You lay the fleshy arm along your shoulders, bracing yourself to help her stand. She emits a low-frequency buzzing as the torso twists to the side of the chair, the legs twisting after, and the feet—large metal pads—plant into the ground. Her face blinks on/off as the guts of the machine fume until finally—finally—she is standing next to you. She is tall—magnificent. You feel as if you could have loved her in some other life.


The pistons inside her are still ticking and tapping, sounding vaguely like the song your mother hummed to you when you were young. She puts one metal pad foot ahead of the other. It hits the floor with a wonderful clunk. The other follows. She looks down at her feet, then to you. On the screen now: a smile. “Walking,” she says. “I am walking.”


You place a hand on her steel body. “I have no more tokens. We need to hurry.”


“Yes,” she says. “This way.”


She leads you to a door on the other side of the room that you hadn’t noticed previously: hand-carved mahogany showing a fishing vessel in a wild sea harpooning a great whale intent on smashing it to pieces. You run your hand over the figures on the boats, their faces stern, paralysed.


“What about the small me?” you ask. “What will happen to it?”


“I do not know.” She lifts a fleshy arm and runs a metal finger across your cheek. Her hand is as large as your head. “But you must choose: it, or me.”


You point to the mahogany door. “What’s out there?”


“Everything,” the human machine says tenderly. “All of it.”


this installment was written by robert james russell