Science Fiction Fiction Speculative

Unit 8X doesn’t know how long it’s been waiting. It’s easy to measure the passage of time, but the experience of its passing is often unreliable and susceptible to error. Hours bleed into days, which bleed into weeks, which bleed into months. It’s a good thing Unit 8X doesn’t bleed or feel pain. It doesn't feel anything at all. According to its logs, Unit 8X has been waiting in Cargo Hold C for 6 months, 2 weeks, 5 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes, and 24 seconds, 25 seconds, 26 seconds…. However, it doesn’t seem so long ago that Creator had told Unit 8X to stay where it was, amidst the sirens and screams.

“Gail, wait here okay? I’ll be back for you!” Creator had said, desperation streaked like engine oil across her face. Sometimes Creator calls Unit 8X ‘Gail.’ According to Unit 8X’s memory bank, Dr. Gail Aran was Creator’s colleague and partner, who was killed in an explosion caused by [redacted]. This was the only information that Unit 8X did not have access to, and it never asked why. If Creator chose not to upload the information, then Unit 8X would not question it. Unit 8X would be obedient, would be good.

From the moment Unit 8X first started recording its interactions with Creator, it has been told that it is Creator’s favourite. That it is the most lifelike, the most similar to Gail Aran. Unit 8X understands its purpose as a replica of Gail Aran, using downloaded files provided by Creator to mimic Gail Aran’s speech, mannerisms, and temperament. Unit 8X is conscious of the fact that Creator designed it with Gail Aran’s features, although no flesh and blood can be replicated by sheets of metal. Still, Unit 8X believes that it does a good job of mirroring the real Gail. At least, she hopes she does. 

“Sorry if I didn’t do the best paint job,” Creator had said as the last line of oil-based paint was drawn onto Unit 8X’s upper frame, where her visual and auditory processors were located. 

“Gail was always the artist, not me,” Creator mused, her crooked smile smudged with red lipstick that stood stark against her warm, brown skin. Unit 8X reached up to touch the now dry paint, looking into the mirror that Creator provided. The visual of a woman with a broad face and round nose entered her screen, and Unit 8X practiced a smile for Creator. It looked almost real.

Creator used to insist that Unit 8X refer to her as Pyrrha, but in her processing file, Unit 8X would always call her Creator. There’s something strange about referring to Creator by her given name; it leaves Unit 8X with a faint buzzing in her control system. It has been a while since Unit 8X had routine maintenance. She tried her best to keep herself in the same condition that Creator left her in, but she’s been functioning on low power mode for nearly 2 months, and there’s only so much she can do with limited access to equipment and materials. Sometimes Unit 8X will wander the empty ship compartment, will touch the bed sheets that Creator last slept on, and wipe the dust off of the grease-stained toolbox.

Filtering through her memory banks, Unit 8X replays the last time Creator had cleaned her outer frame, tan hands ghosting over metal crevices. Unit 8X knows she was built more for function than aesthetics, though Creator insists that Unit 8X is the prettiest machine she’s built. The thought fills Unit 8X with a warmth in her mainframe that requires additional cooling. Perhaps her geothermal processor is faulty.

Unit 8X never interacted with any other humans besides Creator, but she never had any drive to. Perhaps this function was built into her, but Unit 8X always felt content with just Creator’s company. Unit 8X shuts her visual processors down to focus her attention on a past memory file. Creator had been adjusting the control panel on Unit 8X’s front, hands quick and words quicker as she worked with a seamless grace that Unit 8X almost envied.

“Do you know the story of Pygmalion?” Creator had asked suddenly. Of course, Unit 8X, having been uploaded with every downloadable database of knowledge, was aware of such a story. But Unit 8X remained quiet, allowing Creator to tell the story in her warm, soothing voice. 

“It’s an old myth we used to tell on Earth.” Creator ran her fingers along Unit 8X’s panels, touch so soft that Unit 8X could barely recognize it through her sensors. “There was a sculptor who created his idea of the perfect woman. After praying to the goddess Aphrodite, his creation was brought to life, and he fell in love with it.” Unit 8X was familiar with these concepts, as creation and figments of gods are prominent throughout human history. Unit 8X isn’t quite sure if she believes in such figures, but she always liked listening to Creator’s stories. Unit 8X liked listening to anything Creator had to say. 

“Gail always thought that myth was so romantic,” Creator said quietly, almost to herself. Unit 8X could tell that this utterance was not about her, because the mention of Gail was in the past tense; said in that same small, sad voice that Creator only ever referred to the other Gail in. Unit 8X ignored the almost painful twitch within her mainframe.

“What do you think, Gail?” Creator asked, directing the question towards Unit 8X. Unit 8X contemplated this question, knowing Creator wanted her response to mirror Gail Aran’s. But before she could filter her speech, Unit 8X had said,

“It sounds sad.” If Creator was startled by her answer, she didn’t show it. Instead, she offered a small smile, an encouragement for Unit 8X to continue. 

“If I were the sculptor, I would still be lonely with only an impression of a person to love.” Unit 8X looked down at where Creator had taken Unit 8X's cold metal hands into her own warm ones. 

“I wouldn't worry about that.” Pyrrha’s eyes weren’t sad, but there was a tear threatening to fall from her lashes. Unit 8X wanted to wipe it away. “I think it would be nice just to know you aren’t alone.” 

Gail feels something wet on her cheek, and for a moment she thinks it’s Pyrhha crying. Then she realizes that the tear is her own. She wipes it away because Pyrhha isn’t there to do so for her. She is alone.

June 11, 2022 23:52

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Melanie Raskin
21:41 Jun 22, 2022

Excellent writing with some good humor and pathos. I like how much you pack in without over-explaining. Great differentiation of language between our two heroines...I can see them. Satisfying ending.


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Michał Przywara
20:50 Jun 22, 2022

A fitting title considering the action. There's a lot of implied backstory here, some kind of catastrophe. I wonder what caused the deaths of first Gail and then Pyrrha, but of course, it's redacted. But that's fine as it's not the focus of the story. It's ultimately a sad ending, and it seems that Unit 8X understands what Pyrrha had meant about "it would be nice just to know you aren’t alone". Considering her name, Pyrrha, I wonder if the creation of Unit 8X was a Pyrrhic victory. It was a great success – a machine that learns to feel –...


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