Today's excerpt comes from Amanuensis, by A.B. Eyers.
It’s Sunday. The office is empty when Kitty palms the door open, but the coffee maker is on automatic—it hears her and hums to life.
She doesn’t plan to drink any, but when she passes the machine on the way to her desk she is stopped by the smell. Rich, heady, dark. She is fifteen again, her mother’s silk scarf draped casually over her shoulders, desperate to impress David Fowler, who’s three years older and smells like cinnamon. She’s sipping his americano, pretending to like it....
Kitty stands frozen in the darkness, smelling the richness of her first coffee. She pours herself a cup now, wraps her hands around its warmth and then sips. Deep bitterness floods her mouth.
Suddenly the worn, comfortable craving is something else, something roaring in her, something that will not be denied or forgotten.
“You’re not supposed to be here.”
He is sitting at a desk, his palms flat on its surface.
“I’m just picking up some papers,” Kitty says.
He is ugly. She is not sure why; the pieces of his face are fine, but the composite... she looks again, and her first impression settles into fact. Ugly.
“That machine is set for the committee meeting this afternoon,” he tells her. “You are Kitty Dunn, legal aid. I can fix the settings of the coffee maker if you wish.”
Her hands tighten on the cup. His mouth twists into a grin that looks painful.
“No thank you.” She sips her coffee. Bitter kisses with Dave behind the gas shelter, his lips forbidden and delicious. “Who—” she begins to ask, and then stops, because his fingers twitch.
You can always tell by the hands.
His are too thin, too long, too oddly angled.
“I haven’t had coffee like this since I was a girl,” Kitty says. “It’s stronger than I’m used to, look.”
She crosses the room, hand outstretched. Her fingers are, indeed, trembling.
Under his folded hands are smudges of ink.
“Were you taking dictation?” she asks.
In answer, he taps his fingers onto the stain-absorbent skin of the desk. Letters form. Words.
Without knowing quite why she does it, Kitty puts her coffee down, reaches out, picks his hand off the desk. His skin is like recycled paper: dry, harsh. His expression stays blank. Kitty turns his hand over—there is no resistance, just the odd rasp of his skin against hers—and inspects his fingers. On the pad of each one is a glossy black oval, a featureless patch of skin that looks smoother than glass.
“You’re one of the new androids,” she says.
She wants to touch the pads of his fingers. Partly she’s curious, wants to understand them, but mostly she just wants to know if they’re as smooth as they look, if they’re wet with ink. There is something uncomfortably intimate behind his blank stare, and so she puts his hand down, speaks. Her voice like a startled bird, ungainly and awkward; anxiety made audible.
“I thought they were just household models. What are you?”
She cannot look away as he taps her words into the table.
“Amanuensis,” he says. “Model t-792, experimental. The ultimate secretary.”
“I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Nor did I.”
That ugly smile crouches at the corner of his mouth. He taps one finger against the desk and a series of small dots appear, a line of ellipses.
“Excuse me,” he says, and stands. Jostles her coffee cup so a little of the precious liquid splashes out. “I am wanted elsewhere.”
Kitty lets out a breath as he crosses to the door. She stares at their conversation spilled out on the desk, the ink mingling with her little pool of coffee. She stretches out a finger, touches the dark mixture. Already their words are sinking in.
As she leaves the room Kitty brings her finger to her lips, licks it clean.