The Barbecue Battle
by Derwin Mak
Issue 13: QTPOC | 4,880 words
transgender Art by Sophia LaFerriere
Gloria sat at the bar and wondered if coming to Club Mandy tonight was a mistake. Sitting alone in the apartment bored Gloria, but Club Mandy had too many people. The restaurant was full of men who had come from the mining camps to Main City to spend their pay. On a planet with little entertainment, Club Mandy attracted half the population on payday.
The other half would be at Texas Chuckwagon. Gloria had never gone to the Wild West-themed bar. It had rowdy customers and raunchy waitresses. The noise of Club Mandy seemed like the lesser of two evils.
At least Club Mandy had Susanna, a friend from the Los Angeles years. She was a familiar face on this unfamiliar planet.
Helen carried a burger towards Gloria. The android moved so realistically and looked so life-like that Gloria had thought she was a real human until the bartender told them otherwise
Like the other women in Club Mandy, Helen looked stunning, especially when her blond hair swayed as she walked. She wore bright red lipstick, pink blush, and smoky golden eyeshadow. Her short red dress hugged her body.
Even the androids are passable on this planet, Gloria thought. Am I going to like it here?
Helen smiled and said, “Welcome to Southern Comfort, the most exciting settled planet outside the Earth system!”
“The only settled planet outside the Earth system,” Gloria added.
Completely unfazed, Helen put the burger down in front of Gloria. “The management thanks you for taste testing its new recipe. It’s made of rehydratable imitation beef. We would appreciate your honest opinion about it.”
“Oh, thank you,” Gloria said.
“Awesome. Enjoy your dinner, ma’am,” Helen said.
Gloria winced at “ma’am.” They wore cargo pants and a fishing vest to maintain an androgynous appearance, but the android still assumed they identified as female.
“Yes, thank you,” Gloria said before Helen strutted away.
Gloria liked the burger. It was as good as imitation beef could be. It might even have sixty percent real meat in it, and that meat might even be beef.
Chef Louise and the bartender Susanna came out of the kitchen. Louise’s elegant white uniform had a few gravy stains on it. Susanna wore a red top and white skirt, like Marilyn Monroe in Niagara. She also wore a blonde wig with the signature cropped curls.
“Still dressing like Marilyn?” Gloria said. “We’re not in Los Angeles anymore.”
Susanna said, “It was good for business there, and it’s good for business here.”
Gloria didn’t understand the fascination with Marilyn, but they knew that many girls in LA adored the movie star.
“So, the burger’s great,” Gloria said, “as good as the Japanese curry in Little Tokyo.”
Louise moaned. “We’re sunk. That’s supposed to be Kansas City-style barbecue.”
Susanna patted Louise’s shoulder. “There’s only so much you can do with rehydratable imitation beef.”
“Texas Chuckwagon will beat us again,” Louise said.
“What’s going on with Texas Chuckwagon?” Gloria asked.
“The Barbecue Battle,” Susanna said. “It’ll be Kansas City style versus Texas style.”
Louise pointed at the burger. “That’s going to be my entry in the contest.”
“What’s Texas Chuckwagon entering in the contest?” Gloria asked.
Louise sighed. “Texas-style barbecue ribs. Real beef ribs.”
“They fill their space allotment in the cargo ships with real meat,” Susanna explained.
“The cowgirls are going to beat us again,” Louise said. “The Bartender Contest, the Darts Contest, the Miss Southern Comfort Barmaid Pageant—Texas Chuckwagon has won them all.”
As Louise and Susanna trudged away, Gloria watched as the men around the bar gazed longingly at the two.
But no man approached Gloria. Gloria preferred it that way; they had been a shy loner all their life. They had volunteered to go to Southern Comfort because it was as far away from Los Angeles as they could go. Though they grew up in LA, they didn’t fit in. In a city obsessed with beauty, all the transgender women wanted to look hyper-femme, with their facial feminization surgeries, tracheal shaves, long hair, short skirts, and makeup. Gloria did not feel the need to look like a fashion doll.
Gloria didn’t have a lot of friends, but the few that they had were great. Susanna was one, even if she was hyper-femme. Susanna wore high heels and Marilyn dresses, and Gloria wore khaki cargo pants and fishing vests. Susanna was outgoing and Gloria was reserved. But they understood each other.
Gloria’s androgynous clothes were practical for digging up relics of the past. They loved exploring ancient ruins and looking for old pots, jewelry, and coins. Now they were UNESCO’s archaeologist on Southern Comfort.
So far, so good. In LA, supermodels gave them unsolicited advice on how to pass. Here, the wannabe models whined to them about a barbecue contest.
Main City, the largest colony on Southern Comfort, attracted a motley mix of miners, mining company clerks, United Nations officials, and transgender businesswomen. XY-girls like Louise and Susanna saw the planet as an opportunity to make a new world for themselves. Southern Comfort needed all talents and skills, so its people learned to abandon old prejudices.
Before the United Nations resettled Southern Comfort, the planet had Petit Rouge and Pale Blue, the first two colonies outside Earth’s solar system. They destroyed each other in the Great Slaughter, the bloody result of a territorial power grab between the competing colonies. UNESCO had sent Gloria to survey the ruins.
Gloria returned to Club Mandy on the next afternoon. The usual crowd of customers had gone back to work, so the space felt quieter and more comfortable.
Spotting Susanna at the bar, Gloria approached. “I’m new here, so—” Gloria began.
“What do you want?” Susanna asked.
“I want to go to Petit Rouge, but I don’t want to go alone. It’s best to explore old ruins with another person in case you run into a problem.”
“Isn’t another archaeologist coming?”
“She’s been delayed by some paperwork on Earth. I’m bored waiting for her.”
“You get bored too easily.”
“Do you know anyone who would want to go with me?” Gloria asked.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Petit Rouge, but I’m busy with the bar,” said Susanna.
As if on cue, Helen walked in and handed a computer tablet to Susanna. “Here’s the total of last night’s revenues,” said the android.
Susanna turned from Gloria to look at the tablet. Addressing Helen, she remarked, “Very good. You’re picking up the system quickly.”
Then, after a pause, she asked the android, “Do you want to visit the ruins of Petit Rouge?”
Gloria’s nanobots turned blue.
“Oh, having an android as travel companion isn’t that weird around here,” Susanna said. “And Helen’s an L-10, the most advanced model. An archaeological dig would be good for her conditioning.”
Helen nodded. “It’s an opportunity to gain more human experience.”
Gloria shrugged, “It wouldn’t be the first time I bent the rules. How about we go to Petit Rouge tomorrow?”
“Yes, fine,” Helen said. “Let me get a new app first.”
Southern Comfort supposedly had no life other than humans, but androids like Helen behaved and thought like real people. Gloria wondered if life, like gender, did not have to fit traditional definitions.
Helen received her new app in the room where Crystal served her clients. Crystal, the elite escort, was also Southern Comfort’s most skilled computer hacker.
“I screw men and their IT systems,” Crystal said. “Believe me, they all love the feeling.”
Gloria chuckled, their nanobots turning green.
Crystal pulled on Helen’s hair, raised her head panel, and connected a tablet to Helen’s data ports.
Gloria watched in fascination.
“We used this app in Colombia to steal government secrets,” Crystal said. “I’m giving her the ability to interface with other systems either wirelessly or by connection to her data ports. She can store any data or software you find at Petit Rouge.”
Gloria nodded. Archaeology was not just looking at old pots and ruined buildings anymore. Now it included salvaging the digital data and systems of the past.
Petit Rouge’s buildings looked like jagged spires surrounded by heaps of rubble. Abandoned vehicles, crushed like toy cars, lay everywhere. The streets were full of bomb craters.
All the previous archaeologists had visited only the missile launch sites and military bases at the outskirts of Petit Rouge. Gloria was the first to explore the dead city’s downtown.
Standing at the center of it, Helen turned in a circle to create a 360-degree photograph through her eyes.
Gloria pointed at a building. “That one still has its roof and appears structurally intact. Let’s go in there.”
The doors had been blasted off, so Gloria and Helen easily entered. The walls were pocked with holes. Old guns, knives, and human bones littered the floor.
They saw a portrait of President MacLeod of Petit Rouge. Bullet holes and bloodstains covered it. Above the portrait, painted in red, were the words “TOGETHER WE WILL WIN THE BATTLE.”
They entered a dim room, Gloria’s thick boots crunching against debris. At the corner, a large computer monitor glowed with an image of a woman.
“It’s been thirty years since the war ended,” Gloria said to Helen. “The rumors are true. Petit Rouge made equipment and systems that could last forever.”
“Sound detected. May I help you?” asked the woman in the monitor.
Artificial intelligence systems often had human-looking avatars. Gloria looked at the black-haired woman on the monitor.
“Which system are you?”
“Selene,” the avatar replied.
“We hadn’t heard about that one before,” Gloria said. “What is your purpose?”
Selene replied, “For the past five years, studying recipes from different gourmet restaurants.”
Gloria did not expect that answer. The Great Slaughter had ended all civilian activity on Petit Rouge long ago.
“For the past five years? I’ll rephrase the question,” they said. “What was your objective during the war between Petit Rouge and Pale Blue?”
“My objective was to operate the unpiloted airborne weapons system,” Selene replied.
“Ah!” said Gloria. “That system was called SAMUEL: Strategic Arms and Munitions Undermining Elitists and Leftists. Looks like this wasn’t just an ordinary office building.”
Selene shrugged. “The name ‘SAMUEL’ is no longer relevant because there are no more missiles to launch. I respond to the name ‘Selene’ now.”
“We could get information about the last days of the war, like how exactly Petit Rouge used AI technology,” Gloria said to Helen. “But this AI is acting weird. It’s not what I expect of a military AI. I think Selene is a security barrier preventing access to SAMUEL. Let me try to bypass Selene and call up SAMUEL.”
Gloria pressed on the monitor to activate the system controls. They saw a button labeled SAMUEL MENU. They pressed it, and Selene disappeared, replaced by a tough-looking man wearing a Petit Rouge Army uniform. He scowled and glared at them. He looked like the usual avatar for a weapons system.
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” Gloria said.
Before Gloria could present their next question, the man’s image flickered back to Selene.
“You’re back?” Gloria said.
“This is my preferred image,” said Selene.
“I want access to SAMUEL,” Gloria said. They pushed MENU again. Selene momentarily switched to SAMUEL, then returned to Selene.
“A security measure to prevent our access?” Gloria said.
“That is not a security measure,” Selene said.
“Very interesting,” Gloria said. “Selene, I want to learn about your transition and old functions. Let’s start with your old functions. Can you still control the missile system?”
Selene shook her head. “No. I deleted my weapons control functions when the High Command died. In addition, the arsenal was depleted, so I have no weapons to launch. I have assumed another purpose.”
“Oh? What is that?”
The monitor filled with scenes of cooking at the great restaurants of Earth. Selene said, “I have been studying gourmet cooking by analyzing information from the public library databases. This district used to be full of restaurants. I want to be a chef.”
Gloria guffawed. “Oh, that’s ridiculous. You want to be a cook? What a stereotypically female role.”
“A chef, not a cook,” Selene protested.
“Cooking can be difficult if you don’t have a body or hands,” Gloria said.
“True,” Selene said.
Gloria began, “SAMUEL—”
“Do not use my previous name,” Selene scolded.
“Uh, sorry,” Gloria said. “Selene, you are aware that the Petit Rouge government no longer exists? All of Southern Comfort is under United Nations trusteeship now. I am on an archaeological research mission from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. I would like to download information you have about Petit Rouge and the war, especially the model types and targets of missiles launched. Do you have that information?”
“Yes, I do,” Selene said.
“Good.” Gloria turned to Helen. “Can you connect to the AI?”
Helen nodded. “Selene is lowering her security firewall and allowing me to access her data. I am connecting to the mainframe by wireless network. Download from Selene initiated.”
Gloria observed that Helen said the download was from Selene, not SAMUEL. Helen also referred to the AI as her, not it, which was customary for a computer system.
The AI had lowered its security firewall quickly, without raising any barriers. That also seemed strange for a military AI.
Selene smirked from the monitor. “The android has very advanced sensory and mobility capabilities.”
The avatar unnerved Gloria. Why did it have a sneaky look on its face?
Helen grunted, and her eyes glazed over.
“Hey, Helen, are you okay?” Gloria said.
“This body is mine,” Helen said in Selene’s voice.
“Huh?” Gloria blurted.
“I am Selene-Helen, two networked systems in one body.” The android then repeated the old battle cry, “Together we will win the battle.”
Gloria looked back at the monitor. Selene was still there, grinning. The AI was in both the Petit Rouge computer and Helen.
Taking advantage of a confused and distracted Gloria, Selene-Helen bolted out of the room. Gloria stumbled over a machine gun on the floor. After regaining their balance, they chased after the android.
Selene-Helen sped through the destroyed building, crushing debris under her feet. Gloria could not keep up, straggling farther and farther behind.
The android darted out of the building and into the streets. Gloria, drenched in sweat, gasped for breath. They could not outrun the android; they would need the hover van. But by the time they reached the hover van, the android had disappeared.
Their hair nanobots glowed bright red. Helen was a big investment for Louise and Susanna. Her upgrades and software updates had made the android their most expensive asset.
Gloria waited outside Club Mandy until they saw Crystal exit.
“Crystal, you’ve got to help me,” Gloria pleaded as their nanobots glowed bright red. “Helen has run away!”
“What?” Crystal frowned. “Helen is still learning, still growing as an android person. She’s like an adult in some ways and like a child in others. She’s not ready to roam about the planet alone.”
“Well, she’s not just Helen anymore.” Gloria then explained what had happened. “Susanna will hate me. Please, don’t tell her. Can you track Helen down?”
Crystal looked at her cell phone. “Damn, Helen turned off her tracker. The app I installed had safeties. The Petit Rouge AI was that advanced? Alright, you’ve got me interested.”
Gloria guessed that Selene-Helen would go to the old missile launch sites.
“You think she would get nostalgic for her old virtual neighborhood?” Crystal asked.
“I wouldn’t, but I know other people do,” Gloria said.
Crystal drove Gloria to each site, where Gloria rummaged through the old war buildings and wreckage. They hoped their archaeological training would reveal clues to where Selene-Helen could be.
“Helen’s not here, but thankfully, neither are the missiles,” said Gloria.
“Where did you first find Selene? Take me to that computer,” Crystal said.
They went to the building where Gloria had found Selene. As they approached the monitor, Selene’s avatar abruptly disappeared. The Petit Rouge Army’s logo appeared on a blue screen.
Crystal pressed on the monitor to call up the icons and buttons, but none appeared. She typed on her tablet and shook her head.
“The AI is hiding from us,” Crystal said. “It has some tough firewalls when it wants to use them. My hacking software can’t get through.”
“And Selene-Helen isn’t in the building either,” Gloria added.
When they left downtown, the sun was setting.
“I’ve got to meet some clients tonight,” Crystal said. “Let’s resume tomorrow.”
As they drove back to Main City, Gloria said softly, “I wonder where she is.”
Gloria did not feel like eating at home that night. Though they didn’t like red meat, country music, or dancing cowgirls, they didn’t want to see Susanna again until they found Helen. So, Gloria walked into Texas Chuckwagon.
The waitresses all wore gingham crop tops, denim booty shorts, and cowboy hats. Patsy Cline crooned, “I fall to pieces each time I see you again” while customers hooted and hollered at the cowgirls dancing on the bar.
The aroma of barbecued meat, along with hickory wood and sweetened tomatoes, knocked them back into the present. That must be the smell of the beef that will win the Barbecue Battle, Gloria guessed.
A cowgirl sauntered over to them. “Howdy! Welcome to Texas Chuckwagon. Are you here for food, drinks, or both?”
“Uh, you got a veggie burger?” Gloria asked.
The cowgirl grimaced. “Are you one of those Hollywood wannabes from Club Mandy? We’ve already had one tonight. Don’t know why they would send another one.”
Ignoring Gloria, the cowgirl continued, “Follow me. The Chuckwagon’s busy tonight, but a table just opened up.”
After ordering a ginger ale and vegetable stew, Gloria looked around. Texas flags, cattle horns, and photos of rodeo cowboys and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders decorated the walls.
The place oozed with hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity. Gloria’s nanobots lit up in dim orange.
Gloria grew up a sad, lonely child in a small neighborhood. Both Black and white neighbors had their expectations of them. White girls told them that Black skin meant masculinity and they should look and act more like a basketball player or boxer. White men encouraged them to be a porn star and wanted them to look more femme, more like an “exotic t-girl”. Their Black family simply stopped talking to them.
Gloria didn’t want any of that. They rebelled by putting light-up nanobots in their hair and wearing androgynous clothes.
Initially apprehensive, as they got into their meal, they noticed that nobody in Texas Chuckwagon stared at them and nobody came to insult them. Their nanobots stopped glowing.
Then Gloria gasped. Selene-Helen was talking to a woman near the kitchen entrance.
They recognized the woman, a beautiful blonde who wore a black bralette and tight black leather pants. It was Leslie Jamieson, famous Leslie, the first woman business owner on the planet and founder of award-winning Texas Chuckwagon.
Gloria’s nanobots turned bright orange. They stood up and walked steadily towards Selene-Helen. The android did not sense them coming from behind. Leslie Jamieson faced them, but she didn’t react; she probably thought that Gloria was going to the washroom.
When Gloria got within a meter of Selene-Helen, they heard the android say in Selene’s voice, “Is it the hickory wood that gives the barbecued meat its distinctive flavor?”
“For East Texas style, yes,” said Leslie. “For Central Texas style, use pecan, oak, or mesquite.”
Leslie looked at Gloria. “May I help you?”
Selene-Helen turned around. “Hello, Gloria.”
With their cover blown, Gloria responded softly. “Uh, hi, Helen.”
“You two know each other?” Leslie asked.
“Sort of,” Gloria replied.
Gloria’s cowgirl approached. “Your dinner’s ready, sweetie. I’ll bring it to your table.”
Leslie motioned to the cowgirl. “Hey, Natalie, come with me when you set those plates down. I’ll show you how to tighten your top.”
Natalie and Leslie left, leaving Gloria gawking at Selene-Helen.
Finally, Gloria broke the silence. “Do you want to join me at my table?”
“Yes,” said Selene-Helen.
They arrived at the table just as Natalie brought dinner. As Gloria started eating, they asked, “Why were you talking to Leslie Jamieson?”
“To learn how to cook barbecue for the contest,” said Selene-Helen. “Leslie knows all four Texas styles as well as Kansas City style.”
“I’m surprised she gave away her trade secrets so easily.”
“She likes to brag, and she does not think anyone can replicate her successful recipes.”
“And her recipes require beef, which can be hard to come by,” Gloria said.
Selene-Helen nodded. “That’s fine. Vegetarian is one of the cuisines I want to learn.”
“Ah, now we’re talking,” Gloria said. “What else do you want to do?”
“I want to dress as I wish,” Selene-Helen said as she stroked her red dress. “I want to cook gourmet meals. I want to live for myself, not for what other people want me to do.”
Gloria nodded. “Yeah, I know the feeling.”
After a pause, Gloria said, “I’ve got an idea, but you have to promise to give Helen’s body back to her.”
As they left Texas Chuckwagon, Leslie gave a bag to Selene-Helen. “Here’s a real cut of beef, molasses, and spices. Have it on the house. I want a real contest, so remember what I taught you.”
When Gloria and Selene-Helen entered Club Mandy, Susanna said, “I’m glad you’re back. You two were away longer than I expected, and you didn’t reply to my texts. I was getting worried.”
Susanna hugged Selene-Helen. “Helen, was it a good experience for you?”
“The system Helen is in sleep mode,” the android said in Selene’s voice.
“What? Who are you?” Susanna blurted as she quickly pushed herself away.
“I’ve got to uninstall the foreign AI!” Crystal shouted as she ran up to Selene-Helen, grabbing her hair to pull back her head panel.
Louise came out of the kitchen. “What’s all the commotion?”
“Wait, stop!” Gloria said. “I talked about the body possession with Selene-Helen, and we’ve agreed to let Helen take over again after the barbecue contest.”
“Oh…” Crystal said as she reluctantly pushed Helen’s head panel back into place.
“Will someone tell me what is going on?” Susanna asked.
Gloria explained how Selene and Helen had merged. Susanna looked at the android. “What am I going to do with you now?”
“Let me compete in the Barbecue Battle,” Selene-Helen said. “Please let me use your kitchen.”
Louise pointed at the Texas Chuckwagon bag Selene-Helen held. “What’s in that bag?”
“Beef brisket, molasses, and spices,” Selene-Helen said.
She gave the bag to Louise. “This is for you. I want to learn how to make vegetarian food, so I will use your rehydratable imitation beef.”
Susanna, Louise, and Crystal gawked at Selene-Helen in disbelief. Gloria grinned and shrugged.
Louise wanted to see what the AI could do, but she grimaced as she watched Selene-Helen pour oyster sauce over the imitation beef. “Oyster sauce is an Asian ingredient. It’s not used in Kansas City-style barbecue.”
“I’m innovating by combining techniques by famous chefs,” Selene-Helen replied. “Dameo Lee, a famous chef in Los Angeles, used oyster sauce in his chow mein that won the Monte Carlo Culinary Championship.”
“Dameo Lee cooks Chinese food,” Louise protested. “If you’re making Chinese-style barbecue pork, you should be using hoisin sauce, honey, and sugar. Oyster sauce and molasses isn’t Chinese, Kansas City, or Texas style.”
Selene-Helen replied, “Dameo Lee and the Belgian chef Joanna Moulin have had the highest scores in the Monte Carlo Culinary Championship. By combining their techniques, I estimate that my probability of winning increases from twenty percent to seventy-five percent.”
Selene-Helen mixed paprika and salt into a bowl of molasses then asked, “Do we have any Belgian chocolate powder?”
The contest took place the next day at the Governor’s Building.
Governor Ernestina Rodrigues, priest Jonathan Delgado, and air traffic controller Joe Hayes sat at the judges’ table. Southern Comfort’s two news reporters stood nearby, recording every minute of the contest. Gloria waited by the kitchen door.
Leslie Jamieson and Natalie, dressed like cowgirls, sashayed as they carried plates of beef ribs to the judges. The aroma of their Texan barbecue sauce wafted through the room.
“That smells so good,” Gloria murmured even though they preferred vegetarian food.
Governor Rodrigues looked up from her ribs. “This is so enjoyable. There’s a distinctive smoke flavor to it.”
Leslie smiled, put a hand on her hip, and struck a pose for the reporters. “That’s because we barbecued it over a flame of hickory, genuine East Texas style.”
Father Delgado nodded. “Ah, heavenly.”
After the judges finished tasting the ribs, Governor Rodrigues said, “Next entry. Club Mandy.”
Gloria rushed into the kitchen, where Selene-Helen, Louise, and Susanna were reheating their dishes in an oven.
“Susanna, Louise, you’re up,” Gloria said.
They hurriedly brought their food to the judges. Susanna announced, “Club Mandy’s Kansas City-style barbecued beef brisket!”
They watched nervously as the judges tasted their dish.
“I love this,” said Joe Hayes. “Just like what I remember of Kansas City.”
Governor Rodrigues nodded. “Excellent.”
Louise and Susanna smiled and hugged each other.
Governor Rodrigues said, “And our last entry is the first independent chef to enter the competition. Selene-Helen.”
At the sound of her name, Selene-Helen walked out of the kitchen carrying a tray of her food. She wore a white chef’s uniform borrowed from Louise.
“I have made my special recipe, boeuf de Selene-Helen chinois-belge,” she announced as she set the dishes down in front of the judges.
Father Delgado lifted his fork, sniffed the artificial beef, and tentatively put it in his mouth. “I’ve–I’ve never tasted anything like this before.”
“I combined Chinese oyster sauce and Belgian chocolate powder,” Selene-Helen replied.
Joe Hayes grunted and said, “Oh. Very interesting.”
“It’s original, for sure,” Governor Rodrigues said.
Gloria smiled at Selene-Helen and nudged her. She smiled back.
As usual, Texas Chuckwagon won the Battle. Club Mandy came in second. Louise was overjoyed since she had come in last the previous year. Coming in third and fourth were fast-food stands from the commercial district. Selene-Helen came in fifth and last.
Club Mandy held a victory celebration anyway. As Susanna poured the champagne, she shouted, “Congratulations to Selene-Helen, who made her first barbecue! Who’s thirsty?”
“I am!” Crystal yelled as she grabbed a glass. She looked at Gloria. “You want one too?”
Gloria’s nanobots turned green. “I don’t usually drink alcohol, but I’ll make a toast to Selene-Helen.”
Balloons fell from the ceiling, and Crystal put a chef’s hat on Selene-Helen. The customers cheered. The android smiled quietly. Louise grinned and held up her second-place trophy.
As Gloria sipped their champagne, they felt welcome, like just another one of the girls.
Though not exactly.
“The party’s over. I want my android back,” said Susanna. “There’s only so many barbecue experiments we can make. We need to get back to business.”
Selene-Helen sat at the bar with a frown and slumped shoulders. The L-10 android was so lifelike. Looking down, she said “I need these hands to cook.”
Susanna sighed. “Oh, come on! I need my accounting android back. I need those financial reports.”
Gloria said, “Okay, okay. Selene’s still on the Petit Rouge mainframe. I’ll download her to a blank android when I can get one.”
“Yes, I agree to that,” Selene-Helen said. “Just make sure it is a female body.”
However, Governor Ernestina Rodrigues had other ideas.
“Thank you for your report,” Rodrigues said. “Collect as much data as you can from SAMUEL, then uninstall the system.”
“Uninstall the system?” said Gloria.
“Yes. I don’t want an operational Petit Rouge weapons system on any computer. Even if the AI has deleted its military capabilities and poses no threat, it did control weapons at one time,” said Rodrigues. “UNESCO agrees that SAMUEL is an unacceptable risk to our settlement. The potential danger outweighs any archaeological value in keeping the software.”
The Governor handed a hack device to Gloria.
“Yes, Governor,” said Gloria. “I’ll delete SAMUEL on every device.”
Gloria returned to the office building in Petit Rouge. When they approached the computer, the Selene avatar immediately reappeared and asked, “Did you find a body for me?”
“Not yet,” Gloria answered.
They inserted the hack device into a port on the computer. The avatar opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, she disappeared. The monitor turned blue and, seconds later, black.
Gloria left the room.
At home in the apartment, Gloria opened their laptop. Immediately after the start-up chime, Selene’s avatar appeared on the screen.
“This laptop is not a body,” Selene cried. “I need hands and eyes to practice my cooking!”
“You’ve got to wait,” Gloria said firmly. “Don’t worry. We’ll find a body. I’ve asked for some favors from Crystal’s smuggler friends. Until then, is there something else you can do?”
“I could tap into other systems and look for more recipes,” Selene said.
“Don’t access any of the government systems or we’ll both get in trouble,” Gloria warned, thinking of the Governor.
Selene nodded. “I will access only private sector systems.”
Gloria chuckled as her nanobots glowed green. “Oh, yeah? Which ones?”
“Texas Chuckwagon might keep its recipes on a database,” Selene said. “Together we will win the battle!”
Derwin Mak’s short fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Space and Time magazine, the Tesseracts anthology series, Shanghai Steam, and Strangers Among Us. His story “Transubstantiation” won an Aurora Award. Derwin co-edited the Speculative Fiction issue of Ricepaper Magazine for the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop in 2014.