I stop my worrying, and perk up, deciding that my friends would be the final judges on how I look. Bob told me not to bother, but what does he know? I’m sure Alice, Craig, or Beatrice will all shower me with support. I hope so at least. I took a pay advance from a job that I didn’t expect to still be at in a week—making bolt cutters isn’t exactly the line of work that I thought I would be in for when I was made three years back. It’s made me somewhat apathetic to think about things like this. Thats why I think Alice, Craig, or at least Beatrice will all say something supportive. Give me that at least.
I go into work strutting in a way that I wouldn’t normally. I’m trying to get attention, I guess. I pass Barry at the check-in stand, and give an over-exaggerated swoop of my head after signing in on the clipboard. What was that for? I calm down a bit, feeling that I’ve already taken this charade for approval too far.
I walk over to my station and Bob is waiting with a smug look on his face. “Told ya not to waste yer money on that garbage. Why wouldja wanna look human, anyhow?”
The first line of pieces starts moving down to Bob’s position once I push the green button behind his lopsided head. He wasn’t as privileged with who built him as most of us were. I would think because of his head, he would be the first to approve of an upgrade. Before the pieces get to Bob, he slaps me on the shoulder and says, “Ya know I’m just pullin’ yer chain. It looks classy on ya. I couldn’t pull it off.”
He begins to assemble the assorted pieces, and I notice how bad off the dent in his head looks. I think that anything added would be a vast improvement.
After a few hours, the alarm vibrates each of us to indicate that it’s time to head home. On the way out I’m stopped by Mark, our accountant, who gives a thumbs up to my new nose, but looks disappointed that I hadn’t conversed with him before taking the pay advance. That was going to put me in debt with the company for at least a year. I thanked Mark, and told him that he couldn’t turn back time.
On the way out of Wiley Bill’s Gardening Tools, I stopped in at the employee bathroom to try my hand at polishing away anything that might have built up over a hard day’s work. I start to think of the time spent earlier today in the bathroom, and how great my nose had looked then. Now it was slowly becoming less than optimal. I would never get that perfect sheen. Without it how could I possibly face Alice, Craig, and Beatrice? I cleaned and polished the rest of my face, to camouflage the importance of my nose, and started out towards Bessie’s Circuit Show to meet up with the gang and get some feedback.
“Are you sad about something?” Alice said with a worried tone when I sat down at our table and began flaunting my newly attached orifices to my pals. “I just can’t see why you would want to look like a human.”
“We already do, basically. Or are you forgetting about the humanoid bodies that we drag around each day? I just thought I might as well, since I’m already so close to their spittin’ image.”
Beatrice, the lovely bot that she is, chose this moment to chime in saying, “What Phil chooses to do with his body is his business.” She gave me a wink that could be easily mistaken for affection, but it wasn’t. I knew that road, and I didn’t want to go down it again.
“I thought it might just liven up my face a little. That’s all.”
“Instead your face is now a mascot for the humans.” I should have known that Craig would give me a response like that. He always liked to drum up some deep-seated hatred for the humans whenever the occasion called for it. “Seriously, how could you do that to yourself? I would expect something like this from an older model that could add or disregard anything on its body with a quick flick of the wrist. But you? That’s synthetically grafted onto your face. There’s no coming back from that. No way.”
I wasn’t looking into anyone’s eyes now. Instead I was swirling the nutrient water in my glass with my finger. I couldn’t smell or feel the liquid, I could just imagine. Not sure how they could give me an imagination but leave out some of the major senses. Seems I wasn’t important enough.
“...it’s just you should have know better, man.” Craig finishes his speech and looks absolutely tickled with what he said. I didn’t catch most of it, but I’m sure it’s all been said before.
“I guess you make a good argument. But what’s done is done, though, right?” With this I got up from the table and started for the door.
“I think it looks great, Phil,” Alice said when she saw me leaving. I could tell that she was lying, but I guess it was nice to hear.
When I walk into my apartment I start trying to rip the nose off my face. That gleam that I once wanted had now turned dull and repulsive. I learned quickly that the nose was built to have such a great defense against accidents, that not even I had the brute strength to rip the thing off. Maybe that would be my next upgrade, strength. I would have to wait a year for the pay advance, but at least I could occupy my time thinking of the expected pleasure I would get ripping this wasted mass off my face.
The apartment starts to vibrate, indicating that a guest is waiting outside. I wait a moment for the caller id to indicate that it’s Alice. Noticing the self-inflicted scuff marks on my nose, I begin to vigorously polish. I have to at least look like I appreciate the damn thing.
I motioned to the door and it opened to let Alice into the small entrance hall. “What’s up? Thought you would remind me of my hideous nose some more?”
She walked over and hugged me. What I could only guess would be seen as passionate abandon. “I think it’s great.”
“Do you?” She did. I was ecstatic. The nose was taking on that gleam I had been wanting. Yes, indeed.
“I mean, I had always wanted to look a little more human, but I didn’t have the courage to go through with it though.” As she said this she let go of me. I wish she hadn’t.
“Yeah, planning for it was rough. But it worked out in the end. I mean now that I have your encouragement it did.” I smiled and instead of smiling back she rubbed her face on my nose.
“It’s so great to see one up close. I imagined it would be bigger, but yours is fine.”
I had only known Alice for six months up to this point, but, boy, was I more than glad to see her right now. She knocked me back onto the floor, and straddled me at my waist, licking the nose to get it looking brand new. She did this for a minute, and stopped to give me one quick kiss on the mouth. A kiss. Just like I thought. Except this doesn’t feel as important as I expected it to. I pushed her gently to the side and got up brushing imaginary debris from my waist.
“What’s all this for?” I said.
She gathered herself and started taking deep breaths, as if speaking was some huge task that she had to prepare for. “I’m not sure, to be honest,” she said. She was making gestures with her mouth and eyes that could be called flustered, I’m sure. “The nose did something to me. When I saw it earlier tonight I wanted to rip it off your face and keep it close.”
Great. Nobody can appreciate me with the nose. It’s either me or the nozzle itself. “Well, that's just great.” I sighed and stared at Alice. She was looking at me like I had something to tell her. What the hell did I know? “To be honest, I just wanted to look like Craig’s model. I wasn’t trying to be full-fledged human. Just wanted to keep up. One minute you’re the hottest thing on the streets, and the next, some fresh new model looks at you with contempt for being closer to the junkers than you thought. It sort of sickens me.”
“So a nose was your best idea? As if that would solve all of those problems,” Alice said, looking as if the enchantment had worn off with my words. I bored her again.
“Do you remember those old videos they used to show each morning? The 'training' modules with 'Your Friend Kurt Baltazar,' teaching you how to act human. Why do you think they showed those to us? I guess they didn’t think we could hack it on our own,” I said.
“What, now you’re mad that you were made? What’s your point?”
I shrugged my shoulders and got up off the floor. “Well, it’s permanent now. Not much more to say about it. Want to lick it some more?”
She laughed and I joined in. Laughing is better than talking things out. Talking things out hasn’t gotten me that far. Laughing is great.
“What happened to Beatrice and Craig after I left?”
“I think they rode home together.”
Alice was quick on the uptake, getting up and going into the kitchen to look for something to drink. It was their programming that allowed us to get drunk. Good thinking on their part.
She placed a bottle of black water on the dining room table and poured two shots, indicating that I should come and join. When I lifted my glass, she wrapped her arm, glass in hand, around mine, kissed me on the mouth, and shouted, “To the nose.”
I repeated this and threw back the thick liquid. I couldn’t feel it going down, but expected that all too familiar effect to kick in soon enough. She went to pour another, and we continued like this until the bottle was finished. By that point I was ecstatic, walking to and fro from the bathroom, each time taking the polish rag, and giving my nose one quick swipe, before walking over to Alice to nuzzle her face in a bold manner. Each time she swooned and screamed as the nose came down on her face. I could tell that she wanted to feel it. Like we all did. She wanted that contact with the humans to be her saving grace. Far be it from me to deny her. We were both ignoring the moment and instead submitting ourselves to the sacrament of the nose—that holy object that made us more than worthless pieces. It was our connection, and we couldn’t help but drunkenly embrace it.
We danced around in this way for a while longer, deep into the night, before Alice went to sleep. I walked out onto the veranda to stare over the city that the humans had left for us. It was nothing but ruins. Cracked building that were overrun with vegetation before we came in and made it look the best it could. They flew away on their ships, and left us to pick up where they left off. Manual labor.
I thought about ripping my nose off again. Maybe giving it to Alice as a souvenir. She could find some use for it. But then again, I couldn’t have been strong enough. It’s stuck there, might as well live with it. One year isn’t too long for that next pay advance. In the meantime, I have someone to lay next to tonight. That’s not so bad.
I shuffled over and laid down next to Alice. As I tried to hold her, it became clear that without the sense of touch this was nothing more than me laying next to a hologram.
I realized that I have nothing but my image, and because of that, I’m a miserable relic.