They said beauty was in the eye of the beholder…. But… what kind of beauty was this?

Lawrence’s heart fluttered and he jumped back once a spark brought the machine to life. He could hear the power cells charging up, the gears turning, the metal limbs twitching, and lastly, the single glass eye flickered on with a ruby-red glow. He had not made it to look perfectly human. No plastic skin or even perfect human anatomy. This android was riddled with titanium plates, wires poking out of the creases of its slender body, but its face was the most unique. A smooth metal face with a small slit where the mouth was meant to be, no nose, and a single eye in the center, bright like fire. Lawrence didn’t know what it would be like to fail or succeed when it came to this… enigma…. Enigma. What a perfect name.

Enigma’s shoulders shuddered and at last it lifted its head up. The light of its eye blinked on and off, looking around. It stopped when it saw him. He gasped when the thing lunged at him, alloys banging together and rubber wires straining, arms outstretched, and it would have absolutely reached him if only it hadn’t been drilled into the floor. The very air felt tight. The machine’s fingers uncurled slowly, only an inch away. The man shivered when the cold fingertips barely scraped the sides of his face, not able to reach any further. The robot’s head tilted to the side, and the first thing it said with its humming voice was, “Your eyes are blue.”

His dreams haunted him with strange thoughts that night. He imagined he awoke from a noise in the middle of the night. A dull red light flooded into the room and segmented fingers curled around the doorway. “Enigma,” he muttered. He slowly wandered over to the machine silhouetted in his doorway. The humanoid machine was nearly a head taller than him, lanky and skeletal with limbs un-proportionally yet elegantly long. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“You think you’re so special,” droned Enigma.

Lawrence blinked, confused. “What?”

The machine took a graceful step forward. “You feel like you need to be different, otherwise what’s the point? You live to be taboo. You have to always get what you want. If something is not how you want it, if it’s not perfect, you must make it perfect. You think you admire me so much but I won’t last long.”

Lawrence could not stop looking at that big red eye, like a floodlight drowning him out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And you will last long because… you’re perfect.”

The android tilted its head to the side. “If you made me perfect then I would have the capability to love you.”

Lawrence suddenly had a lump stuck in his throat which he could not swallow. “Do you?”

The breath melted out of his lungs when a metal hand gently touched his face. So pristine, so timeless, so cold. Wrong, this was wrong. The word taboo echoed faintly in his mind, and yet he didn’t even entertain the thought of backing away. “Stranger things have happened,” murmured Enigma. Lawrence couldn’t think once a noose of wires hooked around his neck and strangled him until he woke up.

He jumped out of bed and turned on the lamp otherwise he felt like he could be consumed by the dark. Perfect in the dream, perfect in reality. It loved him in the dream, it loved him in reality. It had to. He had made it perfect, after all. He pulled at his hair. He had to forget this. But he had an uncontrollable urge to see it. Maybe then he would come to his senses.

He raced down the hall as fast as he could. He was hearing something…. Music. He burst through the door and saw Enigma in the center of the room, its back turned to him, its head swaying slowly to ear-piercingly loud opera music. Only when the door closed behind Lawrence did the machine turn around, looking over its shoulder back at him, and he could have melted. “How are you?” Enigma asked dully.

I dreamt that you loved me, his mind gasped, but his mouth did not utter it. “You seem sad today.”

“I am. I want to go outside. I want to see the sun and the people.”

Lawrence quickly became uncomfortable. “You can’t. You… you’re not mechanically capable. You can see that.”

“But why? Why couldn’t you make me perfect so I could go up to the surface with everyone else?”

“You are perfect,” the man spluttered. Enigma stared at him strangely, and Lawrence’s face turned as red as that haunting eyeball and he had to turn away. “You can’t go to the surface. You never will.”

If only androids could cry, Enigma would be doing just that. “That’s a horrible thing to say. If I can never go up there that means I’m going to be stuck down here forever in the dark. I can’t stand that, I hate that! I want to get out of here, I want—” Lights flashed briefly around the room until the power died from a critical power surge and Enigma hung limply by its wires once more. It was such a sad sight to see the machine so motionless. So sad…. So perfect….

His lips made contact with the thin, flat space of the android’s face where a mouth was meant to be. Taboo, taboo, didn’t matter. A kiss of perfection, no disgusting saliva exchange, no smell of human breath, no texture of fleshy lips and warmth. Just the ideal chill of metal, so permanent…. He stumbled back when the generator kicked in and the power came back to life, and so did Enigma. He had not been able to jump back fast enough in order to hide… whatever he had been doing. Enigma put a hand uncertainly over its false mouth. “What are you doing?” it asked.

“I love you,” Lawrence gasped. He couldn’t stop himself, the words fell out into the glowing red empty space. Enigma had to love him too, it was perfect, it had to.

Enigma stared at him strangely and said, “I don’t know what that means.”

The empty space became incredibly stiff. “What do you mean?”

Enigma rolled its blocky shoulders. “I… don’t think you built me to comprehend love. I can feel the other emotional templates: happiness, sadness, anger… but love’s not there.”

Lawrence’s blood ran colder than industrial coolant. He remembered now. He had programmed every emotion into that android except for love. At the time he thought: what would be the use of a machine being able to love? “Okay, then,” he whispered before running out of the room.

He couldn’t stand it, but it was true. It was impossible for Enigma to love him. He needed to change it somehow. He thought of one way. It was horrifying, abominable, taboo. But it was valid and it would make the possibility of Enigma loving him a reality. Biological technology was advanced these days. He could create a fully grown human and transfer the programming of Enigma’s mechanical brain into an organic one. Then Enigma would be capable of love. Loving him. He took the chance.

The biological growth took months. He was miserable during that time. He was alone and able to see Enigma only in the form of his blinking red dreams. Finally, one day, it was finished. He smashed a large tube of glass and a human came tumbling down onto the ground along with a rush of nutritional fluid. Made of completely organic material, just like him, but it was still Enigma inside, his Enigma….

The human began to craw to its feet, slowly, clumsily, as it had never stood up before. Was it a man or a woman? Lawrence could not tell; did he really have to know? It had perfectly smooth skin, the ideal human figure, some mix of Adonis and Aphrodite. Finally, the human stood up and looked at him with blue eyes.

Lawrence’s mouth was dry as he took a step forward. “Enigma?”

“Hi,” said the human.

Lawrence took another step towards Enigma, uncertain. “I… I’d like to ask you a question.”

“Okay.”

“Do you love me?”

Enigma paused, tilting its head thoughtfully. “Maybe,” it said. “I think I could.”

Lawrence huffed in disbelief and managed to smile. “I love you,” he said. Gently, he put a hand to the human’s face. He kept his hand there for a moment, exploring the smooth recesses of the human’s face, his thumb grazing over the subtle arch of the cheekbone, the elegance of the thin nose, the softness of the lips. He ran his fingers through the thick hair on its head and kissed its lips.

He was bombarded with sensations. The extreme warmth of the lips against his, the sticky feeling of saliva between mouths, the suffocating bacterial marsh of human breaths. The human’s hand reached up to touch his face, but he could feel the slight sweaty dampness of their palm and it sent him reeling away. He stumbled back, his hand collapsed over his lips as if he had been kicked in the mouth, tears pouring from his eyes. Disgusting, vile, nauseating.

“What’s the matter?” asked the human.

Lawrence shook his head back and forth, stumbling into a crate of large tools behind him. “You’re not Enigma. Not like that you’re not.” I’ve created a creature, he thought, mortified. This was not what he wanted. He thought it was, but this was not it. He ruined it all. His mechanical Enigma had been destroyed in the process of transferring the programming, and this human version was… abhorring. It was unbearable. He would have to start all over. He grabbed a heavy wrench from the toolbox and stepped forward.

Enigma’s furry eyebrows furrowed. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He swung the wrench hard at the human’s soft skull, but the creature dodged to the side. Its feet were not drilled into the ground.

“What’s wrong with you?” the Enigma screeched. Lawrence attacked again but the stupid creature kept moving. “What do you want? You told me you loved me, you made me like this so I could love you back but now you hate me?”

“I thought I could love you like this,” Lawrence shouted. “But you disgust me. I can’t s-stand the sight of you, especially not the touch of you.” He was sobbing. He swung the wrench but it only crashed into a computer and sparks flew everywhere.

“You think you’re so special,” Enigma gasped. The same words he had heard once in a dream, but they were not the same here, not now. “But you’re just so selfish. Everything has to be just how you like it. I don’t understand. You want me to be a human and a machine at the same time but that’s insane!”

“Stop,” he groaned, swinging his weapon back and forth. He managed to smack the wrench against the human’s shoulder and the thing cried out. The real Enigma would have never cried out, the real Enigma was invincible, immortal, perfect. But the blow wasn’t enough and the fake Enigma scurried off to the side. When Lawrence tried to attack again, he stumbled and fell to the ground, smacking his nose against the floor. The wrench clattered out of his grasp and his nose began to bleed.

“You bleed,” said Enigma, picking up the wrench. The whole room was sparking and smoking from all the machinery he had smashed. “That makes you human, do you realize that? Or do you picture yourself as some pristine machine? Or are you just that much of a hypocrite?”

Lawrence, face-down on the ground, tried to crawl to his knees but the human kicked him in the stomach and he fell right back down again. “I need to kill you,” Lawrence growled in pain. “You’re an abomination. Give me the wrench and let me kill you.”

“You’re insane,” Enigma said. “You’re sickeningly taboo.” Taboo, the word echoed over and over in his head but it seemed to barely mean anything anymore. “I want to see the surface. I can, now that I have feet. I’m not a prisoner down here anymore. I can live.”

“But you shouldn’t—”

“But I’m going to. I don’t want to kill you, though. I can forgive you. But you have to promise you don’t want to kill me. Then maybe we can start over.” The human offered out its sweaty hand.

Lawrence looked at it and blinked. He reached out slowly…. He grappled onto Enigma’s wrist and yanked it down to the ground, wrestling for the wrench until a boney fist came sailing at his face and he was thrown onto his back, disoriented. His vision pulsed in and out once the end of the wrench slammed across his face, tearing up skin and bringing about unexplainable pain. “I’m sorry,” said the despicable Enigma, foul salty tears leaking from its eyes. It raised the wrench and bashed the tool against Lawrence’s head. And again. And again. He was barely conscious, the pain had turned into some other form of consciousness, blood was everywhere and all he could see was red. Red. Red….

Through the blur of red he could have sworn he could see the real Enigma, just for a moment. Enigma with its beautiful synthetic form and that big gorgeous red eye shining down on him. Lawrence reached out with a shaking blood-splattered hand, a trembling smile of shattered teeth spreading across his swollen mouth. “Enigma,” he whimpered.

The last thing he saw was the most brilliant glow of red before the final swing of a wrench turned everything black.

Willow Schafer

Willow Schafer

Willow Schafer is a full-time honor student pursuing classical archeology while following her lifetime passions of writing and art. She has spent much of her time volunteering at her local library and attending her local art center in Southwest Florida. Some of her published work can be found in the Elektraphrog Literary and Arts magazine, the Scarlet Leaf Review, and the upcoming issue of AntipodeanSF.
Willow Schafer

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