What Lasts Jared W. Cooper
Dig for parts in the Gearwoman’s scrapyard, through dead frames and the rotted pages of old schematics. Find one of her bots, with thin limbs not yet rusted, intact and broken like yourself. Collect, and run away.
* * *
With no schematic, put him back together. Shape his face with molds and iron casings, give him eyes of copper bulbs. Make his muscles of kinetic wire, to make him strong like Kennan wasn’t. Try to forget Kennan. Fail. Give the bot a body it—he can use. Make his legs good for running, just in case.
Make his heart. Do not skip this step. Make the core with logic mods, with those chips that simulate emotion, but fill the space with pieces of yourself. Give to him your dreams and fears, those parts of you that always hurt. Put your heart inside of his, so when it sputters and flickers and comes to life, you recognize that beat, that heat that used to shine inside you.
* * *
Sit on your porch when the Gearwoman comes. Let the bot sit by you, neither of you hiding. Let her see what you made from what she threw away. Listen as she yells at you, tells you what becomes of boys who take her bots. As she barks, lean back on your hands and feel the heat of the bronze-blue sun. Let her anger build as she threatens you with death, and worse.
Let her promise. Do not skip this step. Let her point and tell you what she’ll do to you, how when she’s done you’ll be just another body in her scrapyard, and wait. Watch as your bot rises, hearing the promise of violence in her tone.
Watch him leap at her, strong and fast and moving to the beat of your own heart. Watch him soundless and perfect as he shoves her, sending her sprawling down your gray grass yard, a tumble of leather skirts and oil-stained skin. Watch and admire him, protective, proud and powerful.
When the Gearwoman rises, notice how hollow her new threats, how laced with fear her voice. But listen, because she tells you how you might as well be one of them. She knows a bot when she sees one. Take in this idea—that you could be just like him—and thank her.
* * *
Build a body for yourself, one that matches his. Find the casings that will be your limbs, casts that will replace the flesh and bone. Let him help you, because he’s more open, now. He remembers the still and silent pain of the Gearwoman’s yard as well as he remembers the strongest types of metal. He shows you what’s best, not the ones that shine but the ones that last.
Listen to the creak in his voice, and when he asks, follow him. Go to that scrapyard where you found him—take minor visceral joy in the Gearwoman’s absence—and walk among the leavings of her work. All bots, all boys, limbs and chasses and heaps that don’t have faces. Too far gone to be awakened, he says, even by your heart.
Say nothing as he kneels among the husks of a thousand broken souls, as he remembers how deep his pain can go.
* * *
Fall in love. Do not skip this step.
* * *
Take the best of his fallen brothers, to make yourself anew. Make your mind of stronger things so you can feel what he does. Sell your house, your clothes, all the human things you’ll never need, and pay another Gearsmith to make the change.
Let him hold your hand when they rip your brain and move it, strip your nerves and hollow out your veins. Believe him when he tells you you’re not dying, as if he knows.
Ask him if he ever felt like this, and listen when he says yes. When he says that’s why the Gearwoman burns the pages of her schematics. Why she’s so good at what she does, why her boy-bots feel so real—because they were. Because they, like you, only need to give up pieces of their heart.
Be hateful when he tells you this, and make that hate a lasting thing. Keep it with you in your new body, so when you wake with copper eyes and hollow limbs, when your heart beats like his does, remind him what that fury feels like.
* * *
Love him hard and often, like you never could with Kennan. Let him give you what he never shared when he was a person, that life cut short when the Gearwoman found him.
And after, when he finds you, making that creak that sounds like crying, let him come to you. Feel his pain through the parts you share, and feel him let it go. Let him show you how to do the same—for Kennan, for your hate, for the pain once thought too deep to heal.
Make a promise, that he won’t feel that pain again. As when you built his body, as when he helped you remake yours, take the best of what you find. Not what hurts, but what lasts. Do not skip this step.
Previously published in Daily Science Fiction, July 28, 2015, and Wilde Stories 2016. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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