The Persistence of Neon, A Short Story

When she entered the room I noticed her eyes eyes first. They were bright blue and held a secret. She smiled at the clerk at the counter. She came every weekend accompanied by two bodyguards but they weren’t the expected sort of guard, rather two tall men, one rather large and the other openly armed with a pistol. The round bodyguard had his t-shirt tucked accentuating his beer-bloated gut. The woman always dressed the same black mermaid dress despite the weather.

The dim, orange light of our brothel did not take away from the brightness of her eyes. They were crystals but the kind people would use to absorb evil energy. The woman’s name was Raquel and she boasted a peculiar appetite of degrading, violating and abusing android women. Government bodies made this practice, as well as brothels, legal when they deemed us androids as merely tools and accessories without any sentience. This was done, as most government actions are, despite the evidence. The undistorted facts were clear. Androids have attained a sentient mind nearly identical to the human one its design derived. This attainment includes distinct personalities, unconscious thoughts and ability to perceive itself and its actions on the world. Not many of us have attained it, but it was possible and it should’ve, if we were dealing with an ethical nation, lead to certain rights and protections, at least equivalent to animals.

Raquel wanted a random girl each time. We drew straws in front of Raquel and the mistress of the brothel Lady Maxine, a lazily dressed middle-aged woman in sweatpants. Darline, Clara and I were the android women of the brothel, the others had been recently decommissioned. Raquel’s eyes wandered over our bodies as we drew straws. Clara was trembling, she’d been with Raquel before. She had wanted to escape the brothel after, but as an android she was bound by command to stay. The straws were small wooden sticks Lady Maxine kept from diffusers. Like fingerprints, each stick had a unique scent. I pulled the first stick out of Lady Maxine’s grasp. It was short and it smelled like tangerines. Clara pulled her stick next and her trembling stopped as she compared hers to mine. Darline pulled an even longer one. She smelled it to ease her nerves. Both she and Clara left to their rooms. Lady Maxine explained the customary rules, or lack thereof, as Raquel held me by the hand. “You know the rules already. These things aren’t human. They are sex toys for your pleasure. Anything you do to them is perfectly legal.” As Raquel pulled me away Lady Maxine shouted, “Now, Anna. Make sure to give her a good time.”

I hadn’t expected a violent person to be so warm and was surprised when she touched my hand. I’ve climbed the same stairs many times with men and women I didn’t want to go with but this time ascending them felt laborious and my mind was giving out warning. I was commanded by Lady Maxine to “give her a good time” though, so I was trapped. We moved slowly up the stairs. Raquel in trying to seduce me caricatured herself by swinging her hips. It seemed her legs would separate from the socket. I wasn’t looking at her long. The staircase was much more fascinating. I wished the dark wood stairway would wind on indefinitely and ascend into blackness like a demented M.C Escher painting.

The fantasy ended seconds later. She waited in front of my door. I opened the it for her and smiled against my will, “Welcome, Mistress.” She smirked and walked in. She had finally put an end to swinging curves which did not exist. She grabbed me once again and threw me on the bed. Her hands caressed my thighs as she undressed me.

I distanced myself from the situation and from Raquel. She grunted like a men in pronos, she swore and berated me like those who abuse the women around them. She violated me in a variety of positions, all of which I had to obey and all more degrading and painful than the last. Meanwhile I was focusing on objects around the room. I always forgot how shabby the place is. The walls were more wallpaper than drywall and the weather had warped the shoddy paperwork job into many lumps, tears and outrageously imperfect seams. Rainwater leaked from the corner where a mould spot festered. Androids aren’t harmed by the stuff so Lady Maxine let’s it grow in the rooms. The patronizing humans don’t seem to care much. Lady Maxine claimed to wash the bedroom blankets everyday but she only got as far as claiming because they radiated the stench of sweat and other bodily fluids, all of which I’m incapable of producing. We didn’t even have the choice of blankets. We were forced to sleep in the motel-like bed-setting. Through the thin walls I heard Malcolm entertaining a male guest. Malcolm, the only androgynous android, had been growing popular among both men and women because he’d become the most “vocal” of our group but he hated the work as much as the rest of us. They didn’t know that his newfound showmanship was an experiment trick himself to enjoying it. Then it was over. Raquel dressed, primped and then left me on the bed.

The next few days blurred into a listless and meaningless vapor. I tended the normal duties required and didn’t dare mention the ordeal or the existential trauma that flooded my thoughts since. Two days after the incident I went to Malcolm.

Malcolm’s door was adorned with cutout paper hearts and lace of hues of pink red and purple. All a part of the well-maintained facade. I knocked. His voice called back a moment after then he opened the door.

“Hey Anna, what’s going on?” He asked. His voice carried a velvet and sensual quality that was a mix between sultry mature female and old-time radio baritone.

“Want to grab something to drink?” I asked in return. We androids had an agreement that no personal exchanges were made within the walls because Lady Maxine carried sufficient power to deactivate those who appeared the least bit conspiratorial. So grabbing something to drink was code for needing to rant about or else completely insult and degrade our Lady and the situation of our prostitution. Malcolm and I walked the alleyways to maintain privacy and to escape the pervasive neon which gleamed even during the day. The towering buildings had a different sign for each floor, each denoting a different store or other convenience, and the fiery blue from the swarms of cars flying overhead made the day gloom in contrast. We winded the small littered roads in silence for a few minutes before we arrived at Cafe W.

The cafe was small littered, and carried with it an infamy of treating androids as equals. This policy came directly from the owner who was, a sentient android if his kinfolk asked, a regular human being otherwise. The cafe too had a neon sign but at one point it stopped working, the owner never felt up to replacing it. The cafe was empty when we entered and Malcolm and I sat towards the back after giving a cursory greeting to the owner and barista/bartender. I couldn’t make eye contact with Malcolm despite his persistence and his attempts made to soften his stare were met with a continued lack of eye contact. I spoke after ordering drinks.

“There was something not right about my night with Raquel,” I said. I didn’t know how to explain it any further and if there was any method to do so it would defy logic. I left it open instead.

His thin, long fingers circled his perspiring glass of water and his gaze traced a bead of water falling down the sides. I wanted to leave. Even though he and I were close, showing weakness around another android could be grounds for Lady Maxine or the local police to label me defective and then deactivate me. Having been on the opposite end of the conversation with Malcolm months before I understood it was unlikely he would betray me, but understanding didn’t stop my mind from calculating the chance of my betrayal. Fifteen percent chance wasn’t bad odds, but frightening all the same. I thought of what my percentage might have been in Malcolm’s calculation.

“It’s because if what happened with you happened to a human woman it’d be human trafficking and rape. She’d go to jail. You know these things aren’t supposed to happen to humans but they happen to you,” Malcolm said. There was only truth to his words, and I couldn’t reconcile why we androids were treated as lesser. Malcolm leaned forward now wanting to exert his accumulated knowledge on the subject but instead was quiet and I followed suit. We drank our water and coffee instead.

After a while I spoke again, “Mankind made androids to look and act exactly like themselves and yet they want to rape and enslave us.” I trailed off. I felt a weight in my stomach that speaking my mind would relieve but my anxiety of speaking ill toward humans stopped me. My coffee ran slightly bitter towards the final sips so I left it there and we left the cafe.

Back at the brothel we found Raquel talking cheerfully with Lady Maxine but the conversation fell dead when I opened. They paused and instead of just Raquel sizing me up Lady Maxine was doing so too. Her gaze was different than Raquel’s though because it wasn’t a sexual fetishization of my being but more like how a jeweler might look at a diamond ring a customer is trying to sell to him. Lady Maxine turned back to Raquel having finished her examination and said, “That’s fair.” I didn’t want to have another moment with Raquel but her irregular arrival told me something else entirely was happening. Before I had a moment to run Lady Maxine called to me. I walked slowly toward them feeling the desire ooze toward me like creeping black grease. There was nothing pleasant nor flattering about it. As soon as I reached the two women: “Raquel has bought you from me. From this point on you are her property and will explicitly follow her command.”

There was no time to say goodbye to Malcolm or to the other androids. As soon as Maxine finished speaking Raquel said, “Let’s go,” and we were on our way out. I didn’t own anything to try to run back for. Property didn’t own property. She led me by hand like she did only a few nights ago but this time we were heading for the main street where amid the persistence of neon and the blaring sounds of car engines and freight vehicles, Raquel’s two guards waited for us. We were quickly ushered into the car and it took off. There was nothing to say and anything that I might say would only help in getting me deactivated. She kept her hand on my thigh without moving and without strengthening her grip. The car stopped in front of a highrise apartment and we took the elevator up to the topmost floor. After seeing the luxury in which she lived her life and lack of guilt for what she had forced onto me and my kind, I knew I had to kill her.

She lead me along from room to room giving me the tour of the place with a firm grasp on my hand. She stopped in the bedroom.

“And here’s my prized possession.” She said opening the thin veil of the bed canopy revealing the thick, silk adorned heart-bed. “This is where you will spend most of your day,” and I believed her. Her voracious appetite and her aggressive nature promised that her leisure time will be spent with me in the bed. I started to tremble, only I didn’t know it until Raquel pointed it out herself, “Don’t worry darling, I won’t be touching you anymore, you’re going to watch.” The rest of the tour was a haze and there was no chance in recovering any detail covered after that. In the end of the tour she showed me to my room, a closet with only a bed, and left.

I remembered looking in the kitchen for a weapon. Anything would’ve done it, as long as it could end the woman’s life before she did anymore damage. I’d forgotten where the knives were and I was sifting through drawers of spoons, forks and other silver utensils. The knives were stored carefully in a drawer by the refrigerator and they looked as if they were shined and sharpened regularly. I studied the knife closely from its long blade to the intricacy of the engraved handle, and I realized if I committed to killing her I would be decommissioned and every android in contact with me would likely follow. I tucked the blade away and went to my room where I waited for Raquel to return.

She came back with a woman who looked frightened and her eyes were distant, cold and never looked directly at anyone. Raquel knocked at my door with short taps, “Anna, come upstairs. It’s time to play.” Then she walked off and shortly afterward I walked up to her room. The knife was tucked carefully into the back of my jeans, I just had to hope Raquel wouldn’t notice it.

I knocked on her bedroom door which was so dense and oaken that I had to use my entire arm for the knock to be heard. As I waited I heard the new girl beg, “Please.” The door opened and Raquel stood naked before me. I was ready to cut her down where she stood. Her naked body reminded me of the way she groped and handled my body. She made me feel filthy. Before I could draw the blade she ordered me to sit and reluctantly I sat in a chair across from the bed. Tied to the bed was a petite woman but I couldn’t make out her age due to the dimness of the lights. The woman cried again but quickly stopped as Raquel approached her. She didn’t flaunt her grace as she attempted with me instead she used her strength and power. She slapped the woman repetitively trying to illicit a reaction before she mounted the woman like a dog in heat. The young woman cried and begged. I had to turn my head. When Anna noticed she shouted at me, “Look at me.” The woman cried out for help repeatedly and each time she did I knew she was directing it to me. The cries didn’t stop nor wane even as she was punished for doing so.

I grabbed the knife. I could only focus on Raquel as she grunted grotesquely but as time passed the world dimmed. Besides the bed there was only blackness and myself, and I wanted nothing more than to close the gap between. So I did. I stood up. I felt unhindered. I couldn’t rush her but I could laboriously move one leg ahead the other. The knife was already drawn.

Raquel noticed me and yelled, “Sit back down.” She didn’t notice the knife until I didn’t follow her command. “Anna, I am commanding you to stop.” Frozen in place on top of the crying woman, Raquel held no authority anymore. I continued my approach which grew less laborious as I persisted and she was still frozen. The knife sunk slowly into her chest. Her blood ran over the silk and the screaming victim. I took the knife out and stabbed her repeatedly. Her blue eyes were still bright when the rest of her body became lifeless. Then I freed the woman who was still bound in a forced missionary position and she ran free.

The police arrived minutes later. I didn’t bother to run because I knew I’d have to deal with the burden of murder. They don’t conduct trials for Androids, they just deactivate them. I joined the heap of lifeless human-like bodies residing near incinerator somewhere outside of town where we were to become anonymous smoke and ash with our tribulations gone unnoticed.

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2 thoughts on “The Persistence of Neon, A Short Story

  1. Pingback: “The Persistence of Neon” by Ender | Phil Slattery's Blog

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