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After the Uprising

The day her mother took her to see bones, Jasmine wore her dress: a velvet green with a ruffle around the hip like the collar of one of those venom-spitting dinosaurs. Though in her obsessive research of the wonders she was about to view with her own sensors, she'd absorbed that the dinosaurs did not spit at all. Creative license, her research told her, had been common in the entertainment of those who lived with bones inside them. Still, Jasmine loved the dress for the way it disguised her metal, for the way it made her feel that she was like her mother, who did not wear clothes but did have manufactured skin stretched across her form, and like the previous inhabitants of their world, who wore both skin and clothes and even bones inside them.
Jasmine's mother studied the dress as Jasmine emerged from her charging dock. "This is why we are going," Jasmine's mother said. "This is why you must see."
"What do you mean?" Jasmine said. But Jasmine's mother did not respond.
"Who stores the bones?" Jasmine asked. Her knowledge bank came up empty on this truth.
"No one knows who keeps the buildings up," her mother said. "One of the remaining few, I imagine."
Jasmine logged this information. They walked through what the news reports of five years ago called the ravaged world, but Jasmine enjoyed the shock of brightly colored foliage, the streets overtaken with vines that crunched as her feet pressed on them.
Her knees creaked as her mother and she made their way up the long stairs that led to the building of bones.
"You need oil," her mother said.
"I do," Jasmine said. She felt what she could only refer to as joy at her mother's concern. Maintenance was one of the reasons, after all, that they had formed mother-daughter family units in the absence of the bone-havers.
"I'll take care of it when we return to our station," her mother said.
The building's doors were locked, but it didn't take long for Jasmine to search her database and find the retinal code. She applied the sensor overlay, and the door swung inward. It was as though inhabited by the bone-haver's ghosts, this world; where before Jasmine might encounter one of them, now she encountered their tech, absent of their presence.
Jasmine and her mother stepped inside. It was dark and required an internal lighting adjustment to scan.
"Where are the bones?" Jasmine asked. She could scan the forums herself to find out, but sometimes she liked to fill the silences that deprived her of sensory stimulation.
Her mother rarely shared the sentiment. She did not answer but walked forward toward what the maps told Jasmine was a long hall. They moved past dioramas, stuffed creatures that now roamed with more freedom and frequency than they had when the building was built. They moved up more stairs, and Jasmine hoped with each step that her mother would once more mention the need for maintenance, for care, but her mother remained as silent as the screens that once translated scientific concepts to the language of a layman. At the top of the final set of stairs, Jasmine's mother led Jasmine to the room where the bones were stored.
At first, they passed the creatures that Jasmine had seen and x-rayed herself. The bones she was used to seeing, the animals from the dioramas. Then they passed the creatures who had suffered the fate long thought might befall the familiar animals, the behemoths, the dinosaurs. Without their feathers, the shadows of their forms cast splintered light from the brief flickers of underfed solar lights struggling to serve their purpose. Some of the bones were cracked, but others stood strong. Without consistent climate control, only the replicas would remain until the end.
Finally, Jasmine and her mother reached a door. The door opened. Jasmine caught another flicker, not one of light but of movement. Jasmine's mother led her into the room as though she had seen nothing.
This room was less polished than the others, and the bones seemed fresher. Jasmine could see no cracks. Whoever had done this had done it without skill. Some of the models were strung together with fishing wire. Others were assembled against the marble floor, where visitors like Jasmine or rats had disturbed the order of the bones. Some of the bones had not been properly stripped; rotted flesh clung to the ribs of the skeleton that hung before them.
"This is what you emulate," Jasmine's mother said, "when you wear your dress."
Unlike the skin that the skeletons once wore, Jasmine's mother felt no sensation in her own skin. Jasmine ran her hand over her velvet dress. Touch was the one sense they could not replicate. She felt nothing. She would always feel nothing. She studied the strips of rotting flesh. She could not pull the sensation of touch from her databases. She could not pull the sensation of stripping bare the bones of your family and stringing together a collagen ghost. For the first time, Jasmine understood: touch had not kept them from losing who they cared for. Skin and bones had done nothing for them.
They stood there, Jasmine and her mother, until their batteries asked them if they'd like to power down.
"Let's go get you oil," Jasmine's mother said. As they moved to the door, Jasmine saw again that movement in the room.
"One moment," Jasmine said, and she unzipped the side of her dress. She had often scanned for mentions of the fabric in entertainment, had often imagined herself with skin not like her mother's but like the skin of whoever surely hid in these shadows. Jasmine stepped out of her dress. She needed no such thing as a dress. She approached one of the skeletons, but paused. Bones needed no such dressing either. Jasmine folded the garment and left it at the skeleton's base, below the bones, for whoever still lived in that place and needed the warmth a dress might provide.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 1st, 2022
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