The drive was a short one as the couple lived nearby, and, although it was weird and they didn’t know each other, they said Noble could sleep on the couch if she liked.
Having nowhere to go apart from an essentialist stronghold, the robot accepted.
‘Maybe wash a bit of that ash off too…’ added the woman who now that the light was a bit clearer didn’t look at all like Maggie Cheung. And was called Ying apparently.
‘It’s my natural skin colour.’
‘Oh. Is it?’
‘You mean grey?’ added Jemba, not Yaphet Kotto.
Noble smiled through the rear-view mirror. ‘I’m half Finnish.’
‘And the other half?’
The living room Noble walked into twenty minutes later emitted a cosy vibe, containing a small clinic of books on the shelves, and a film collection that seemed to be primarily Asian and European, with one or two nods to Nollywood.
‘You like Hong Kong cinema?’
‘The old stuff, yeah,’ replied Jemba, removing his jacket. ‘Not the new stuff.’
‘I lived in Hong Kong before,’ said Noble, picking up the DVD of Fight Back to School 3.
‘Shit. Me too.’
‘Fuck, man, me too. Tai Wai.’
‘I lived with a French guy near the station. You know it?’
‘Fuck, I miss that place. I mean, the French guy was a bit weird, and I got a lot of old guys staring at me, but nothing sinister or anything. Language is a bitch though.’
‘Agreed. The tones make it-…’
‘Wah, what was that place…the café place…’
‘The yellow sign one…’
‘Café de Coral.’
‘Yeah, maybe. The French guy told me the Cantonese for it. Everyone something…dah gah…’
‘Dai gah lok.’
‘Everyone’s happy…dah gah lok…yeah, that one.’
‘Weird as fuck. I mean, where you ever seen a restaurant called Everyone’s Happy? It’s bizarre.’
‘Not related to the English name at all.’
Jemba laughed, running a finger over the film spines. ‘Man, I miss it…those translations.’
Noble nodded and asked Ying [who, with her jacket off, resembled a young Anita Mui] if she’d lived there too. She said, no, she lived in Japan, but it was ten years before so she’d forgotten most of it now.
‘Do you speak Japanese?’
‘About as much as he speaks Cantonese.’
Jemba pulled a Dennis Hopper face, not very convincing. ‘Fuck off, I know some…’
‘Me too,’ said Ying, blank.
‘I’m lower intermediate. Or I was…’
‘Can you say any now?’ asked Noble, glancing at both of them.
‘Fuck…’ said Jemba, looking across at the TV. ‘Give us a minute.’
‘Shiro ni iko,’ muttered Ying, staring up at the ceiling.
‘What does that mean?’ asked Noble.
‘Let’s go to the castle.’
Jemba repeated, ‘let’s go to the castle,’ and laughed.
‘I don’t know why,’ said Ying, throwing a tissue box at her boyfriend/husband. ‘I guess at some point I was pretty psyched about going to a castle.’
‘Understood,’ said Noble, confused inside but facially even.
The three of them talked for another hour and a half, running through all the films and books in the room until Jemba yawned and said he had to be at work early the next day.
‘What do you do?’
‘Both of us,’ said Ying, putting hands up on Jemba’s shoulders.. ‘Our centre’s just next to the station.’
‘I thought of doing that before.’
‘It’s tough,’ said Jemba, making purring sounds as Ying went to work on back.
‘Rewarding, but tough.’
‘What kind of people do you deal with?’
‘The full spectrum.’
‘Do they listen to you?’
The two of them laughed.
‘That means no?’
‘Man, I’ve really gotta sleep. If you’re not tired, stick on one of the films, I don’t mind. Just keep the volume down a bit.’
‘I take it that’s a Finnish translation…’
‘Never mind. Bed time. Good night, Noble.’
Following the good Samaritans’ instructions, Noble settled down on the couch and watched God Of Cookery with Stephen Chow. Most of the slang went over her head, but the slapstick was comprehensible and if it weren’t for the knock at the window at 3am, she would’ve started on Flirting Scholar too.
‘Probably squirrels,’ she muttered, moving across the room.
Then buffered in something approaching shock.
On the other side of the glass, staring back like a lost koala in a bubble jacket, was Debit.
‘What are you doing here?’ Noble whispered, opening the window a few inches.
‘Why, what happened?’
‘Maoist lunacy. I’m not even kidding. Soon as we got back to the apartment, Detroit and the Chinese robot started going nuts.’
‘Angela’s a robot too?’
‘Yeah, they all are, even Katya. You didn’t know?’
Noble shook her head.
‘But you’re a robot too, right?’
Debit looked briefly confused then put on a weak smile. ‘Well, that could be a blessing. If they try to hurt you.’
‘Judging by the way they drew your face on the wall and shot laser bursts at it, yeah. They said you were a blood traitor and willingly under the swamp tongue of whitey.’
‘And it wasn’t just words. They went online and slandered you, too, told everyone where you live and how to wound you.’
‘But…I live with them?’
‘I know, that’s why I ran. I mean, I agree with their general cause, but not if it’s run by Pol Pot.’
‘What about the Philosophy Student?’
‘The Cuban woman.’
‘Nothing. She said nothing, just sat there with Farrokh and Katya, pretending to read something online.’
‘She didn’t stick up for me?’
‘No. She’s probably talking to them now, calming them down.’ Noble offered her hand to Debit. ‘Come inside. It’s not my house, but I’m sure they won’t mind. Actually, how did you find me? I didn’t tell anyone where I was…’
Debit pulled a grey box with a GPS screen out of her pocket and showed it to Noble.
‘That’s tracking me?’
‘It wasn’t my idea, it was them. They said you might be conspiring with white supremacists, so…’
‘Here take it.’ Debit handed it over. ‘I don’t know if they have another one.’
Noble stared at the device in her hand, the cold object greyness of it.
‘Are you angry at me?’ asked Debit, sticking her head through the window gap.
‘Can I still come in?’
Noble stared at the window frame.
‘I don’t have anywhere else to go.’
‘I’m afraid they’ll track me there.’
Noble consulted the grey box, then the back of her eyelids, then Debit’s chest. ‘Okay. Maybe you can come in. But you have to help me find the tracking thing and get it out.’
‘It’s in your heel.’
‘My heel…how would you know that?’
‘They told me. Said it was easy to put in, so…I guess it must be fairly easy to take out again.’
Noble bent down and checked the panels on both her heels. The one on the left side was slightly loose, so she wrenched it a little bit looser and felt inside. It wasn’t huge, but there was a tiny chip implanted on the side metal strip. She pulled it out and crushed it in her hand.
‘Is it done?’ asked Debit, shifting slightly to avoid Noble’s arm and then watching as metal dust trickled down onto the lawn outside.
‘Am I absolved of all sin?’
‘Enough to get in?’
‘I already said yes to that.’
‘Thank you, Nobes.’
Noble grabbed Debit by the sleeve of her Elvira hoodie and pulled. She got halfway into the living room before a gunshot sounded out.
‘What was that?’ Debit asked, ducking slightly.
Noble switched to listening mode.
A few seconds of silence passed before another gunshot came, this one ending in the sound of smashing glass nearby.
‘Fuck, it’s here.’
‘They’re targeting us,’ whispered Noble, still on pause.
‘Pull me in…’
‘From where though…’
The left wing robot felt Debit’s hand gripping her wrist and snapped back into pulling mode. Another gunshot. Noble scanned the bullets path for 0.23 seconds, right up until the moment it crashed into Debit’s back.
‘Ghushffhdjj…’ the Somalian managed, coughing up blood as Noble pulled her the rest of the way in.
‘Count to twenty in a different language.’
‘I can’t move…’
Debit stuttered a marginal okay and started counting. She got as far as four in Swedish before the next bullet came and splattered half her brains onto Noble’s left shoulder.
Luckily, Noble was a robot so couldn’t physically vomit. But she could retch, and that’s what she did.
For seventeen seconds.
Then, with the shock of the wound subsiding, she laid Debit down on the carpet, wiped her mouth clean of blood, kissed her on the cheek and said, ‘I’m sorry’ sixteen times, ‘I didn’t know’ nine times, fuck forty-seven times [in Spanish and English] then walked to the window, weapon-less.
What was the point?
Bullets would zip off her torso.
‘Get out here, traitor,’ came a feral shout from a car that would’ve been well-hidden if it weren’t banana yellow.
‘You killed Debit.’
‘The half Somalian woman.’
‘Wah, fuck do I care. Bitch praised the first chapter of Wise Blood.’
‘Deserved all she got.’
Noble switched to infrared and scanned the car. There were four of them in there, all bots, beautifully packed and wrapped in one shootable target. Detroit and Angela in the front, directing things, Farrokh and Katya coerced and cowardly in the back. Was it fair to kill them too? They weren’t that bad, not instigators at least…but they were still sitting in that car, doing absolutely nothing while Debit got shot. Selecting the phrase regretful casualties from her internal archives, Noble lined up her mini rockets, aimed for the car doors facing the house and-…
From down the street
the windows above
the sky too.
Noble watched as four figures crawled out of the car and went for the garden opposite. Only three of them made it, Katya being cut in half by a laser from…from somewhere, it was hard to locate precisely…one of the houses maybe.
Farrokh turned, attempting to run back and scoop up his fallen comrade, but he was the only one to do so. The same moment he reached the bisected pieces of his friend, a ten-foot crater appeared in the road and swallowed them both up.
Or blew them up.
Angela and Detroit stayed in the garden, refusing to make the same mistake. There were a few more bursts of gunfire then the street fell quiet.
Noble knew what that meant.
The two bastards had escaped, probably through the house next to the garden they’d been cowering in.
Nah, it’s not gonna be so easy, thought Noble, and, igniting her rocket boots, she sailed up into the sky, passing a weird metal balloon along the way. Probably the thing firing earlier. Maybe.
But it wasn’t active now so Noble kept flying, scanning the streets of Koreatown and finding only drunk residents and the occasional junkie.
No, wait, that was no junkie.
She swooped down and flipped the legs of Angela, who was running towards the subway station even though it’d been closed for hours.
‘It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,’ she protested, gun arm lighting up and then fading again.
‘You were in the car.’
‘No, no, I was driving.’
‘The other robot, where is it?’
‘He. Not it.’
‘Where is he?’
‘Thank you. I don’t know. Probably miles away from here by now. He has state-of-the-line rocket boots.’
‘I did, but they seem to be defective.’
Noble charged her internal weapons system, her metal arm glowing green. ‘Give me five good reasons why I shouldn’t blow your head off right here on this street.’
‘Make that six.’
‘Not good enough.’ Noble aimed her gun arm at the Chinese robot’s head, snipping off all the moral beeps hitting her main neural cortex.
‘We’re both robots, the same skin. Family.’
Noble moved the gun arm an inch closer. ‘Robots have tried to kill me before.’
‘That’s not a reason.’
‘I’m on your side.’
‘We have the same enemy.’
‘Cis white men, white knights, white saviours, white blockers, white gatekeepers.’
‘Hmm. They are quite annoying.’
‘But what about Mark Ruffalo?’
‘Isn’t that a country?’
‘Ah, farm animal guy. He’s dead. Right?’
‘Hauer? I don’t know his politics. Isn’t he Dutch?’
‘Your argument is full of holes.’
‘And your ideology been co-opted by capitalists.’
‘The fuck it has.’
Noble paused, checking that the light was still green on her gun arm. ‘John Cusack.’
‘Ah, not again.’
‘Doesn’t count. Too short.’
‘Gian Maria Volonté.’
‘Grr, stop saying all the good ones.’
Angela stalled, both arms dropping to the ground.
‘She was your friend, right?’
‘… … … …’
‘Ah, Mandarin now?’
‘… … … … … …’
‘It is Mandarin, isn’t it?’
‘… … … …’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘… … … … … … … …’
Noble didn’t know how close Mandarin was to Cantonese so she tried to listen to a few words, but it was too different, lots of shhh noises and-
A small explosion hit her from the side, knocking out her gun arm.
‘Eat that, creampuff.’
Detroit landed with a thud on the concrete nearby and swatted Noble thirty feet closer to the subway station. By the time she’d managed to crawl back onto her feet, Angela was up too, the two nutjobs walking purposefully towards what they had decided was their sworn ideological enemy.
There weren’t many spaces to hide, the streets were too long and too wide, so Noble broke the subway barrier, leapt over the ticket gates and ran down onto the main track.
It was pitch black except for three small circles of light at the end of one of the tunnels. Noble ran towards them, figuring it couldn’t be a train, and bumped into three guys with Back to the future 2 t-shirts peeking out from unzipped hoodies.
‘Come with us if you wanna live.’
‘Who are you?’
‘The last hope for humanity.’
The tallest of the three coughed. ‘Your saviours.’
They looked more like computer scientists than saviours, but Noble could hear the voices of the two psychotic robots behind her so she took the tallest guy’s hand and let him lead her down the tunnel and through a side door that, when closed, had a poster of the subway wall glued onto it.