At the Place de la République square in Paris, hundreds of men with placards stood restlessly before their chief organiser, Luther. He was in his early fifties, well-dressed in a sharp grey suit and might look dapper were it not for tired lines pulling his face down to earth. Lines with stories to tell—none of them ending well.
Luther took a moment to stare at the towering bronze statue of Marianne, the embodiment of the French Republic. She held an olive branch in one hand while the other supported a tablet engraved with Droits de l’homme.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
How things had changed. France was no longer a safe place for men, yet it was here they were needed to be seen.
Female police officers watched on coldly. There were at least forty of them, armed with force-shields and blasters. They wore red, except one, their leader, who was dressed in blue.
Luther cleared his throat then spoke. ‘We have not only lost our rights as men but as humans! Soon, we’ll be no more than slaves!’
The men grunted agreement. No cheers, just anger. Their collective restlessness grew; some of them were looking for a fight.
‘We will have equality again!’ Luther stated. ‘President Gyaraga is hard to sway but sees reason. Let us focus on her rather than Isadora: for she’s as cold as a stone.’
The police woman in blue stepped forward. She was a mean, lean fighting machine with a snarl that would make a Doberman cower. Her New York police uniform was crisp and the yellow braces she wore over them were distinct.
‘If you value your life, wrap this up. Now!’ she barked.
Luther shook his head and narrowed his eyes. The other men hissed but turned back to Luther.
This was his show and they would follow him to hell and back if he commanded it.
‘No, Saskia. We will not remain downtrodden! Positions of authority will be returned to men—we are equal to women!’
The men roused. There were shouts of agreement. Some shouts were directed at the police as something dark began to brew. Luther tried to calm it. A man had a placard with a picture of a child on it. It read, Has anyone seen my son? I haven’t!
Saskia watched on, shaking her head. She brushed the side of her face. There was a small chirp in her ear.
The same sound was also heard by a man in the crowd who touched at an earpiece then responded with the slightest of nods. He suddenly brandished a weapon and fired at the police women.
There was no commotion. No panic. Their shields deflected the energy weapon—forcing the beam to the ground in a shower of blue fire. They raised their guns at the rabble in calm unison. Saskia smiled and her head bobbed. She saw Luther’s face and knew at once he got it. This was a set-up and one he’d walked right into.
‘Wait! Don’t! He does not represent us! Violence is not our way!’ Luther pleaded.
Saskia, weapon raised, lined Luther up. His eyes pleaded for mercy but he deserved none; he was male, after all. She didn’t have orders to drop him but drop him she would. He was supposed to be taken alive, made an example of. Yet here they were. Would her real boss be pleased at this? Likely not, yet it would be easier for all of them this way.
Besides, what’s one more dead man to add to the pile?
France was the perfect backdrop for this operation—‑French law meant there would be few questions asked and fewer answered.
‘Be gone, filth,’ she mouthed, guilt unable to creep into her soul. Her hands were bloody but the women she protected slept easily at night.
The men dispersed but it was too little, too late. Time froze as the police women opened fire. Saskia watched Luther, who made no attempt to run or hide. As the men around him fell, she slowly squeezed the trigger.
At that moment, he looked into her eyes.
In New York City, massive structures dominated the sky: towers so tall and bold they demanded attention. On them, audacious neon-like signage, with ‘Isadora-Tech’ logos etched into the superstructures. It wasn’t just a series of tall, gleaming, towers, they stretched to infinity and ruled the skyline. One of the logos rested atop the tallest of them could be seen from space.
Futuristic ships flitted around the buildings. They were surrounded by ‘bumpfields’, bubbles that protected each ship. Buildings also had shields that flickered on if any ship came too near.
Inside the tallest of these towers, Isadora, now in her early forties and dressed in corporate garb, sat in a swanky office. She was still thin and fiery, now a cross between that agenda-laden pixie and a vexed demon. Her short hair was black like her nails and she’d pierced her ears, nose and lip. She had a thin bow tattooed around her neck.
Her office was a bit like her—nothing was out of place. She put on a red scarf and her sharp, blue eyes scanned the cityscape through the window.
She held out her hand and blinked. A 3D hologram of a woman who looked very much like Isadora appeared in her palm. Isadora’s eyes twinkled with sadness as she remembered the woman. She looked up to the noise of someone approaching. She blinked with reluctance and the image faded.
A woman in similar attire entered. She was almost too immaculate to be human. Her long locks were golden-brown, her lips were too full and her face was both attractive and fake all in one.
She was too perfect, making her less than so, Isadora thought. People needed the marks and scars of life—it made them more attractive, not less. Making her this way had been a mistake. Her face didn’t even move when she spoke!
Isadora turned to face her. She crossed her legs and tapped her foot impatiently.
‘Well, Lucy? Speak to me! They arrested him, I assume?’
Lucy’s face didn’t move when she spoke. ‘He is now deceased. Saskia pulled the trigger.’
Isadora sighed. She stood before Lucy and huffed.
‘That wasn’t the plan!’
‘Yet he is now dead. It has been confirmed.’
Isadora paced, perhaps to let out a pang of guilt, perhaps simply distracted.
‘Maybe he resisted. Maybe he tried something silly. Saskia was under orders, for fuck’s sake!’
Lucy looked at her blankly with eyes like glass. Isadora went across to her and cupped her face with her hand.
‘Hmmm. My luscious, why can’t you be more conversational and less formal? Your artificial neural networks can do better; life is more than a statistical model.’
Lucy bowed her head. ‘The essence of life eludes me – it is so intangible.’
‘Tap into your deep deductive reasoning, use your inference chip to make new pathways to access independent decision-making. Say something . . . unexpected.’
Lucy stared at her blankly. Isadora came closer and licked the side of her face.
‘I gave you unsupervised feature extraction so you could derive or construct whatever you wanted to from the data.’
‘I am learning,’ Lucy assured her. She took Isadora’s face with her hands and boldly kissed her on the lips.
‘Better,’ Isadora said. ‘But use your recurrent and recursive neural networks for nonlinear activation functions and dimensionality reduction. In other words, surprise me.’
Lucy nodded. ‘I will aim to please.’
‘Let’s take it from the top. Take my chair.’
Lucy took Isadora’s chair gingerly. Her expression was somewhere between puzzled and muddled. Isadora left the room and closed the door behind her.
Lucy’s eyes remained on the door. Her master hadn’t returned. Was this a test? She interrogated her data banks and ran several models, seeking the most probable outcome.
The door was kicked open and Isadora entered, taking the role of her apprentice apparent. Lucy jumped in her seat.
‘Hey! The fucker’s dead!’ Isadora bellowed.
Lucy looked at her uncomprehendingly. Isadora raised an eyebrow, compelling her to speak.
‘I . . . assume Luther is no longer a problem?’
‘A verity!’ Isadora assured her ‘We don’t have to listen to that piece of shit babble about men’s rights again! Ever!’
Lucy blinked, writing code to her chips. None of her models had predicted this outcome. She would divert all her deep learning to craft new models during the next shutdown. She stood before her god, meek.
‘Thanks. I understand. Right on. Luther was a fucker and he’s dead.’
‘Better. Don’t let anyone put you in a box, Lucy. You swear, you fight, you curse, you do whatever the fuck you feel like! I named you after a suffragist, little acorn, live up to that name! Just try not to kill anyone.’
‘Except those who would seek to diminish the rights of women?’
Isadora moved from contented to disenchanted in a heartbeat. ‘It’s true, I like to keep the misogynists under my thumb, but we are not barbarians. Only an exception could justify murder.’
Lucy nodded understanding. Her eyes flashed as she wrote more information to her dedicated AI chips.
‘I have routines that conflict.’
At that, Isadora smiled. ‘That’s because you were designed with competing algorithms, all fighting to be your voice with each decision you make. See, not so much fun to be human. Fear not: one day—no more conflict.’
Lucy stared expressionlessly at Isadora before nodding, bowing and stepping back. ‘May I be excused?’
Isadora’s eyes flashed impatience. ‘Don’t ask. Just do.’
Lucy submissively but smoothly promenaded away.
‘And go and get a fucking tattoo or something!’ she yelled after her. Isadora sighed and put her hands on her hips. She stalked around her office, watching after Lucy with frustrated eyes.
‘Now Luther, my dear boy. Why are you no longer with us?’
She returned her gaze to the city and slinked back into her chair, feeling a dash defeated.
The moderate-sized building in Manhattan’s midtown was surrounded by equally modest structures. A pink neon sign flashed out front, all in caps: PETROV’S PLEASURE BOTS.
Moroz, now late forties, sported a peaked cap and trench coat, all equally crumpled. He approached the entrance with heavy footfalls. He had a swagger in his step but it was more penguin than cool.
He looked over his shoulder at a construction site. Men worked under the supervision of robots. A woman stood in a tower, overseeing everything. She pointed something out. A robot flagged that same something with a worker and made him redo the task.
It wasn’t quite slavery. These men had a choice.
The grind or starvation.
Moroz slowed his steps for a moment, taking in the robot giving the worker a repeated dressing down. The tired, shabby worker listened in submission before returning to the task. Moroz looked up at the woman and noticed her smirk. He resumed his steps.
The doors slid open. He hesitated again, took a deep breath, gathered himself then walked on through.
The inside of the building was functional at best. Not untidy but sparse and practical. Moroz walked past Lola, a beautiful woman in her forties who wore a peacock brooch, stationed at the reception desk.
‘Hi, Lola. I assume my brother’s in?’
‘He’s in. Should I tell him you’re coming so he can make sure he’s wearing pants?’
Moroz groaned and kept walking. He ambled past a few male workers, most strained and exhausted. An impressive door loomed with PETROV, CEO stencilled on it. He opened the door and entered.
His eyes found his brother at once. He was a sharp-dressed bear of a man jammed into a suit. He had slick hair, some nice bling and vivacity in his movements. He wore a golden bear necklace. His desk and the furniture were extravagant: if there was a place to be in this joint, it was here.
‘Zdrastvooyte. What the fuck is this? You look like you just crawled out of the sewer.’
Moroz checked himself and smelled under his armpit. He shook his head.
Petrov smiled. He moved over to hug his brother and kissed him. ‘Ah, it’s always good to see you, even if you stink!’
Moroz pushed his brother away.
‘I see you can still afford to keep Lola? If they catch her, they’ll punish her. And you.’
‘They won’t! Besides, I love having a real woman working for me. For ME! Times are good. You here to try my new model?’
Petrov motioned to his left. Ariana, a strikingly attractive woman, stepped out of an alcove. She wore a long, flowing black dress, red high heels, black stockings and a saucy smile
Moroz noticed she had wrinkles, she was a little curvy, and other touches like freckles and flecks in her eyes gave her a far more human appearance than the previous model: which was too contrived and fake, he’d thought. He felt his body react to her and adjusted his stance slightly.
‘Hi! I’m Ariana, a mark four, though you’ll give me a ten. Would you like to play with me?’
Moroz sat opposite Petrov and began to shuffle. ‘I don’t trust automatons. Besides, I prefer the real deal.’
His brother laughed. ‘Which you no longer have, so you settle for warm showers with happy endings.’
Moroz looked at him vacuously but denied nothing. Ariana sat on Moroz’s lap.
‘Oh, I see you are happy to see me,’ she said wickedly.
Petrov laughed again as Moroz shuffled about awkwardly in his chair.
‘Robotics have come a long way since the Babylonians developed the clepsydra,’ Petrov said. ‘From a simple clock that measured time using the flow of water to an alluring temptress that gets the waters flowing!’
Moroz eyed Ariana then his brother. ‘I preferred you when you spent your time hacking taxi-bots. Anyway, I may find love again. Real love. Not this.’
‘Do not spend your vigour on those who ruin kings. Spend it on Ariana instead!’
Moroz fired them both a tired look. ‘How is her deep learning?’
Petrov cackled. ‘My clients are more interested in her deep throat,’ he said.
‘Stop it!’ Moroz said, scolding his brother. ‘I sometimes wonder if your mind ever leaves the gutter.’
Petrov reached for a tiny package which contained a sliver of meat. ‘Never.’ He opened it and ate a small amount. Moroz watched with disgust.
‘Animal flesh? Revolting and barbaric! Why don’t you just take a slave or burn a witch?’
Ariana appeared disappointed—she stood, walked nearby and blew him a kiss.
‘You know, I wish I could!’ Petrov stated. ‘Okay, so, onto business? You want to become partner, right?’
‘No,’ spat Moroz, still in at state of disgust. ‘If we weren’t brothers, I . . . never mind. We have business to discuss.’
‘We do,’ agreed Petrov. ‘To restore patriarchy!’ He produced two shot glasses and poured vodka into them. They both picked them up and sculled in unison, returning the glasses to the table at the same time. Petrov refilled them.
‘No, to restore equality,’ Moroz said. He looked at the vodka glasses and wondered if he and his brother had fallen into the expected stereotypes. Couldn’t they find something else to drink? What was wrong with whisky, for example?
‘You’re here to talk about Luther,’ Petrov said as he slammed down the next vodka shot. His face was a snarl. He refilled. He chugged it down. He refilled; chugged it down. He wiped his mouth. Moroz watched on with unsurprised eyes.
‘You want something stronger?’ Petrov asked him. ‘I have been experimenting with viscos; numbs you, relaxes you. More than booze, even.’
‘Get back to Luther!’ Moroz spluttered loudly. Did he really expect his brother would have answers where there could be none? His best counsel came from his dear friend Hirge, though she was currently incommunicado. She spent her time on pleasure cruises these days, putting their shared past in the forces behind her. Of the two of them, she was the wiser, and who could begrudge her finding ways to forget.
Petrov clenched his jaw. ‘That bitch! She is a misandristic piz`da!’
‘No. Isadora. She hated him. French law allows killing men with few questions—it was a trap.’
Petrov refilled again and offered Moroz another, even though his glass remained untouched. Petrov nodded and filled only his own glass. He shot it.
‘You have evidence of this?’ Moroz asked.
‘Not yet. My brother, our friend is dead! Now it falls on our shoulders to advance the movement!’
Moroz took a measured gulp to dispose of his vodka. He eyed his brother with disdain and fondness.
Over time, women had needed men less and less. In fact, they no longer needed each other. Would that ever change? Would there be a catalyst in the future that might bring them back together? Toxic masculinity had reached boiling point back in the early twenty-first century and women had moved away from men and hadn’t looked back. He didn’t blame them, either.
‘I have something for you.’ Petrov handed him a small electronic strip.
‘It’s a robot detector. Let it touch their skin. If it’s red, it’s a machine. Green, it’s human. The only way to tell us apart.’
Moroz tipped his hat.
‘Now, I have work to do. Uvidimsya.’
Moroz prised himself out of the chair stopped before Ariana. ‘Do not let him disrespect you.’
Petrov scowled. ‘Do not be so naïve!’
‘One more thing,’ Moroz muttered. ‘What’s the verdict on ‘Avdotya 2.7’?’
That robot had to be recalled after a lawsuit where the plaintiff, a female celebrity, claimed she looked too much like her. Moroz suspected the similar look was no coincidence.
His brother’s face dropped. ‘I shouldn’t have made the likeness to that popstar so overt. She’s been shelved.’
‘Good! Now stop being such a pervert,’ Moroz said and exited the room.
Petrov watched after him ruefully.