Dear readers: you’re the best.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about the Sexy Robot Month stories we’ve gotten this month. So far, we’ve seen the perils of engineering fantasies, a meditation on consumerism and personhood, and the nuances (and dangers) of technology-assisted polyamory. Awesome possums Elise R. and Kate Jonuska were generous enough to share with us their (respectively) hilarious and moving stories, to Broad!‘s enormous benefit, and today we add another to the bunch: Julia Evans.
In her cover letter to us, she mentioned that this story was inspired by “Voudrais,” which I wrote and posted a few weeks ago. “[I]t ended up sparking a conversation with my writing partner,” she wrote, and included their conversation, which I’ve reproduced here:
RYAN: “I feel territorial about sexbot stories. But who HASN’T written a sexbot book once?”JULIA: “Yeah, I feel the same way about Antarctica stories. Who HASN’T written an existential Antarctica story?”[PREGNANT PAUSE]JULIA: “I’m gonna write an Antarctic sexbot story.”RYAN: “Oh god please do it.”
The story’s as good as its intro. There’s not much else for me to say but voila: read “Autoclave” now.
Keep killin’ it,
by Julia Dixon Evans
It’s 1979 and I’m alone, still. The ice was so bad this year that the research vessel, my ticket out of here, couldn’t make it before the end of the astral summer slipped into impenetrable winter. The ice breaker ships that would precede the passenger ship were in too high demand elsewhere for such a piddly task as this: relieving that one robotics engineer from a cushy, amply-stocked yet relatively useless temporary field station. The only problem being that I’m stranded here. Alone.
I’m of no use to anyone in the NOAA so I have no work to do. I came down here three months ago to make some upgrades on the mechanical equipment that had long outlived the technology of the day. But shortly after the last of the scientists left by helicopter, this ice happened.
* * *
It’s six weeks into the solitude when I first lean against the autoclave while it is set to low. Even though I have no work to do, I still check every piece of machinery each day, even the ones I’ve never used before. I like to think they’re talking to me, the hum of motors, the click of parts engaging. But this is the first time I’ve felt one of them.
“Yes, hello there,” I say. “You’re humming along nicely. Very healthy.”
It’s seven weeks into it when I affix a heavy glove to the lab’s autoclave. The kind of glove the biologists would wear to tackle and weigh the penguins. They haven’t been used in seven weeks but there’s still dried penguin shit all over them. I do my best to scrape it off before duct-taping the glove to the side of the machine, rolled up, just the right size and shape (I measured it first), protruding out from the metal box.
And then I set the autoclave to low and place my erection inside the rolled-up glove.
Seven weeks and two days alone and, out of necessity, I rig a lining system with some silk long johns and some more duct tape.
Eight weeks into it, I realize I’ve named her Elizabeth.
Eight weeks into it, I move Elizabeth onto the floor so I don’t have to stand up anymore.
“Elizabeth,” I’d say, counting cup-fulls of lentils in the larder, attempting the impossible task of rationing out one’s stores when there is no end date and very little variety. “What should I have tonight? Lentils and rice, or just lentils?”
“I suppose,” I’d say, “It’d be nice to only have to wash one pot.”
“I suppose,” I’d say, “I should save these questions for when I’m in the same room as you.”
Eight weeks and two days and I move my mattress into the lab. It’s always warmer in there anyway.
Nine weeks alone and I try to draw her face but it isn’t right. I go through every piece of paper in the entire field station and none of them work. Her face is never perfect enough, her eyes never expressive enough, her nose never delicate enough. I’m an engineer! I should never have been assigned the job of bringing my darling’s face to the world! I should never have had to do art! I should never have been in Antarctica! I should never have been alone!
Nine weeks and one day and I duct-tape a spare pillow to where Elizabeth’s face should have been, something I can bury my own face into when I come.
Ten weeks into it, I hear the ship. They’re here. I’m no longer alone. I rush outside to the wooden porch and the sunshine surprises me, though it’s still frigid. I shout, unable to think, because it’s been ten weeks of speaking to nobody except Elizabeth. Except an autoclave.
“I’M HERE,” I shout.
Penguins scatter, hundreds of Adélies on the move from the madman.
I jump, I scream, I laugh.
And then: “Elizabeth.” I run back inside.
“They’re here! People! I’m going home!”
It takes a minute before it sinks in, and then I’m on my knees before her. I say it again but it sounds so different.
“I’m going home.”
I quickly calculate that we have time for one more. She’d be crying if I’d been able to draw her eyes right.
I cry, too, when I finish, but I don’t have time to wallow. The ship is closer now. I can smell the change in the sea and the air.
I yank the pillow and glove off the machine and I feel like a murderer. Elizabeth’s silver frame is smeared and rusted with almost a month’s worth of semen and I’m powerless as to how to clean it so I just lift her back up on the lab bench. I bask in the idea of leaving her stained and oxidized with my DNA.
* * *
I fill an entire suitcase with Elizabeth’s parts: the glove, the soiled silk long johns, the pillow, even the old duct tape. It’s all her, all the parts of her smell. I gather the reams of discarded drawings on torn-apart dot matrix printer paper even though they remind me of my failure. I wouldn’t want anyone discovering this art project and figuring me out.
I’m all packed up before the boat even anchors in the bay. When the scientists come ashore in their rubber Kodiak they do not bring the best news.
“The boat will stay here a week,” they say. “Then we will take you home.”
And each night in that week, all I can do is wander, low on sleep, into the lab, turn Elizabeth to low, and lean against her.
On the last night, I do not sleep. Without the glove, without the sex, I realize: this is love.
The boat leaves in the morning.
Julia Dixon Evans is a writer living in San Diego. Her work can be found (or is forthcoming) in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Noble / Gas Qtrly, Black Candies, Swarm, and elsewhere. Find her at www.juliadixonevans.com or on twitter @juliadixonevans.