A darkly humorous science fiction short story. When the nanotech apocalypse arrives, who says the goo has to be gray?
Now available for Kindle using the widget above and in other ebook formats through Smashwords, “Waterlilies” originally appeared in Issue #111 (Summer 2010) of Space and Time Magazine. Alan F. Beck has posted the illustration he created for the story here.
Sample of “Waterlilies”
“Here, monkey monkey monkey!”
Danny eased a step closer to the black leather couch. The rhesus macaque balanced on the armrest bared its teeth. Danny snarled back, then lunged. All he came up with was a handful of fur; the monkey, chattering, scampered to the far end of the couch.
Just beyond rose a metre-and-a-half-tall column of purple glass, lit from within and topped by a 25-centimetre nude woman. Molded of synthiflesh over a robotic armature, lifelike in color and texture, correct in every anatomical detail, she was the only piece from Danny’s breakthrough one-man show Fembots that he had kept for himself. Her name was Fembot 21, and as her motion sensors registered the monkey’s presence, her programming activated. She stood on tiptoes, spread her arms wide, and–
The monkey leaped to the top of the pedestal. Fembot 21 bounced off the wall and thudded in pieces into the burnt-orange Neo70s Revival shag carpet, where she lay on her back, one leg sticking straight up, the other lying some distance away. The monkey stared down at her and howled triumphantly.
“Shit!” Danny started around the couch. The monkey screeched, leaped down, and vanished into the hallway. It emerged like a jack-in-the-box, shrieking even louder, dashed over Danny’s shoes before he could grab it, dribbling pee as it went, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Helga emerged hard on the monkey’s heels. A head taller than Danny and twice as muscular, a former member of Germany’s Olympic water polo team, she carried a huge suitcase in one hand as easily as though it were a briefcase, and with the other weilded her electrobrolly like a Teutonic sword. Blue sparks crackled and popped along the ‘brolly’s length as its water-repellant static charge reacted to dust and monkey fur in the room’s air. Helga’s eyes, as they locked on Danny, were the exact same color as the sparks.
She lowered the ‘brolly and stepped close, forcing him to either crane his neck or talk to her breasts. She had turned on her Medusa ‘do, and like clouds scudding above a skyscraper, the tendrils of hair weaving snakelike patterns above her forehead made him feel a little queasy.
“Is over,” Helga said, her voice a booming contralto. “Over! No more model. No more sex. No more nothing. You promise me Orbital Hilton. You go out to buy tickets, make reservations. You come back with monkey!”
Glass shattered in the kitchen, but Danny didn’t dare turn around.
“Helga, sweetheart, you don’t understand,” he said in his best wheedling voice. “That monkey is going to win me–us, I mean–the Stanislaw Prize for Avant-Garde Art!”
“The Stanislaw?” Besides enormous prestige, the Stanislaw carried a $500,000 prize. Danny could almost see Helga translating that into euros as she stepped back a pace. “Explain.”
More crashing in the kitchen; it sounded like the monkey was throwing teacups against the walls. Danny kept his eyes on Helga. “Androids make money, but they’ll never win the prize, love, no matter what I do with them. My Fembots are passé; the artistic statement I made with them has been heard and assimilated into the milieu. ‘Just as robots are programmed by their creators and masters,'” he quoted from the exhibition catalogue, “‘so we are programmed by our creators (our parents) and our masters: the corporate conglomerates that determine what we see, feel, and think. Like the Fembots, we are all robots under the skin.'”
“You are boring me,” Helga said. “Answer question!”
From the kitchen came a sound like fingernails on a blackboard. What the hell was that monkey up to? “So, honeybunch, it’s time to rethink!” Danny said. “To be relevant, art must argue with itself. To win the Stanislaw, I will argue, not with other artists, but with myself, with my own earlier work: how much more avant-garde can you get? I will argue that rather than being robots under the skin, as I said before, we are…” He paused for effect. “Animals!”
As if on cue, the monkey screeched; and outside, where the skies had been leaden all day, lightning flashed. The ensuing clap of thunder coincided with the sound of something heavy falling over in the kitchen.
A thundercloud seemed to have descended on Helga’s face, as well. Her lips pressed together, her eyes narrowed, the Medusa ‘do writhed, and the ‘brolly came up again, flashing sparks like the magic sword from Final Fantasy XXI. “You–want–to–put–my–body–on–a–monkey?” Helga shouted, emphasizing each word with a poke–and a fat electric spark–from the ‘brolly. “Nein! Nein, nein, nein!” Four more pokes, each sharper than the last, then Helga swept by him, flung open the front door, and stalked down the front steps into the rain, the ‘brolly popping up and open in an explosion of sparks. The monkey burst from the kitchen, crossed the living room in a brown, furry blur, and dashed after her.
Danny ran after both of them, but at the end of the front walk, Helga turned right, heading for the tube station–and the monkey turned left, toward the towers of downtown. Danny stopped, looked after Helga, looked after the monkey, did a quick mental comparison of the cost of the monkey versus the cost of hiring a new model–and followed the monkey.
Three hours later, soaked, chilled, and seriously pissed at all primates, Danny stood at the mouth of a downtown dead-end alley. He hadn’t seen the monkey for half an hour, but he’d long since figured out its destination. He’d have been here two minutes after that if he’d been able to find a cab, but cabs, it seemed, were avoiding long-haired bearded sandle-wearing coatless artist-types tonight.
A single blue light illuminated a rust-red door at the alley’s far end and the black letters stenciled on it: “Honest Art’s Avant-Garde Art Supplies.” Smaller letters beneath the main sign added, “And Surplus Store.”
The door opened before he got there, revealing a short, brawny figure, silhouetted against the bright interior light. “Well, well, well,” it said. “First a wet monkey, then a drowned rat.”
“Hello to you too, Art,” Danny said. “Are you going to let me in or make fun of me?”
“Both, probably,” Art said, but moved to one side and gestured Danny in…