To most foreigners, Hong Kong was a good way to live in China without bothering with the language. Who spoke Cantonese? Locals. And the only ones worth anything all knew English. Those that didn’t, fuck them.
That’s what the drunk American had told Noble in a bar just off Hollywood Road, and it was a mantra that repulsed Noble so much that the same night she heard it, she went back home and searched for her first Learn Cantonese in seven minutes video.
Every day for three weeks she would repeat different words out loud, and trace the strokes of basic Chinese characters and whenever she felt like quitting, she remembered the American and
when that didn’t work
she’d indulge in fantasies
where the Cubans would turn up and ask her to show them around and when Noble took them to the yum cha restaurant near her flat she’d be able to do everything in fluent Cantonese.
The fourth week, the drunk American became so vague in her head that he started to resemble a 190cm silhouette of Peter Falk, but still she continued with the Cantonese
and without spoken practise
cos speaking would involve getting up off the couch and meeting people
and that was no good.
on the couch
Noble stared defiant at the textbook she’d loaned from Shatin library, but the text was too black and the page too cream and none of it was connected to reality.
‘No one understands me,’ she muttered to the table under the textbook. ‘Why is this so hard? I’m a robot. I learnt Slovene in two hours. This should be child’s play.’
The Spanish drama on the TV
linked from online
kept playing in the background
the two actresses telling each other, don’t worry, we’ll get the bastard, there’s no friends left to bail him out.
Noble closed the textbook, picked up the bottle of Tsing Tao and slumped back on the couch, getting through four more episodes before the leash of routine took her to bed.
Teaching in a back alley in Yau Ma Tei wasn’t that much different from working in a factory in China
Noble thought, during most lessons
before deleting the thought and
cursing herself for false equivalence.
How did I end up here, she asked after the first year passed, forgetting the disaster in Venezuela
then remembering it
and trying to repaint it as the situation in Venezuela.
But it was no good
and if it hadn’t been for the rocket boots and bulletproof metal skin, Noble would’ve been disappeared to a Colombian prison
possibly governed by Manny Noriega
from Dictators’ Disneyland.
Maybe that’s where they were now, the Cubans…though they had given themselves a day head-start, so maybe not.
Little Hoi Lam scrawled something close to sentences on page six, singing nonsense as she went.
Noble, parked on a nearby chair, watched her sketch out THIS IS A MOUSE with no spaces, thinking about how many times she’d seen that page.
‘…mama mouse, mama mouse, drop you on a floor,’ Hoi Lam sang, poking her own arm with the pencil.
Oblivious to the stabbing, Noble conducted the song with figurative hands while drifting off to other things. The student she’d had before Hoi Lam. The teachers that’d come after her and already left. The bleak routine of getting up and riding the bus and cocooning herself on the same street for one and a half years, to do the same thing, the thing that she thought was probably beneath her but wasn’t one hundred per cent sure.
‘Bee-bee-bee, bee-bee-bee…ballo!’ shouted Hoi Lam, smiling like a loon.
‘Hoi Lam…not so loud.’
The little girl laughed and tried to climb up onto Noble’s lap.
‘Your skin is very cold, Miss Noble.’
‘Very cold and very grey.’
Noble looked at Hoi Lam’s tiny moon shaped head. Those cute little eyes and nothing on her face, no marks or creases or anything.
‘Miss Noble…I go to sleep now.’
Hoi Lam tried to climb up again.
‘I sleep on you.’
‘Hoi Lam, no.’
The little girl touched Noble’s thigh, dug her nails in.
‘I said no,’ said Noble, pushing her back.
‘Your pic is great, I really wanna fuck you.’
Noble stared at the line for about an hour and a half, switching between the New Left Review and the History of Sengoku Era Japan for variation, until she thought, I would never say it, the words are too sleazy, but it does have some kind of truth, and then sent it to the thirty women she’d favourited on onenightfuck.org.
To kill time waiting for replies, she got four mini bottles of vodka from the fridge and drank them without ice.
To kill time between bottles, she searched Chinese student fucked by robot.
There was one video vaguely related, but the woman wasn’t Chinese.
Noble checked the curtains were closed and clicked on it anyway, crushing one of the mini vodka bottles into pieces when she saw the woman move herself up and down the metal cock while the robot stood there like a fucking prop.
A little bubble popped up at the corner of the screen. A message from one of the org girls, Tentric Lam.
Noble opened it up.
‘I really wanna fuck you too.’
Noble looked at Tentric Lam’s avatar and said okay again. She typed out a reply, where do you live, you free now, pressed send then sat back and tried to get a leash on the simulacrum of anxiety fire-balling through her circuits.
It didn’t matter how forward Tentric Lam seemed, Noble wouldn’t let her do things her way, not without some kind of compromise.
‘Not today Galvatron,’ she slurred, growling a bit at the end.
Another reply appeared.
Noble opened it up, read, ‘$480 can 1 hour,’ out loud, repeated the Galvatron line then reached across for the vodka.
‘Two pronged strategy: asylum seekers + poor background students.
Step One: find asylum seekers, learn their languages, buy them lunch, top up their octopus cards. Not technically work so not illegal.
Step Two: Get more people involved, especially locals. Asylum seekers won’t have to worry about lunch or dinner, can save cash for other stuff.
Poor students: find a centre or group, join up. Aim for group lessons 1-4 students. Don’t use same material from learning centre, it’s shit. Make own stuff.
It can work if I stick to it.
This time I will. Get started tonight, search out all the info and groups. Don’t let your brain take over. Don’t fall back on porn or big tits avatars. You don’t want that, it’s the circuits. It’s not real. Don’t drink. No drink at all? Drink one beer, no spirits. Beer can help to keep motivation, but keep it low.
If it works out well, I can expand more. Aim for other countries. Or let others be provoked by my method? How would they find out? Probably wouldn’t.
Fuck publicity, fuck big ideas, this is the way forward. At least I can actually achieve something instead of relying on others for support or for normies to grow a fucking brain and vote the way that would actually help the world.
Not that voting does much.
Stop delaying, do it
Fucking do it
At least I’ll be surrounded by decent people.’
Noble put down the pen and looked at the clock on the wall. She didn’t really need to, she could hear the two little shits outside the door.
‘Miss Noble,’ they shouted over and over, putting their faces up against the classroom window and pulling silly faces.
Noble put the notepad back in her bag, looked down at the carpet and took deep breaths.
‘Four hours, just four more hours.’
just four more hours
After watching a Season 2 episode of Star Trek Voyager, Noble typed with a single finger into the search box.
Kate Mulgrew tits
The results came up, all the images fake.
Noble tried again.
Kate Mulgrew fucking with tits
This time there was a movie clip, with dim lighting, writhing legs, clasped hands, some tits but no nipple shot.
Noble muttered something in Spanish, tried to translate to Cantonese, failed then typed in a new search.
Kari Wuhrer fucking with tits
47 vids came up, all with sex in the thumbnail.
Ah Kari, thought Noble,
if ever there was a comfort blanket
she was it.
To counteract her mechanical deficiencies, Noble went to the library once a week to stock up on material.
There were three libraries that slotted in to her schedule: Shatin, Ho Man Tin and the big one in Tin Hau where all the students went to fake study.
As usual, no one seemed to notice her faintly grey skin, or if they did, they ignored it, even when she was standing right next to them in the aisle.
‘Science fiction stories from soviet Russia…’
Noble flipped the book over and scanned the blurb on the back. One story from the Roadside Picnic guys, could be decent. Still short stories though. Not many of them were ever good, except A Good Man Is Hard To Find and the King one where the man has to walk around the edge of a tall building.
She walked to the B section, searching for Bester, but as usual he wasn’t there. She tried L for Tanith Lee, but she was missing too.
How about O Connor?
She turned the corner into the next aisle and scanned past the overrated Japanese guys until she found O Connor. There were a few, but only two attached to Flannery. Wise Blood, which she’d read half a year back, and a new one she’d never seen before.
‘The Violent Bear It Away.’
Noble read the title a few times. Who are the violent? Bearing away means the same as bearing, but bearing so hard it drives something away?
She had no idea, so she opened up the book to check the first page.
‘Sabio bitch,’ she muttered as she read down.
The voice was incredible, as if Flannery had sneaked into that guy’s brain and just transcribed everything she’d seen.
Noble took it with her, along with One-Dimensional Man, and headed for the escalator. On the way, she swerved into the languages aisle and grabbed the Cantonese book she’d put back earlier.
This time, she thought.
‘Just type in asylum seeker groups in HK and go from there. Better to find a group than the govt department. Must be some somewhere.’
Noble threw the pencil up and down in the air, ignoring the banging on the classroom door. Catching it for the third time, she went back to the pad and wrote more:
‘Do it, don’t think.
This is the real me. 1000%. Or the better me?
The programmed me?’
She paused again, thinking up big mind threads about ontology, robot ontology, AI rights, until the lead of the pencil snapped off on the palm of her metal hand, drawing no blood real or simulated.
If you thought of it in a huge block then two years wasn’t such a long time, but if you tried to remember any specific time before it then the whole thing became a prison cell
a yellow room
in a Satanist’s castle
with a locked door, no books and one clover-shaped window for the sunlight to stream through.
Noble put the bottles down on the counter but it wasn’t enough to stop the old man barging in from the side and asking for cigarettes.
‘Fucking rude cunt,’ mumbled Noble, but the old man didn’t notice.
He put down some cash.
The staff gave him the cigarettes then turned to Noble, asking if she needed a bag.
‘Coward,’ replied Noble in Spanish.
Noble took the bottles, two in each hand, walked outside, scanned for the old man, got a lock and followed him down the hill.
When he turned into the estate at the bottom, Noble accelerated and, as she passed, turned to him and shouted, ‘you fucking rude cunt,’ right in his face.
‘… … … … … …’ came back in Cantonese, but Noble didn’t care, she just wanted to drink now
and watch Star Trek.
after typing to someone called Fei online and failing to convince her that a taxi to Lam Tin at five to midnight was a good idea, Noble heard footsteps in the corridor and then a knock at the door.
She waited a while, trying to analyse the breathing of the person out there, then got up on the second knock and opened the door.
The Cuban Scientist raised a hand, half waved then stopped, unsure. ‘Noble?’
The Scientist studied both sides of Noble’s head then smiled. ‘You remember me?’
‘You look different.’
The Scientist coughed, looking down at her Alphaville hoodie-stroke-jacket, touching her neck.
‘Not in a bad way,’ Noble added, with zero emotion.
‘Great. I thought you might still be mad about the Venezuela thing.’
‘We did go back for you, but you were already gone and…we figured you’d be okay. Metal skin, rocket boots…’
‘You know I have no way to check the veracity of what you’re saying.’
‘True. That is true.’
‘But I survived, so it doesn’t matter.’
‘How did you find me here?’
Noble nodded, eyes dipping to a very stoic Lemmy Caution on the Cuban Scientist’s chest.
‘You don’t want details?’
‘Good, cos it’d take an age to explain it all.’
‘You look cold.’
‘A little bit…’
‘You should zip up your novelty jacket.’
‘I’d prefer to come in…if you don’t mind?’
‘To zip up your jacket?’
‘For how long?’
‘I don’t know. Until I feel warm again.’
Noble opened the door farther and stepped back, telling her to take a seat on the couch. ‘Ignore the thing on TV, it’s just background.’
‘This place is pretty small.’
Noble went to the fridge, pulled out two Tsing Tao bottles and threw one at her guest.
‘You’re still drinking?’ the Scientist asked, catching with both hands.
The Cuban stared at the beer bottle label. ‘But you have beer in the fridge?’
‘I see. You got an opener for this?’
‘Sorry, I forgot.’ Noble went back to the kitchen, grabbed the bottle opener and passed it to her old friend. ‘Here.’
The Scientist flipped the top of her bottle then held out the opener.
‘You don’t need it?’
Noble looked at her own bottle top, confused for a moment. Then, readjusting, said, ‘I can use my finger.’
Noble flicked the lid off the bottle and bent it in half. Quickly following up, she flicked harder and sent it flying towards the wall. Abandoning excuses, she drank.
‘I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing here,’ said the Scientist, taking off her jacket, ‘and why it’s just me.’
Noble shook her head.
‘You’re not wondering?’
‘I know why you’re here. I worked it out 2.7 seconds after I saw your face at the door.’
The Scientist nodded, putting her jacket on the arm of the couch.
‘The only thing I don’t know for certain is whether or not she went right or just gave up completely.’
‘Shan would never go right.’
‘Then she gave up?’
‘Not that either.’
The Scientist continued shaking her head, reaching into a rucksack and pulling out a small pamphlet.
Or perhaps a zine.
‘Here, read this.’
She threw it over without looking, assuming it would be caught.
Noble flicked through the zine quickly and then asked, ‘is this you or her?’
‘That’s not a good sign,’ she replied, downing her bottle and dropping it carelessly onto the carpet.
Noble sat down on the couch and, wiping the moisture from her palm [taken off the beer bottle], patted her on the shoulder. ‘Fong sum.’
‘It’s Cantonese for relax.’
‘I’ve been learning it for one year, though I have not got as far as I should’ve, which, being a robot with a robot brain, is quite strange.’
‘Not strange at all. We reprogrammed you not to absorb languages.’
Noble stopped massaging. ‘What?’
‘You want me to repeat it?’
‘Before the Venezuela trip. The idea was to make your brain a closer approximation of a human one, apart from the initial input of course.’
‘You mean slow.’
‘I mean, learning takes repetition, interest and constant study, just as it does for us. If a concept comes too easily then it’s worthless.’
Noble pouted, nodded, then stood up and moved half a metre away from the Scientist.
‘Though the fact that you’ve learnt any Chinese at all is probably better than most humans.’
‘I have one lesson a week.’
‘I mostly speak English.’
‘I should do more.’ Noble picked up the beer and drank. ‘I will do more. Starting tomorrow.’
The Scientist pulled her back down to the couch, placing a hand on her thigh, stroking.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Noble, making no move to stop it.
‘I like it when you’re strident.’
‘It’s makes me fong zum.’
Noble closed her eyes, shifted her thigh out of reach of the Cuban’s hand. ‘Why are you here?’
She climbed on top of Noble and kissed her on the neck. Then moved down to the chest.
‘Now?’ asked Noble, trying to shift leftwards, to the far end of the couch.
‘You don’t want it?’
‘Maybe we should watch TV instead?’
‘Is this…has there been anyone else since the last time we-…’
‘For two years?’
‘Then fong zum,’ said the Scientist, kissing Noble’s neck again, cupping her breast, ‘you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.’
Noble sat back, awkwardly straight, and let the Cuban continue. After thirty seconds, she overcame her weird rigidity and started moving her hands too. From that point on, things progressed quickly. Clothes were loosened then shed. Bits and pieces were sucked. They made it as far as the tiny corridor leading to the bedroom, the same place Noble had fucked a hairdresser two months before.
That one was weird.
The hairdresser had shown pictures of her India trip, Noble had said, ‘nice elephant,’ then jumped on her, very un-robot like.
It still wasn’t clear why she’d done it
even after analysis
but the hairdresser hadn’t minded
she’d assumed the dog position all by herself.