Art by Melissa Mead
Building a Future
by Rhonda Jordan
It started with a picture. A photograph of a woman they'd never met. The back of the photograph held a name and a phone number. The woman was unremarkable in both figure and face. The number was old and unusable; there weren't even any letters in it. The name meant nothing to anyone. Whatever sentiment it had held was lost to time. It was just a picture.
He'd found the photo in an abandoned house he'd been staying in. He didn't have any pictures of family or friends so he'd kept it. He showed it to his handful of acquaintances making up a different story about the woman every time he opened his mouth to tell one. Everyone smiled and nodded, laughing at him behind their hands or rolling their eyes when they thought he wasn't looking. He didn't care. Even if the stories he made up weren't true, they were better than what he had. They made him happy.
Enjoying the euphoria of well-made glow he saw a woman he wasn't very familiar with. When she came out she came with someone else but he knew she was a builder. The scars on her fingertips were evidence of that. When he told her his stories she didn't laugh or roll her eyes. She smiled, enjoying the tale. Sometimes she made up parts of her own to throw in.
He moved to sit beside her. He pulled out the picture, handed it to her, and asked if she could make the woman for him. She looked at it for a moment, scanned it to her wrist deck, then gave it back to him.
She pressed her shoulders back into the dirty cushions as her eyes fell closed. "Can do, yeah. Wanting parts. Help find, yeah?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I'll help."
She smiled dreamily. "No problem. Is cake, yeah."
"Can you make her talk like you?"
She chuckled. "Can do, yeah."
He'd gone home with her after that and they spent their time together hunting for the parts she'd need to construct the woman between getting high. She'd been a reasonably well-known builder before her addiction. Afterwards only other junkies sought out her services or those too poor to seek out builders more reputable for maintenance of their dolls.
They spent less and less time high as she devoted more and more time to her work. Fascinated by the process, he watched her work. They both ignored the itch of withdrawal. Even the luminous green stain had faded slightly from their teeth and eyes. It would never leave completely but it did get dull.
She started with the bones, carefully sculpting each. Most builders used molds to save time, but time had never concerned her. There was no such thing as a deadline. You were willing to wait or you went somewhere else.
She connected the bones with the fine wires and threads they'd spent so much time hunting down. She connected the different organs and mechanics, placing them carefully within the skeleton. She layered on the false muscle, feeding it the solution which would force skin growth.
She showed him the different intelligence uploads and explained what each focused on and what type of personality it was likely to leave the doll with. She didn't use the preassembled uploads, choosing to rearrange them and so give her creations a wide range of use instead of a single specialization. He helped choose which to install and she loaded them into the programming.
When the doll was finished they'd been clean for over a month. They stared at it pleased but uncertain. Life had changed since she'd begun. Working again had felt good, different from the temporary joy of using; she could look at what she'd done and be proud. She wasn't willing to give up the sensation a second time. He wasn't lonely anymore. He didn't need made up stories to keep him company; there was no longer a void for the doll to fill. There was a real friend beside him he could take a picture of.
He took her hand and smiled. "Let's sell it."
She smiled back, wrapping her fingers around his. "Let's do, yeah."
This story was first published on Thursday, June 9th, 2011