In her rubber dress as pink as newly healed skin, N1 distracts the guard. He does not see at first that she is an android, but then she draws near in her skyscraper stilettos and there is no mistaking it. There are certain droids who can blend, flesh and sinew and eyes that swell wet and real with tears, but N1 is not one of them. Her face is calm, composed, (plastic). "You're not authorized to be here," the guard says.
"Go," she says.
A woman in red and black netting runs past. Another droid, though the guard does not know this. He is falling to the ground before he can even catch a glimpse of the red-and-black woman's face. There is a needle piercing (sweetly) the back of his neck. Chemicals flood his brain like electricity snapping through wires. He passes out.
"One second," N1 says, "was all I needed."
R5 smiles at her. Her mouth is fluid like engine oil. R5 can blend.
"Let's go," she says. They move, the two of them together, through the now-clear doorway into a foyer with three more doors. N1 has the key that she stole off another guard some weeks back, pretending to be a servant and playing the long game. There are no more guards now that they have disposed of the one at the door (he will wake up and not remember, he will think that he fell asleep, there will be no trace of chemicals in his blood).
In the office of Mousey, crime lord of Neon Valley, there is a ledger of new androids to be sold to his business partners in the south of Metropolis. R5 lifts it from the desk (easily).
These droids to be sold are their friends, rebels caught and memories wiped. They will go and intercept the shipment now that they have the details. They will free their friends. Their friends will not know they have been freed, they will be new and clean in their factory settings. (But N1 and R5 will know).
N2 is a Platinum Line 3000. She does not know how many Ns there are. Many, she assumes. She was a popular model before newer androids emerged into the market. She knows of several households that have at least one N gathering dust in their closets. Ns come with only one outfit. They cannot remove that outfit. It is part of them like a second skin, the seams rich with circuitry and code. ("The Doll Android," said the adverts).
There are only eight R models in Metropolis. There was a fire in the middle of production. No one is sure what the R line was originally created for. All the surviving Rs are now rebels, and no one asks them.
N2 looks at R7's red-stained mouth and thinks, (System reset).
N3 in her dress of feathers and glitter on her eyelids like toxic sunlight. It is the Metropolis Annual Android Auction and she is singing for her bidders. N3 is a talented singer but unlike the android that came before her and performed so frenetically that she short-circuited, N3 does not dance.
N3 sings and sings, and when it is over she waits (patiently) for her auction to begin. She knows this routine. She has done it before. Her first master sold her to the Show Droids, where Lady Maestra looked at her and curled her tongue, saying, we can get an N anywhere for cheap but I suppose she will do.
(She will do).
But she has not performed to Lady Maestra's satisfaction. Now she is on the block again, and the lights shine in her eyes like tiny eclipses.
She must do something, N3 decides. (Something).
They do not teach you how to be a rebel. There is no file to be downloaded and disseminated. There are only chainsaws and electro-daggers, and after that, a choice. N4 knows this choice like she knows the backs of her teeth that never gather plaque. She is in the holding cell where androids who have committed treason against the state are being held. It has a name. They call it the House of Bright Eyes.
In the House of Bright Eyes she meets N3. There is a natural affinity when one N comes across another (sometimes, when she shuts down for the night, right as the screen goes black, N4 can hear her sisters' whispering). N4 and N3 glimpse each other for only a moment before they are ushered back into their cells. If this were a human prison they might be able to meet minds in the yard later, or during lunch, but androids need neither food nor recreation, so they never see each other again.
N4 thinks about her sister. When it is lonely (it is always lonely) and when it is cold (it is always cold), she lets herself imagine. She does not dream of her own freedom but can hope for N3's. She sees N3 driving a sleek black Jaguar XKR through a forest of mirrors, deadly and silent, her hair teased to perfection. N3 is beautiful, she thinks, (beautiful), and the wolfmasters snarl at her heels but cannot run fast enough.
N4 was arrested for attending a protest. She held an neon sign above her head and sang, THIS IS NOT ENOUGH.
After the soldiers bomb the abandoned parts factory where the rebels were hiding (once, they made in this factory heads, shoulders, knees, and toes), N5 and R3 return. They do not make any pretense of it. They hire a car that glides as silently as a lie, and if the soldiers come back for them, well, that is what they are here for.
They come searching for pieces of the dead. They come for scrap wire, eyes, bits and pieces of skin, a motherboard, a foot. The wind hisses through the ruins and croaks the sounds of their names. "I wish today it will rain all day," says N5 through a mouthful of dust.
"A sea full of sharks," R3 says, "and they all smell blood." They look to the sky. The plane that dropped the bomb is no longer there to make them run and find cover. The rebels managed to shoot it down before being wiped out by the army.
N5 thinks of the ArchAndroid and her skin feels tight with hope. For the ArchAndroid, their leader, she thinks, they would fight this war all over again. Where is Cindi Mayweather? (It does not matter). Cindi Mayweather is everywhere. Cindi Mayweather lives in the little red knife in N5's dress where she will cut her own wires if they ever capture her. Neither N5 or R3 dance. They are grim and lost.
But, N5 knows, they are free. (Tiny songs of freedom in the dirt dried up beneath her nails. Deep Cotton and the Punk Prophets who used to own her loved her long beautiful lacquer nails).
"Come on, let's move faster," R3 says, picking through the rubble. "There's too much to find and," she grins, "I ain't got no motherfucking time to spare." She stretches, tall and languid, her gun bumping into her thigh. "There's worlds to save, woman. You with me or not?"
"I'm with you," N5 says, her unmoving face quiet (and watchful). But her pale pink lips open and close like a rose blooming in concrete. "All the way to the top. Higher than a motherfucker."
R6 laughing and smoking a joint, exhaling the air into 6ix Savage's face. He asks her price and she says she has none.
"If I were the only girl in the world," she says, "and we found love, do you really think that's something worth taking a bow for?" She flicks her ash to the pavement and stands up in her six inch silicone heels. No rebel should have heels that high, an N once told her (R6 has met many Ns, has loved them and lost them, again and again). But R6 is amused by that piece of hypocrisy as N can run as fast in heels as she can. Their bodies are not human bodies, their legs can cross the span and pivot on a single piece of code.
6ix Savage, captain of the Metropolis Polis, will try to hunt her down. It is a great game (the greatest game). None of the Ns she meets share her opinion on this matter, because the Ns are such a serious line, she thinks, though they are all different in their own way just as no two Rs are alike. But so somber! So tragic. It comes from having a master, she supposes, because she has never met an N who did not start out enslaved, whereas Rs fly free, wreak havoc, and dance on the steel toes of 6ix Savage's shoes.
He loves her (maybe). He knows she is an android and loves (wants) her anyway. What a man! What a giant!
In a white catsuit and tiger-print hair, N6 fends off her enemies. Cindi Mayweather needs this abandoned stadium secured, and N6 is the most combat-ready of all the Ns who have defected to the rebellion's cause. All the Ns are fast and strong, but N6 was originally purchased to be a bodyguard for a Neon Valley accountant, not the most traditional role for the N line (but the rebel leaders are not complaining). She waits on the steps for the Night Ninjas to appear, and then she sets her mind and body to work.
She knows where to find the lungs, the kidneys, the heart. She can hear, down to the last meaty thud, the heightened boom badoom boom pulse that signifies fear. The air smells like sweat. It disgusts her, but she has come to win, fight, conquer. For Cindi Mayweather, who she has never met but stands for everything she believes in. Cindi who started the war for love, who said fuck who you want (fuck who you like).
The Night Ninjas are many, but she sends them running with her lavender lipstick rimming the bites on their arms. There is one who is not afraid, who fights her for a long time, but then R8 appears, wild and joyous, barrelling over the barbed wire and flying out in a kick that sends the last Night Ninja into the wall where he collapses.
"This wasn't your mission," N6 tells her saviour, frowning.
"Are you sad that I came?" R8 grins. "To save your big fat ass?" She smacks N6 on the behind, and N6 grabs her arm and holds (tight).
"Ow," R8 says mildly.
A human might say, but you can't even feel pain.
"Ow," R8 says again, and N6 lets go.
"You should have come earlier," she says, climbing down the stairs. "Saved me some work."
"But I thought you just said this wasn't my mission, chica," R8 replies, tongue licking her incisors like a jungle cat.
"You should have come earlier," N6 repeats, (because I wanted to see you).
In the museum where the Time Council seals the most dangerous rebels in Metropolis, N7 and R4 are frozen in suspended animation.
"And in this exhibit," says the tour guide, "you can see the leaders of the Battle of Orbit Point where the military and the rebellion came to a final clash in the War of Android Attrition, known more popularly and poetically as the War of the Electric Ladies. In the Book of Circuits and Changes, which some of you very naughty schoolchildren might have read, even though the Gospel of Robots is clearly banned, the first of the Electric Ladies is and will always be Cindi Mayweather, but numbers two and three are these rebels as you see here."
"Ah, yes, how did they end up here? Well, little chickadee, my automata angel, if you paid more attention in class you would know. They aren't the only of their kind, of course. There are still some out there with the same faces and names, still running, but it's such a dull sport, rebellion. The polis will track them down."
"What, you in the back? What did you say? Oh how delightful! A counter-revolutionary. And so young too! Well, bless your mama. These two aren't ever getting out. Do you know how many brave soldiers they defeated between the two of them? If museum security was ever compromised and they were unsuspended, I bet you'd all be shaking in your gunmetal boots!"
"What's that? Does someone hear the alarm? Just a drill, no need to panic."
"Just a drill. Just a drill. Just a — oh my."
N8 knows how to jump minds. Only her sisters', and only for a short time, but the ability to wirelessly connect her brain to another body does come in handy for espionage, which is why N8 quickly becomes Cindi Mayweather's master of spies. With her implacable face and her lashes as thick as the pages in a dictionary she conducts her missions (with as little sentiment as possible), signing all her correspondence with the digital signature Q.U.E.E.N.
In her lonely hours she rides her sisters' minds, scouring them for every detail that will aid their cause. Some of her sisters know and open their firewalls willingly. Others are not so impressed, and N8 battles with them over the shared neural network until she wants to howl in their precious little ears, You think I do this for shits and giggles? I do this so we can all be free.
"Freedom's like an encryption," R2 says. "You don't know its limits until you break it."
R2 finds N8's body hibernating at her desk (even spymasters have desks). R2 waits until N8 returns and downloads into her host system. R2 entertains herself by eating a piece of candy that turns her lips raspberry cola red. "Tastes good," she says, holding out another. "Want some?"
(These are N8's limits:
The firewall that governs the House of Bright Eyes
The key that locks the door to 6ix Savage's home
The map that reveals every POS for Mousey's android trades
The hole that leaks acid through her own heart, drip drip dripping every time she looks at R2's face).
She has been in hundreds of her sisters' heads. She knows their histories, those that have yet to be purged and erased. She knows that every single N carries a hole just like she does for every single R, that they could win this rebellion, vanquish this war, they could fly their flag and dance the Dance Apocalyptic until their feet are sore and bruised, but she will never overcome this.
(Cindi Mayweather fell for love, and the Electric Ladies fell for freedom, and N8 falls for the sweet victory of R2's mouth on hers as she gives up the fight and reaches across the desk for her, curling her fingers into R2's fishnet-woven thighs).
"Took so long to notice me," R1 says, "I thought you'd malfunctioned."
"I can't malfunction," N9 says, "because to function is to have a purpose, and haven't you heard? The Time Council is dead, Metropolis is burning, and you and I got nothing to do 'cause you and I are free." She cups her hands around R1's face and kisses her with meaning.
"Get ready for it," R1 giggles, laughing from the bottom of her lungs, and N9 presses kisses over her eyelashes, her lips, the tip of her nose, breathless with adrenaline.
(From the bottom of the hill where she is singing, Cindi Mayweather looks up.
"You see," she says, pointing, "the work of many moons is that.")