There are two types of androids available in the market. Organic robots, made for couples who want to see their artificial babies grow, and static ones, made for commercial use, always stuck with the same original appearance. Soriano is the later, and his middle-aged exterior has intrigued me since the first day we met: outstanding blue eyes, a receding gray hairline, a hooked nose, a face full of lines.
Only later I discovered that his body was modeled after a general of the National Reorganization Process period, which only makes the whole thing worse. Not only did the police substitute a great amount of their force with static androids, but they also designed the motherfuckers to look straight out of the dictatorship.
ROBOT SIN ALMA
My words, written outside of Soriano’s house last week, were painted over the following day. Well, if he thinks that’s enough to stop me, he’s pretty fucking wrong. Resisting only earned him a pig sprayed across his front door with the words NUNCA MAS. When I got back, there was a sticky note glued to his door:
“Dear neighbor,” said the neat calligraphy in perfect Spanish. “While I appreciate your passionate political mind, I would rather keep my property clean. If you feel like you are being wronged somehow, we can discuss the matter in my house. P.S. The correct spelling is más.”
God, please, deactivate Soriano, or at least make his engines melt in Buenos Aires’ hellish summer. Holy shit.
Perhaps I should remind him, this time with no grammar mistakes, that he is part of the process of remilitarization of Latin America, or maybe I should explain how harmful it is to have robots substituting for human beings over a cup of tea.
Instead, my very human brain offers a far superior idea.
“Stick it up your ass,” I say, showing my middle finger to the camera hanging from the ceiling.
His house is four times the size of my humble apartment, something I can’t understand. Androids don’t have families. Do they even get paid?
I sit on his leather sofa, wondering how the material feels against his fake beige skin, until someone decides to answer my questions:
Again, I find myself at Soriano’s house, not because of him, but because of his cat. It was a strange discovery: the man has a cat, but not just any cat: a lean bicolor sphynx, who loves to meow softly at me. The little collar around his wrinkly neck says “ATLAS”, so that’s how I call him.
“Atlas, I brought you a gift,” I say, holding a striped turtleneck shirt above his enormous ears.
Unlike his owner, Atlas is not an arrogant prick, nor is he made of metal and hidden wires. He is a real living cat, and a cute one as well.
“I don’t know if he’s gonna kill me, or you,” I tell Atlas, covering his smooth skin with the shirt. “Hopefully, neither.”
“Dear Miss Esposito,” the new note says. “Stop harassing my cat, please. I have grown insensible to your recurring vandalism, but leave Atlas alone.”
Soriano glued the paper against the television screen in his living room, which doesn’t come as a surprise, considering I can’t imagine him sitting down to watch a movie.
“Dear Comisario Soriano,” I write back, holding Atlas on my lap. “If you don’t want strangers to dress up your cat, maybe you should take the initiative instead. The poor thing was freezing.”
Surprisingly, I was not arrested. Soriano was very efficient in getting me the first three times: two for graffiti in public spaces, the other for disrespecting authority, namely, himself. Now, despite the fact that I have indeed invaded private property, disconnected his burglar alarm, and played with his cat, he did nothing to stop me from coming back.
Not that I’m complaining. This gives me time to stop at the Starbucks near his house, watching people walking outside while I eat my muffin.
“Miss Esposito,” a clear voice says behind me, and I recognize Soriano right away. If I’m 165cm, he must be around 190cm, large and looming behind me like a shadow blocking the sunlight, which makes the image of him wearing a black suit while carrying his little hairless cat even more unnerving. “Please calm down. I am not working at the moment. May I sit here?”
“I can’t refuse, can I?” Atlas is wearing the striped shirt I gave him, and looks delighted to be in Soriano’s arms. He blinks when he sees me, and tries to reach me with his dark snout, looking like a goblin. “Hello, baby.”
“The veterinarian agrees with you,” Soriano tells me like we’re old friends. “Although it is an unsightly thing.”
“He looks adorable, but I thought cats didn’t like wearing clothes.”
“I wouldn’t know; I’m not one,” Soriano replies in a serious voice. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to advise you to change your target. The department has decided I am unsuitable for work, and has replaced me with a more efficient model.”
“Dysfunctional behavioral patterns, they said. It means they think I’m rather soft.”
“I thought they just deactivated you guys when—wait, is it rude to say that?”
“It’s a valid question. There is a regional decree preventing certain sentient androids from being deactivated.”
“Well,” I say, feeling silly. “You robots shouldn’t be in the police in first place.”
Soriano smiles at me, and allows Atlas to jump on my lap.
“You are welcome to visit him any time, but please do ask me before giving him new clothes.”
An ugly robot replaced Soriano, but I’m not interested. I have too many bills to pay, and the fun of breaking into Soriano’s house only lasted because it didn’t present any actual danger.
I visit Atlas twice a week, but his owner is never present. On Friday, I ran into him in the park near my job.
“Walking about, comisario?”
“Miss Esposito.” Something isn’t right in his realistic face. If he was a human, I would say he looks ashamed.
“Call me Norma.”
“Norma,” he repeats before pausing. He is wearing his old police uniform, and holds a suitcase tightly against his chest.
“I thought you were fired.”
“Were you assigned to a new department?”
Is this a malfunction of his system, like his love for his cat?
“See you next week, then?” I say, taken by a sudden wave of compassion.
I need to work, but I return to Soriano’s house at night, armed with ink and stencils. To me, it’s just another night. To him, it might be a distraction. Let’s see if you correct my spelling now, fucker.
First appeared in Mafagafo Revista, September 2018.
H. Pueyo (@hachepueyo on Twitter) is an Argentine-Brazilian writer and translator. Her work has been published before in English and Portuguese in magazines like Clarkesworld, Samovar and Trasgo, among others. You can find her online at hachepueyo.com.