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While standing in the doorway, Igraine’s feet felt nailed to the floor. Her fingers clenching the crutch were trembling, and her breathing was erratic as her gaze followed the trail of cotton stuffing across the carpet to the nightstand.
There, Anwin used to sit. But the doll was gone. Vanished. Nowhere to be seen.
Igraine couldn’t believe this was real as she followed the littered stuffing to the bed. Oui, it must have come from the bed! She told herself. Something must have gotten into the mattress. Anwin just fell off the top. Right? Igraine walked up to the commode. No, Anwin. She lay down on the floor to look under the furniture. No, Anwin. She pulled the sheets off her bed. No Anwin, and the mattress was intact. Desperately, Igraine scanned the room with her augmented eye. Nothing. Just the trail of crumpled cotton. Rodents couldn’t have taken her, she thought. How could- Igraine looked up to the air vent above her bed.
The grate had been removed.
Immediately, she jumped on the mattress and peered into the narrow shaft. But even with her infra-vision, it was impossible to trace the culprit’s steps.
Whilst standing in the doorway to her room, Igraine looked at the playpen.
Anwin was sitting in the middle of the enclosure with the power cord still attached to her hand. Whilst situated motionless on her backside, Anwin resembled the doll she used to be.
But it isn’t Anwin, is it? Igraine considered. It was the little robot who happened to wear Anwin like a costume. And yet, it was hard for Igraine to separate the two.
As an Associate, Igraine once met a human who possessed people like disposable costumes. But even a man criminally insane like him couldn’t help but suffer from dysmorphia upon seeing somebody else’s face in the mirror. At those moments, he would believe he had become that person. But that made the man live a lifetime. This little robot. Well, that one might have been produced yesterday.
Igraine snapped out of her contemplations when Anwin raised her head. “Oh. I’m back, Anwin. Are you still recharging?”
The doll crawled to her feet to look at Igraine through the bars with those blank eyes and nodded.
Igraine squeezed her lips together, not knowing what to say. And to think she used to have whole conversations with the doll. But now that Anwin had a will of her own, Igraine could no longer project her thoughts onto her. “You want something to sit on?” she asked. Then she picked up one of the embroidered bed pillows and dropped it in the corner of the pen.
But Anwin just looked up at her, showing little interest in the makeshift couch.
Igraine rubbed her eyes, thinking of what to do. Her daily routine had been interrupted by her current assignment, and now she didn’t know how to spend her afternoon.
Whilst looking around the room, the calendar on the wall grabbed her attention.
Igraine shrugged her shoulders upon seeing that today was marked with a sunny smile. “Of course it’s time.” She sat down behind her desk and opened the drawer. There was her syringe kit which she needed to inoculate herself. After stroking up her sleeve, she held up the syringe, made sure to squeeze the air out of the needle, and then injected herself with the turquoise fluid contained inside. After all these years, she still couldn’t bear the needle’s sting.
Anwin observed her with her head tilted.
“Non, Anwin. You don’t need medicine,” Igraine assured her while lowering her sleeve. That’s when she noticed the tennis ball in the far corner of Anwin’s pen. “Oh. We can at least get some exercise. You want to come to the gymnasium, Anwin?”
The doll raised her arms in response.
“Oui, oui. Go get your hat,” she said pointing at Anwin’s flat cap on the floor. As the doll raced to get her hat, Igraine gathered her things and a moment later they walked off to the gymnasium on the second floor. Not many of the women residing in Sanctuary made use of the gym outside of the classes. With Anwin around, that was probably a good thing as well.
Inside the dressing area, Igraine slipped into her baggy breeches and put on her slim-fitted vest under the watchful gaze of the doll who seemed anxious. “What is it, Anwin?”
The doll lifted her dress.
“Anwin, behave,” Igraine said, sternly. “Do you want to change clothes?” She sighed as Anwin was pulling up her skirt again. “I don’t have other clothes for you. Come,” she said with a wave of her hand and led the doll inside the gymnasium. “Well…” Her voice reverberated through the empty hall as she looked at the doll. “You can watch or join me, I suppose.”
The doll just gave her a blank stare.
Igraine shrugged. “I’ll just get started then.” Anwin was standing by the side as Igraine began warming up.
But then Anwin began mimicking her movements in her own doll-like way. She raised her arms in the air while trying to stand on her toes. Fell over while stretching her legs and failed to synchronize her limbs while doing jumping jacks. And yet, it didn’t make Anwin lose any enthusiasm. She was
even chasing Igraine as she was running her laps.
Igraine couldn’t help but keep a close watch on the doll to make sure she wouldn’t damage herself. Still, Igraine considered that these exercises might just be what the doll needed to develop her motor skills. And besides, Anwin was having a good time.
But when Igraine was lifting herself on the rings that were suspended from the ceiling, the doll was standing right beneath her.
“Anwin, get away from there!” Igraine shouted while sweat was running across her forehead. “I’ll fall on you,” she insisted, but the doll wasn’t listening. Igraine slowly lowered herself down. “Well, maybe I have to get you a leash anyway.”
Anwin tilted her head.
“Yeah, keep acting like this and you’ll understand soon enough,” she warned her. “Let’s go back.”
Together they returned to the dressing room where Igraine prepared to hit the showers. A known, but still uncommon luxury in this world. It was the one facility Igraine missed most during her stays in Arkology, along with water faucets.
As she turned around, she noticed Anwin struggling to take off her dress. “Non, Anwin!” she warned her as she ran to the doll. “Water is bad for you! Probably.” Shivering, with Anwin clenched to her chest, Igraine checked to see if nobody was inside the dressing room. Then she
quickly put Anwin inside her clothing bag. “Now stay there until I’m done. Or I’ll shut the bag with you in it,” she hissed, and fled back into the shower. She was relieved the doll had obeyed. But she was still washing her hair with frustration. Every waking moment of the past few days revolved around that doll. What about work? Well, Anwin was her job now. But Igraine was still worried about the future. What if she had to go on a mission? Or when she had to travel to Arkology? Exhausted Igraine stroked her hair back. “What to do with her…”
Back in her room, Igraine lowered Anwin back in her pen. But the moment she let go, Anwin raised her arms again. “Non, I have work to do,” Igraine said. She could feel the doll's eyes following her as she turned her back. Ignoring the disappointing doll, she turned on the wavecaster.
*Hello kids,” spoke a man with a tranquil voice. “I’m Cowboy Gene talking to you from coast to coast. Everybody here in the wild west knows me as the Singing Cowboy but you can call me Gene. You know what’s funny? For me, it might still be morning, but your mom is already preparing supper…*
“Supper already?” Igraine thought out loud while looking at the clock. She noticed Anwin looked at the wavecaster mesmerized. “Still figuring it out, huh?”
The doll just stood at attention as the program went on. *And now a couple of songs* said the jolly cowboy. Anwin was startled when she heard the sound of guitar strings. *I-I dream of… Rodeo Rudy with dark brown hair. Oh, so fair-*
Anwin began tilting her head from side to side to the music and shifted from side to side.
*She’s a hard-side saddle sister. She’s the gal for me-e.*
Before long, the doll was jumping and spinning round and round as the music played.
While getting dressed, Igraine tried to ignore the doll who was running and jumping around in her pen. Once Igraine was done, Igraine turned the wavecaster’s volume up. “I’ll be back after dinner,” she said, but the doll was too busy jumping to care. “Make sure your battery doesn’t run out, alright?” Igraine told her and closed the door behind her, relieved she found Anwin a babysitter for the evening.
Upon arriving on the ground floor, the smell of stoved mutton and gravy drifted in the air of the common area.
As she was looking for an available table, a gentleman with a receding hairline and wearing large glasses looked up from his new paper. “Iggy?”
Igraine was surprised. “Dr. Drambuie?”She knew the doctor well, for he had a keen interest in her augmentations from the day she arrived. He would make up games for her to test the power of her remote manipulator.
“I’m sorry… Associate 244, is it? Forgive me. It’s-”
She smiled. “It’s alright, Doctor. Most know my name from back when. I don’t often see you here.”
“I prefer to eat at home,” he said. “But the Misses is visiting family. I don’t have the time to cook.”
“Can you cook?” asked Igraine, incredulous.
“Only the way I learned in the army.”
She gave him a sideways glance. “You were in the army?”
“As a surveyor. Still, I moved with the troops. Carried the same kit.”
“And now you are head of the Antiquarians.”
“For a couple more years at least.”
“You are thinking of leaving?”
“None of us are getting any younger. And now that our children have moved on, my wife requires some companionship. And so do I.”
“Oui.” Was all Igraine could say, knowing full well what that is like.
“Oh, forgive me. I didn’t intend to ehm…”
“It's alright. I’m not that lonely. I actually-”
He raised an eyebrow. “You have a suiter?”
Igraine refrained from mentioning her lover in Arkology. “Wh- Oh… You could say I have a roommate.”
“Ah, your little girl. How is she?”
“Dancing? To music?”
Igraine nodded while chewing her food. “Yes. To Cowboy Gene.”
Dr. Drambuie frowned his lips. “No arguing about taste I suppose. What other surprises do you think she has in store for us?”
“I might do some experiments tomorrow.”
“Oh. Like what?”
“Of course. Forgive me.” He chuckled. “An Associate. When we were introduced, I found it hard to believe that the scared girl was an Outsider. That doll,” he muttered. “I don’t recall ever seeing you without her.”
Igraine cleared her throat. “Oui.”
“Something the matter?”
“Non…” Igraine hung her head and sat down. “Oui, there is. Anwin needs so much attention. What will the Association do if I can’t take care of her?”
“Is she, yours?”
“That means she is also your responsibility. Do they suspect she is a threat?”
“I… She is… She is like a puppy,” Igraine said. “She has no inhibitions. She copies whatever I do unless I want her to. Meanwhile, Vermouth wants me to figure out her purpose, but…”
“I investigated quite a few automatons. Some were disguised as child’s toys. But never one that decided to become an actual toy.”
“Should I trust it?”
“Why?” asked Dr. Drambuie. “You suspect it’s an act?”
Igraine glanced down at the table. “I suppose I don’t,” she said. But how could she be sure? She’d brood on the question all evening until it was time to retire.
The news was playing in the background when Igraine entered her room. She checked on Anwin. To her surprise, Anwin was lying on a pillow, her hand plugged into the charging socket. Igraine couldn’t help but smile when Anwin got up to greet her. She picked her up. “Oui, I’m happy to see you too.”
Hope you enjoying these odd slice-of-life stories. The feedback on these tales has been great so far. Few people could imagine Igraine with her fluffy friend. And I agree. But can it last? Maybe this is just the start of Anwin's transformation. But how did it happen? Continue reading in part 5 (coming soon)!
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