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Feb 24, 2021

Science Fiction Speculative

You could only see the blinking red light in Perl’s eyes if you looked at them from just the right angle.

Or, if there was a reflective surface somewhere in the room.

It’s why she hated mirrors, they always reflected right back at her, her wires tinging with sour jealousy of all her human companions, red light blinking on and off, machinery whirring, and metal limbs twitching.

Jealousy.

Another emotion she wasn’t supposed to be able to feel, wasn’t supposed to know of.

And yet, as she sat on the luxurious leather seat, she couldn’t help but glare with envy at each person in turn. 

The smiling woman who was talking as she rubbed lotion on her already smooth skin.

The tall man as he pulled a jacket on his shivering body.

The giggling child as she sucked on a small lollipop.

All of them signifying things Perl couldn’t, and would never be able to do.

Her skin was made of expensive material that would never grow dry enough to warrant lotion. She could shift her body temperature however she liked. And her tongue, though very lifelike, would never allow her to taste.

She sat idle, her database automatically scanning them each in turn, small lines of code running in the corner of her vision. Her right index finger twitched and she moved her optics towards it.

That’d been happening a lot lately. Likely a glitch somewhere in her programming.

Rather, another glitch.

She had a whole list of them.

Literally.

The computer in her head wouldn’t let her think of anything rationally without involuntarily storing a list of it. 

The first was that she wasn’t supposed to feel anything.

Joy.

Sadness.

“Would you like anything miss?” 

Perl’s ears adjusted their volume as the attendant spoke. Useless information regarding speech patterns and translations whirred across her vision. She blinked them away.

“Sorry?” Her voice rung back in her own ears. It was not unlike that of a human, but she wasn’t used to having to speak so often.

“I said would you like anything? Refreshments?”

Perl moved her tongue around her mouth, her sensors allowing her to actually feel the touches.

Her body didn’t need food or water anyway.

“No mas-No. Thank you.” She twisted her lips upward in what she hoped looked like a smile. The attendant nodded and moved on. 

Perl blinked long and hard.

Old habits were hard to beat. She’d almost called two people ‘master’ since she’d boarded the ship.

She wiggled her toes in the black boots she’d found last minute. Someone sat in the seat next to her and she didn’t need to look to know they had probably already glued their eyes to their phones. 

Perl didn’t care much for the thin pieces of glass that seemed to break more often than they were used. Besides, she could do anything they did on them in her head. 

To her surprise, when she turned to the side, the person next to her was not on their phone. 

They weren’t even doing anything. They simply stared at the window ahead.

This time, Perl allowed information to cloud her vision.

The average citizen maybe had their name, a couple of photos, and one or two social media profiles online. Perl curiously read as paragraphs of information loaded onto her database. Her fan whirred quietly, and though she knew no one would be able to hear it, she still was bothered by the constant reminders that she wasn’t human.

Before Perl could finish reading a long paragraph about the mysterious person’s career, her volume rose considerably as he began to speak. 

“Do I have something on my face?” His deep voice startled her, and the information scattered, leaving her staring into the face of the man.

“Oh!” Her processor heated slightly, her temperature rising against her will. Perl shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with the feeling.

What was this?

“I’m sorry. No, I was just-well-” The man laughed, and Perl felt herself relax. He had a nice laugh.

Not that she’d heard many before. 

“I’m only joking. I’m Eric, you are?” He stuck his hand out towards her.

Perl only stared at his perfectly real hand for a moment, enthralled by the actual real skin and the knuckles and-

You’re supposed to shake it. 

Something inside her reminded her of the human customs and she felt her processing heat up again as she jerked her arm forward, clasping it together with Eric’s.

“Perl.”

“A pleasure. Wow, your hand is cold.” He rubbed his hand on his jacket when he let go and Perl clenched it in a fist. 

A side effect of having mainly metal limbs, she supposed. And since her temperature was acting up, she felt how it might’ve felt for Eric. Chilly and maybe a little cold. 

Except for her insides, which were still warm.

“It’s beautiful, right?” Eric nodded towards the window, his hands in his pockets.

Perl followed his eyes and stared at the open space in front of them. The stars glittered and information about space began to make its way into her vision. She started reading, interested.

“What’re you doing? Your eyes are moving like you’re reading something.” Eric creased his eyebrows, thinking.

For the second time, the information scattered and Perl blinked. Usually, she could leave it there if she wanted it. She stared at him, her own eyes narrowing.

She shifted in the now uncomfortable leather seat and adjusted her temperatures to room temperature.

She wanted to feel human sometimes. 

“Nothing.” Her programming seemed to scream at her. She wasn’t made to lie. 

Before Eric could dwell on it for too long, the attendant came back around.

“Sir, ma’am, a movie will be playing in about ten minutes in the entertainment room if you’d like to join in,” she said, and before either of them could answer, she’d already moved on. 

Perl eyed Eric. She’d only ever watched one movie in her entire existence. And it was a documentary, all real things that made her want to gouge her optics out and clear her memory storage.

Eric stood up and moved his hand towards Perl.

“Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Perl didn’t let herself think for too long, and allowed Eric to pull her out of her seat. She suddenly felt vulnerable as they walked by people, hand in hand. 

Perl had already downloaded the map of the entire ship and grew anxious as he walked somewhere that was most certainly not the entertainment room. She slipped her hand out of Eric’s and stopped walking.

“Where are we going?” she said, clenching her fist in an attempt to hold in the warmth Eric’s hand had brought.

Eric stopped as well, looking back.

“Can’t watch a movie without snacks!” He walked on and Perl narrowed her eyes, following. They rounded a corner and came to a door, labeled in messy handwriting on a paper taped haphazardly to it, ‘Food’. Eric didn’t hesitate as he turned the knob and walked inside. Perl’s optics brightened to allow her to see in the darkness.  

The room was filled to the brim with boxes.

Eric walked over to a large red cardboard box and pulled out two bags. Perl scanned the label as he handed her one and they filed out.

Popcorn

Images of carnivals with children laughing and movie theaters filled her vision and she blinked them away. 

Food.

“I-I can’t eat this.” Her hand instinctively flew to her mouth.

A glitch? In her voice?

“What, are you on some kind of diet?”

Diet: the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habituall-

Perl blinked. 

“Sorry, I just don’t like...popcorn.” The word tasted different on her metal tongue. She felt almost nostalgic for something she didn’t know of. Would never know of. 

“Aw, fine.” He took the bag from her. 

They walked to the entertainment room, the room farthest from the cockpit and by far the largest. Half the passengers of the ship sat scattered around the room, and Eric and Perl quietly sat down side by side. The large screen remained black until the door closed and something started playing.

Perl watched Eric from the corner of her eye as he ripped open the bag and began eating. His eyes remained fixated on the screen as the movie began to play. Perl did not care to look at the screen. She’d read the title and spoilers had automatically made themselves apparent in her computer. 

She looked everywhere but the screen- the wall, the people, and Eric- all in turn.

Everything bored her until she looked at Eric to see a shiny tear running down his cheek. Perl watched as it slowly fell down his face, dripping onto his shoulders. 

Before she knew it, the movie was over and the lights blinked on. Eric sat in silence and wiped the tear that was still wet on his cheek. Perl rubbed her optics, whose brightness levels were out of control. 

She made eye contact with Eric who smiled slightly.

“Sad movie, no?”

Perl knew that the little boy had died, she knew that left the little girl alone, alone with a father who investigated the dead.

She knew it was sad, all the reviews said so. 

But she’d never know what sadness really was, would she?

“Yeah.”

“An old one though. You’d think they’d have something more recent, what with-you know.” He gestured at everything and Perl understood. 

They were in a state-of-the-art spaceship.

Eric got up, placing his finished popcorn bags on the seat. He walked towards the door, beckoning Perl to follow him. She did, but stopped at the doorway, looking back as a small bot quickly took the bags from his seat. 

Could’ve been her.

The door shut and they were alone in the hallway. 

“You were right, it was fun. Thank you.” Perl looked away from Eric as she said it, her temperatures still acting up. Though she’d set them to room temperature previously, they seemed to ignore her, going too high one moment, and lowering the next.

“You’re welcome Perl.” the way he said her name set her temperature spiking up.

She stood frozen for a moment, recollecting herself, when Eric began to near her.

He placed his hand on her shoulder for a moment.

“Come on, we can stargaze.” He walked on, disappearing around the corner. 

Perl’s hand made its way to her shoulder. 

It was just cool metal pressing on cool metal, with a little crafted skin in between.

It.

She was an it. She wasn’t supposed to be getting smiles aimed at her, wasn’t supposed to have feelings, certainly wasn’t supposed to be watching movies with a random man. A man who thought she was like him.

A human.

But she was no more than the small bot who’d cleaned up, no less than the attendant android floating around the ship.

But she was somehow broken, in the best way.

“Perl?” 

Perl followed the sound of Eric’s voice. He stood where she’d met him, standing in front of the large window. 

“I’m broken.”

“What?”

He looked away from the thousand glittering lights floating around, looked into Perl’s optics. Somehow looked past the red light, past the machinery and into her, somehow knowing her more than she knew herself.

“I think you heard me.” She felt her wires tingling as Eric’s brows furrowed in confusion.

“No, I’m sure I didn’t. You said-”

“I’m broken, Eric.” It was the first time she’d said his name, and her database conjured images of butterflies at its sound. “I’m not supposed to be here.” She whispered, and her right index finger twitched.

“I’ll tell you a secret. Me neither.”

“I’m not real. Don’t you get it?”

“Afraid I don’t.”

Perl squeezed her metal hands into fists at her sides. 

“I-I’m not human.”

Another voice glitch? 

Eric hesitantly smiled.

“Is this some sort of joke? We’re in space and you pretend to be an alien? Perl-”

Perl held her hand up, signifying him to stop. He sighed.

She took his hand and placed it on her chest.

Right where her heart was supposed to be.

“What’s this got to do with….any...thing.”

He pulled his hand back like he’d been electrified. 

“Get it now?”

“Perl.” He drew her name out slowly as if afraid she’d run away.

Perl shook her head. She opened the tiny compartment in her finger that was used to charge her, showing Eric. 

“See?” 

Feelings, feelings, feelings.

She didn’t know how humans dealt with them all, but she had the faint thought that she might’ve been crying if she could’ve.

“Perl, this doesn’t really change much to me. All it does is solve the popcorn thing, I thought you were weird for a hot moment. Who doesn’t like popcorn? Those who can’t taste it, only.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“You don’t care? I’m just lines of code, I’m just programming-”

“Perl, I think you’ve got some sort of glitch then. I don’t think lines of programming are supposed to say things like that. You’ve got more personality than some humans I know. Honest.”

Perl smiled.

He didn’t know the half of it. 

“You think we could stay and watch the stars for a little while?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.”

And as Perl looked at the miles and miles of space ahead, for the first time, her optics remained clear of anything besides the beauty that lay in the real world, not the online.


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27 comments

Rayhan Hidayat
21:05 Feb 24, 2021

Ahh isn’t this just the best prompt? I’m curious to know whether Perl is the name she chose herself or if that was what her manufacturers assigned her. I love how her temperature rises as if she’s blushing, and how it’s so ingrained in her programming to be subservient that she thinks her developing awareness is a glitch. It’s a nice touch of realism. Nice work. No idea what the film is, sorry 😜

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Amany Sayed
21:17 Feb 24, 2021

Isn't it? Hmm, well I suppose she'd have to have given herself it, because generally, I would think she wouldn't have had a real name. Thanks so much! Awww

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Amany Sayed
05:34 Feb 24, 2021

Unoriginal-ish but who cares? If you know the movie they watched based on the description, I love you. Did not mean to write a story this week, thought I wouldn't, but oops, slipped onto the keyboard-

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00:06 Feb 28, 2021

Love it!!! SO creative and unique, and it reminded me of something I could watch at the movies and stuff! I love the inner thoughts you gave her, the pace of the plot was good too! And the character development was really nice too! I loved how you addressed her feelings as time went by, naming them and showing how they made her feel. Eric is such a sweet character! And Perl is sooo interesting! Great job! Keep writing!

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Amany Sayed
01:47 Feb 28, 2021

Thank you!! Thank you so much! Awww, that's such a great compliment! Thank you! Glad you like them and the story! I will :D

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03:59 Feb 28, 2021

Of coursee!

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Amaya Macaulay
03:43 Feb 27, 2021

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. WOW. You dialed up the tension just enough when she was telling Eric about what she was that I sort of braced myself for his response, and then let out a sigh of relief at his reaction. his reaction was a BIT unrealistic, in my opinion maybe he should have more questions that Eric asks Perl after her revelation. Like who made her, how she charges, etc. Humans are naturally curious, and I know personally, I'd still be asking a lot of questions. Maybe make it a bit awkward, Eric trying not to hurt her feelings. Just my s...

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Amany Sayed
03:55 Feb 27, 2021

THANK YOU! Yay, thanks! Haha, I agree, but I think it's okay if stories are a little unrealistic, if they make the reader smile :D Yay, thanks! Oh, I didn't really think of this as romance, but thank you! Yay! Of course! :)

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Amaya Macaulay
03:56 Feb 27, 2021

yeah, that's true. writing is for the reader, after all :) and I like the way Eric takes the news true, I guess it was more of a romance-but-very-dialed-down :) thanks!

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Amaya Macaulay
03:56 Feb 27, 2021

yeah, that's true. writing is for the reader, after all :) and I like the way Eric takes the news true, I guess it was more of a romance-but-very-dialed-down :) thanks!

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Amany Sayed
04:07 Feb 27, 2021

Left you some( a lot) critique!

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Amaya Macaulay
21:48 Feb 26, 2021

i like your bio because it wasn't what i was expecting, but it hit me harder than i ever would've expected from a reedsy bio. i feel the same

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Amany Sayed
22:01 Feb 26, 2021

thank you. your bio made me wince in understanding. it gets better, you'll find people that treat you that way.

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Amaya Macaulay
23:05 Feb 26, 2021

i hope so

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21:19 Feb 24, 2021

OH MY GAWDDDDDDD I LOVE THISSSSS LIKE GEEZ THIS WAS AMAZING WOWWW *deep breath* Okay, dude, fr tho, this was entertaining, beautiful, and frickin’ creative. You hooked me in from of the first line by making me wonder what the narrator was talking about, and you described Perl so, SO well. (Your character building has really improved!) I love the sci-fi hint on this story, with a robot and such. The name is simple, short, and sweet, which I love, and it describes the story quite well. As the story exhilarated, I got more and more obsessed w...

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Amany Sayed
21:24 Feb 24, 2021

AERINNN THANK YOUUU I mean, I wouldn't call it THAT creative, considering it was literally the prompt, but thank you so much. I'm so glad you liked ittttttt Awww, you think soooo, thank youuu ajflaksdfjsdklfjas THANK YOU AERIN ASDFJASKLDFJASLDKFJASDLKFJ WE'LL SEEEEEE

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13:01 Feb 24, 2021

I loved this story! Despite it being in third person, I can feel Perl's perspective and feelings really well, which I find challenging (there's a reason my stories are all in first person). When Perl's temperature is rising, I like to think it's the bots' way of blushing. Eheheheh (Sorry, I turn just about any story into a romance, lol) Great job!!! :)

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Amany Sayed
13:16 Feb 24, 2021

I'm a bit confused since it's third person, but I'll take that as a compliment. Thank you! ;) (...me too...) Thanks!

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13:22 Feb 24, 2021

this is why I don't like give feedback in the mornings, lol. I read things incorrectly!!! Aghhhh I am SO not a morning person XD But lemme revise my top comment. (Read it again.) Ok, that sounds better. ehehehe nice Yw!!!!

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Amany Sayed
13:27 Feb 24, 2021

That makes more sense, and it's what I thought you meant anyway. Thank you!

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13:32 Feb 24, 2021

Np! :)

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Tru Sorcerer
09:32 Mar 09, 2021

This story was awe-inspiring, The characters you build are so amasing, this was a truly amasing read,and the ending was marvelous... Happy today

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Tessa Takzikab
17:48 Mar 04, 2021

I love the way you did this. It's really sweet, although their relationship develops a bit too fast for reality. Then again, by the time this story could happen, maybe that's the speed things go at, right? It's always fascinating to see the way different people portray androids, and I think you did a great job. I consider myself a bit of an android sometimes, which runs the risk of my being insulted by the portrayal of my 'cousins'. You did a great job (probably better than I did) and I could really relate to Perl. There's only thing I hav...

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Arwen Dove
03:16 Feb 26, 2021

I love it!

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Kristin Neubauer
17:14 Feb 25, 2021

Great story! I love how you went into all the details - many that wouldn't have occurred to me - of the human things that Perl was missing in her life. And also how she revealed herself to Eric - I hadn't been expecting that - and that he took it in stride. I hadn't been expecting that either. The way you developed Perl really rounded her out as such an intriguing character to me. Well done yet again!

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Sarah 💜🌸
23:13 Feb 24, 2021

Awwwww I loved this one!

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Amany Sayed
14:14 Feb 25, 2021

I'm glad :D

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