***Disclaimer - this story is based on the original little mermaid story, so trigger warning for suicide at the end.***
“She looked at the sharp knife and again turned her eyes toward the Prince, who in his sleep murmured the name of his bride. His thoughts were all for her, and the knife blade trembled in the mermaid's hand. But then she flung it from her, far out over the waves. Where it fell the waves were red, as if bubbles of blood seethed in the water. With eyes already glazing she looked once more at the Prince, hurled herself over the bulwarks into the sea, and felt her body dissolve in foam.”
In the old stories, there were messages. All sorts of people could read them and see different messages, but they were still there, nonetheless. Stories used to make people think, the way they did in reality. They used to show people a glimpse into another’s mind, something no person was able to truly do. Now, they were merely tools in the greater scheme of things, a way to understand the world as we see it without having their own view.
No one writes stories, not anymore. It’s hard to even find a person who’ll read a good story. You would think that with more and more people spanned out across the universe that they would be more accessible, but no. They’re just there as evidence of a past few see the existence of.
Then again, there are those who cannot read or write altogether. Who are not human, and can know exactly what's going on in another being’s mind through pure speculation. They are closer to what stories themselves are - creations. The creations of humanity, for better or worse.
Our protagonist is one of such creations, and in that sense is quite like a story. While in the distant past she would be considered a work of art, a masterpiece, even - now she is barely seen, barely acknowledged, yet always there. Our protagonist is an android, and a small one at that. She is called Eleni, or torch, because she was created to shed light on the world.
She is one of the few beings in the galaxy that has access to the old stories that people used to tell, back when even the idea of something like her was purely speculation.
And there’s one more thing about Eleni that’s like a story - she would die as soon as technology advanced again.
As people stomped their feet and shook their bodies in a process Eleni knew to be dancing, our protagonist hovered her own shiny bright body across the floor, looking across the room for the ship’s latest arrival.
While the spaceship Eleni was stationed at usually picked up people of some sort from each colony, they were typically much older than the one in front of her. People at the end of their lifespans, ready to see a fraction of the universe before they died, like the majority of their colonies eventually would. However, the man in front of Eleni was just a boy, perhaps in his late teens. He was dancing cordially with a girl who looked around the same age.
While this was Eleni’s first glimpse of the boy, she knew the girl very well. Penelope Mirai of Earth, though she had been born and raised on the ship. Of course, Penelope had never glanced her way once, at least that Eleni knew of, but she was still well known as the child of Captain Mirai, one of the few born on Earth on the entire ship.
She was smiling, something Eleni herself was incapable of doing, as she clung onto the boy. He matched her smile as the music changed to a slower tempo.
“May I lead?” the boy asked Penelope, one arm outstretched while the other lay by his side. Penelope giggled, matching his arm position. “But of course,” she replied, tucking her long golden hair behind her ear. “That is typically the man’s role during a dance.”
“I heard that on Earth, it’s fairly equal,” the boy said, his eyes fixated on Penelope. “You are from Earth, correct?”
“I am originally,” she responded. “But this is the only life I’ve ever known. Jumping from planet to planet, colony to colony.”
The boy frowned. “That sounds either absolutely horrid or like the most exciting experience one could have.”
Penelope laughed. “Oh, it certainly is both of those. Everyone I have to keep me company is either extremely old, or not really alive.” Here, she gestured towards the shocked Eleni. It was a very rare occurrence for anyone to notice her, and even rarer if they were simply having a conversation about casual things, not helping out with the heavy lifting on the ship or directing orders. It shocked Eleni so much that she hovered away from the two humans and into a corner across the room, before her curiosity got the better of her about Penelope and the new boy.
“I’d love to see Earth,” the boy said, his eyes drifting from Penelope to the large window behind the dancers. “You’re lucky to be from there, even if you’ve never been.”
Penelope smiled again, showing her beautifully polished teeth. “Lucky to you, perhaps,” she replied. “But not to me. Had I been born to any other person on this ship, I would have a home to visit and travel back to. But alas, I am the captain’s daughter.”
“And the future captain, I hear,” the boy said, with a glint in his eye. If she could, Eleni would have frowned. This was not a development she was aware of about Penelope. She assumed that they would drop her off somewhere closer to Earth when she came of age and the next captain would be voted on, like the current one was.
“Yes, yes,” Penelope replied. “So much responsibility.”
The boy laughed again, his mouth quivering as he started to speak some more, but was quickly interrupted by the captain’s loud announcements ending the party. Eleni hovered back into the corner, as the new guests and crew members crowded out of the room, their chants and cries echoing through the halls of the ship.
“Penelope!” the boy called out towards the girl, his eyes wide with curiosity. “Would you meet me back here later?”
Penelope turned back towards the boy, a faint smile coming across her face, her eyes twinkling. “Of course, Amir,” she said, as Eleni quickly recorded the boy’s name into her mental database. “I’d be delighted to.”
With one final exchange of smiles, the two parted, Penelope following her father to the control room, Eleni assumed, and Amir staying behind in the great ballroom. Androids scattered about across the room, cleaning up leftover cups and plates from the party. While holding a paper cup, Eleni stopped in her place yet again to watch the boy patiently waiting by the end of the room. His eyes were fixated on the door, as if he was waiting on Penelope to come back at any second, to dance with him more as they spoke about responsibility and Earth.
Suddenly, Amir turned his head to the left, in Eleni’s direction. “What are you looking at?” he asked, nodding his head at Eleni.
But alas, the poor android could do nothing but beep.
“Oh, you don’t speak,” he said, knowingly. “We have some androids like that at home. Well, not home anymore, I suppose.”
Eleni nodded. The boy had come from a colony down in deep space. Of course he would be used to his androids speaking.
The boy smiled. “You understand me, though. Hello. I’m Amir.”
Eleni pointed to the identification tag on her chest.
“El - lay - nee,” Amir slowly articulated, “Hey, that’s a Greek name.”
Eleni nodded again.
“You know,” Amir said, his eyes widening. “The Greeks used to tell stories about gods and goddesses and great heroes.”
Curiously, Eleni nodded for the third time. Not many people even mention the old stories, especially not after hearing a name. Names were purely for identification, not anything more. Just like stories were pure spectacle with nothing to take out of them.
“Penelope has a Greek name too, you know,” he said, his voice growing softer. “She was the wife of Odysseus in an ancient poem called The Odyssey.”
I know, Eleni thought desperately to herself. And Eleni is another name for Helen of Troy. However, all that came out were beeps.
Amir’s eyes glanced away from Eleni and instead at the large clock on the wall, then back at the door. “She isn’t coming back, is she?” he said, his voice faltering. Eleni shrugged as best she could, then let out a few more beeps. I don’t know. She might still come.
But of course, the boy couldn’t understand her.
“Oh, of course she won’t,” he said, crestfallen. “It was ridiculous of me to even think she would.”
Beep. No it wasn’t.
“I mean, look at me,” he said, his eyes falling to the ground. “I’m talking to an android that can’t even reply.”
Beep. I can understand, though.
Eleni started to feel something towards the boy in this moment, something more than just curiosity. Perhaps it was just pity, but even pity is a human emotion. Even pity was something she wasn’t supposed to feel.
Beep. It’s not your fault.
Beep. You shouldn’t suffer on account of someone else’s shortcomings.
Beep. If you love someone, let them go.
But of course, Amir couldn’t hear a word. Still looking down, the boy sighed. “I don’t even know if I love her, Eleni. Is she even worth waiting for?”
The android blinked. It had been so long since Eleni had been asked a question by a human, let alone being opened up to through that question. She would treasure this experience for a long time.
Beep. I don’t know, Amir.
Beep. I wish you could hear me.
Beep. I wish I could tell you that she isn’t worth it.
Amir glanced back up at the door again. “Perhaps she’s on her way now,” he said, his eyes brightening at the prospect.
Eleni sighed, then nodded. It wasn’t what she believed, but it was what Amir needed to hear. Agreement. Hope.
“Well, thank you, Eleni,” Amir said, turning towards the android. “I think I’m going to go look for Penelope now.”
Beep. Goodbye, Amir.
The boy sighed, as he walked out the large door he had been staring at all evening. Eleni sighed with him. Perhaps he would find Penelope eventually. But it had been hours, and she hadn’t bothered to show up.
Amir deserved better. He deserved someone more...human.
And yet, that was the one thing Eleni couldn’t give him.
Eleni followed out the door behind him, scurrying through the halls of the ship, looking for her own little piece of humanity she had left. A small corridor leading to the outside. Where people exited the ship for good.
Where Amir had entered just around a day ago.
Eleni opened the door carefully, making sure not to let too much air into the ship. With one final fake breath in, she flung herself out the door, into the emptiness of space.