Meet Eve, a self-aware automaton caught in a political chess game.
“[Automatic Eve is] a dark and fascinating meditation on what makes us human–think Blade Runner, but set in the Floating World of Edo, Japan. Plus sumo wrestling!”—Molly Tanzer, author of Vermilion and Creatures of Will and Temper
Enjoy this sneak peek from the new sci-fi novel by Rokuro Inui!
“Amazing,” he said. “Kyuzo can even re-create memories in his automata?”
He sat down beside her and examined her face closely, noting the concern in it. He touched her cheek. It was as soft as a mochi rice cake, and he saw the downy fuzz on her skin, dazzling white
as the sunlight caught it. No matter how he tried, he could not convince himself that she was a creature of springs and gears like the macaw at Kyuzo’s mansion.
Could she actually be real?
He began to nurse this suspicion a while after they moved in together. But there was one thing he didn’t understand: how she could be identical to Hatori. Unless Hatori had a twin sister he
had been unaware of, he could not see the Eve who stood before him as anyone other than Hatori herself.
When he asked Eve directly, she insisted that she was nothing but an automaton made in Hatori’s image. But even when they shared the bed at night, she gave no indication of anything but humanity, to the point that Nizaemon found it disturbing. This led him to wonder where exactly Hatori had gone and what she was doing with the freedom he had given her.
Abandoning his resolution to make a clean break, refrain from looking for her, and comfort himself with Eve alone, he hired someone to search for her.
They found nothing. His suspicions grew stronger.
Without telling Eve, Nizaemon went to visit the Thirteen Floors.
Hatori’s old room was now used by her former attendant Kozakai, who had since graduated to full courtesan. Nizaemon bought her attentions for the evening.
“You mustn’t sneak around behind Hatori’s back, Niza,” she said, looking surprised but not entirely unhappy to see him. She leaned into him with a flirtatious smile, perhaps remembering how freely he had spent as Hatori’s client.
But Nizaemon had other intentions.
“Do you know the man Hatori was in love with?” he asked her. Seeing that Nizaemon was as single-mindedly infatuated with her old mistress as ever, Kozakai gradually abandoned the coquettish approach and looked at him with exasperation from under a furrowed brow.
“And her little toe—who did she send it to?”
At first Kozakai insisted that she knew nothing, nothing at all, but eventually she talked, although not without resistance. His sheer dogged persistence might have worn her down.
“Hatori told me not to say anything, so you didn’t hear this from me,” she began.
“I was the one who cut off her toe, with the help of one of the boys from our establishment. I tied it off tightly where it joins the foot and chopped it off with a single blow from a carving knife. The bleeding went on forever, and—”
“I don’t care about that,” Nizaemon said irritably. “Get to the point.”
“We put the toe in a silk-lined box and then had the boy deliver it.”
“You really don’t know?”
“Enough theatrics. Just tell me.”
Nizaemon was dumbstruck.
“And Hatori told you not to tell me?”
Kozakai nodded, without meeting his eyes. She had gone pale under her white makeup.
Nizaemon’s hands trembled with rage. Everything fit together now. Hatori had sent her toe to Kyuzo as the traditional sign of devotion. They had secretly been lovers all along, conspiring against him.
They had swindled him out of his priceless fighting cricket habitat, sold it to buy Hatori’s freedom, and then taken what was left as payment for an automaton they never meant to build.
Perhaps even the habitat they had sold was just another copy and the original was still in Kyuzo’s hands.
If so, Kyuzo had ended up with not only the money and the woman but the habitat as well. He must be laughing himself sick.
The memory of Hatori’s apparent humiliation at the hands of Kyuzo came back to him. He imagined them laughing together at his discomfort, and his insides boiled with fury and shame.
“Were you laughing at me with them, too?” he demanded of Kozakai.
Once the wick of his rage was lit, it was uncontrollable. No one had ever made a fool of him like this before.
Kozakai hurriedly tried to soothe his agitation. On the Thirteen Floors, to anger a customer was taboo. She could be whipped for it if word got out. Nor would she go unpunished if it was revealed that she had helped Hatori amputate a toe and send it to a customer.
But the more desperately she sought to calm him with her feminine charms, the more of Hatori he saw in her.
When he came to his senses, her bloodied form lay at his feet.
From elsewhere in the pleasure quarters, he heard the strains of a three-stringed shamisen, coquettish voices at a party. He was fortunate that he and Kozakai had been alone in the room together.
He slid his sword back into its scabbard without even shaking the blood off, then covered Kozakai’s corpse with a blanket, blew out the lamp, and quietly left the room.
Hiding his bloodstained hands in his sleeves, he descended the staircase and departed the Thirteen Floors entirely. He crossed the bridge back across the canal and began the long walk back to the city along the path between the rice paddies, trying not to be seen.
Looking back, he saw the brightly lit Thirteen Floors towering against the indigo veil of night. Beyond the railings that ringed the balconies, through the latticed windows, he saw silhouettes without number in constant motion.
When he arrived breathlessly back at the rooms he shared with Eve, she was still awake.
Her kimono was of a plainness he would never have imagined possible from the Hatori he had known at the Thirteen Floors. She wore no powder or other makeup at all, but her simple beauty was not diminished in the slightest.
Hearing him come stumbling in, she paused and looked up from her sewing. There was surprise in her expression but also a kind of sadness, as if she had already sensed something.
“I told you happiness was not in my future,” she said.
“Can I not just be Eve?”
Her dark-green eyes bored into him. For a moment Nizaemon wavered.
“Does it matter exactly what I am?” she continued. “Sometimes it is better not to know what is real and what is not.”
“If you’re an automaton,” Nizaemon said, “then show me your gears.” He drew his sword and brought it down on her where she sat.
Eve did not attempt to dodge the falling blade. She only closed her eyes, as if resigned to her fate.
A cascade of gears and springs, oil and mercury instead of blood—right up to that moment, Nizaemon still had hope that this was what he might see.
But what spilled from the wound his sword made was a tide of all-too-human blood.
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