct up; its frame was crooked, one leg longer than the other. Corkscrew fingers scraped along the table.
“There,” she said. “Now you can see.” Esmy opened up the hub enclosure, curved doors that covered windows on the ceiling that overlooked a barren sky, no longer matted by atmosphere. Its firmament was unshielded and angry, matching the parched surface below that cracked and crumbled. “You should have seen it, Solly, the Great Blue in its time. At least I think it was blue.” Esmy rested her chin in the palm of her hand, her fingertips tapped dreamily on the top of her head as they nestled between rooted tendrils of gold and silver.
Esmy had seen a bird once. A large black bird whose eyes were curved around its face like a string of onyx; its black feathers bent light in an oily rainbow reflection. The bird broke through a layer of clouds as it soared through the sky. Esmy had etched the image of the glorious black bird in the partitions of her memory she reserved for such things. Though the memory of the sky and the bird’s fate had eroded away.
She fumbled over a plastic corrugated hose, her three fingers juggling to catch it. She placed the hose into a long, narrow aperture in Solly’s back. Esmy listened with a stethoscope, the ear tips dangled from her neck, the bell rested on the back of Solly’s hand.
“Everything sounds great,” Esmy said. Solly’s chest wobbled, collapsing and expanding as the air pump hissed. “It’s time.”
The sun quaked in the distance. Lights flickered within the hub as parts of ceiling fell to the ground. Esmy hummed. She swept through the building making her preparations, checking the pressure and atmosphere within the hub walls, placing the new construct with the others in a circular room adjacent to Esmy’s lab. Tiered seats nearly reached the vaulted ceiling.
The Wakening began.
Esmy pushed buttons and flipped switches. A chorus of recorded sounds circulated around the room — sounds of woodwind and brass, of percussion and laughter. An ocean of chatter, ghostly and fragmented, echoed in the halls. The Sollys rattled. But just as it started, the celebration waned, and Esmy found herself once again in the quiet aftermath of The Wakening.
In the solitude of her lab, Esmy rummaged for parts to begin again. She hummed her song, “Simple Solly,” when movement caught her attention. One of the earlier constructs wiggled its way toward her, its gangly body twisting as it moved.
“What am I?” The construct reached out for Esmy, its dilapidated hand a mess of metal and faux skin.
“You are Solly.”
Solly fell forward into Esmy’s arms. The curvature of the room wove around them, a parody of the living — fabricated plant life strewn across the walls, models of the human machine shaped in mockery of its evolution. Esmy lifted Solly to her feet.
“Who are you?”
“I am Esmy. Would you like some tea?” She held her hand out, gesturing to the teapot, while Solly tottered around the room — a child-beast. “I preserve. I protect. I awaken.” Esmy answered as if Solly had asked the question.
“Do you understand what’s happening, Esmy?” Memory files pre-programmed to load began slowly permeating Solly’s cybernetic brain.
“I preserve. I protect. I awake—”
“There’s nothing left to preserve.” Solly shifted Esmy’s gaze toward the red sun, to the lonely giant whose last breaths remain long into the night, far beyond the age of humankind. Esmy looked up above the sun to the arid sky and sighed.
“The Great Blue. You should’ve seen it in its time, Solly.” A black bird soared through Esmy’s memory — she knew nothing of the sun and its fuel, of hydrogen depleting in its core, fusing, instead, furiously in its outer layers. “How do you take your tea?” Esmy placed a cup in front of Solly.
Solly trembled quietly, pushing the teacup away.
“Memories of water and sky, of traversing the stars … names and faces and things of my long life — they hold no deeper meaning for me.”
“Did your memory files not fully load?”
“These eyes have not seen the sun, not really, not when it adorned the world in its youth instead of this red monstrosity raging in its old age. I haven’t truly seen the sky when it was blue or when the Earth flowed with oceans and life.”
“You should have seen it in its time, the Great—”
“Why did you do this, Esmy? Why did you create me … only for me to be alone here at the end?”
“Solly, you’re not alone. You have kin.” Esmy pointed her long metal finger toward the room that held the other Sollys, unanimated and empty of life, hundreds upon hundreds of Sollys crafted from parts of the station and scraps of bio-materials and cybernetics left behind in the preservation modules.
“We’re friends,” Solly said. “I remember you now. I made you.” Solly reached up and put her hand on Esmy’s elbow, jagged metal piercing her artificial skin. Her mouth stretched upward into an uneven smile.
“Solly?” Esmy’s eyes sparkled with recognition, and her mouth curved, matching her maker’s. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
Solly’s balance wavered. She tumbled forward, her arms haphazardly out to the side, pumping up and down as she tried to stand straight. Esmy grabbed Solly under her arms and dragged her to the assembly table.
“I want to live, Esmy.” Solly’s eyes fluttered, her breathing slowed, her light dimmed.
“Solly?” Esmy inspected Solly’s body. She pumped her chest, hooked and unhooked devices, replaced parts of heart and cranium, of vestigial kidneys and dross.
The room fell silent. Esmy stood over Solly, pink fluid dripping from her fingers. She stared at down Solly’s form, which mirrored her own — head bowed, body curved. She stayed unmoving, still like the movement of the Earth, until the tea she had poured hardened in its cup, black layers caked into the porcelain interior. Then quietly, she cleared the construct from the table, placing Solly with her kin.
Esmy filled the kettle with water and placed it on the stovetop before moving to the assembly table. She reached into her box of scraps and started on a new construct, first attaching a makeshift spine to a rib cage fashioned out of small drainage pipes. She sewed on the limbs — legs too long for the torso, arms that swung loosely, knuckles that touched the ground. She poked her finger with a needle, pinpoint pressure radiated outwardly. The sutures that held the construct together ripped near one of the arms, baring a shoulder of alloy and wires and fleshy innards, muscles littered with golden spokes.
“Simple Solly,” Esmy sang. She hummed. The teapot whistled, and the ground shook. The variable sun sat low in the sky, a large red star that towered over the horizon, kingly in its girth and age, its red heart raging.
Cyn Bermudez is a contemporary and speculative fiction author. Her work is published or forthcoming in Vines Literary Journal, The Red Line, The Milo Review, and Hemingway’s Playpen. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Riding Light Review. Cyn graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Physics. She is an avid consumer of science fiction and fantasy, an astronomy nerd, and comic con enthusiast. Her bucket list goals include tree camping in Germany.