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Portia, the Mechanical Girl
Series: Disabled Cyborgs
Length: 1100
Summary: Despite everyone's attempts to convince her otherwise, Portia is positive she's a robot.
Notes: Another winner of the Patreon May/June poll!  It's leftover from Selfathon, and was originally prompted by rix_scaedu and rolodexaspirin.  It was sponsored by the Patreon crowd!  More at end.


Portia was a disappointment to the VanDammes in every way.

The family's position in the upper crust was tenuous, due to unfortunate business decisions and scandalous affairs. To prevent total shunning at the parties through which business flowed required gracious manners, rapier wit, and an unerring ability to read a room.

Portia had none of these skills.

Portia was a fat dumpy product of a spiteful affair with a fat dumpy man. Neither parent had much use for her. Raised by an army of tutors, maids, and various cousins, Portia proved awkward, accident-prone, and totally incapable of the social machinations required of her class. Her failings were only exacerbated after a childhood accident that required cybernetic intervention. Although all the machinery was internal, and kept carefully secret, it left Portia even stiffer and more awkward than before.

And now she believed herself a robot.

The VanDammes tried everything to rid the wayward child of such a ridiculous idea, with no success. The first development expert made the mistake of suggesting that perhaps the belief wasn't the problem so much as the environment that made being a robot so comforting, at which point he was summarily fired. The next one was much better, and managed to at least train Portia to move, speak, and breathe in a more human-like way.

(She shed the training in private, but by that point she had learned to not tell anyone.)

Portia grew into a quiet and solitary young woman. Her flat affect and off-kilter body language insured people left her alone, and it gave her peace to think that the VanDammes weren't actually her family, merely her programmers. There was no need to take it personally when others sharpened their wits on her, or her mother declared she had no daughter. Humans did such things, but she was a robot and didn't need to care.

Portia didn't have friends. She had long since discovered they wanted a normal friend, and what was the point in a friend who couldn't even be told her true nature? Better to remain alone. Robots didn't mind solitude.

When she was eighteen, the VanDammes took Portia to a corporate war after-party—more out of necessity than desire. Corporate war was where the smart money was these days, and Portia had to learn something if she wanted to maintain position.

Portia found the whole thing repulsive and disturbing but knew better than to let on. She hid by the refreshments and willed herself to be an inanimate object, invisible and unnoticed. Over the years, she'd gotten very good at this, and the party ebbed and flowed around her, unaware, allowing her to nibble on Turkish delight and watch the humans act.

Then she saw the borgs.

Portia knew what they were, of course; being mechanical herself, she'd made it her business to keep track of such things. She recognized their make and model—Brikts, M run, the last before the company folded—but this was the first time she'd ever seen any up close and in person. They were on opposite ends of the social ladder; what were they doing here?

Veterans. They had to be. Brikts were for combat, and well-maintained as they were, they still looked battle-worn. But still, why? They weren't being celebrated; they looked as awkward and uncomfortable as she did, hanging together in a defensive clump by a different refreshment table.

Then she saw Sigrid Inglesson and understood.

Sigrid Inglesson was a borg fetishist. The doctor who had performed Portia's procedure was a distant relation, which had led Sigrid to think she and Portia would make grand friends. She was wrong. Even with her lack of social grace, Portia found Sigrid deeply off-putting. Portia had never held any illusion that she was anything but a stranger to other borgs or bots, just as she was a stranger to everyone else. Sigrid's problem, in her opinion, was presuming her fantasies universal and reciprocal.

And now she'd bought her own regiment of borgs. Unlucky them.

There was a woman with them, nonborg, at least as far as Portia could tell. Judging by her bearing and scars, a veteran too, and she looked even more uncomfortable to be there than the borgs; her black gown was soaked with sweat. She was speaking to one of the male borgs in sign language.

Portia had learned Corporate Standard as a child, so she could at least get the gist of what they were saying. It was about Sigrid, and the party, and it was uncomplimentary.

Portia unrooted herself and made her way to them. People glanced up, then carefully ignored her. They weren't used to her approaching anyone. Portia wasn't used to approaching anyone. But she didn't know if she'd ever get to speak to another borg again.

“Hello,” she signed in Standard.

A ripple of tension went through the regiment. The woman's face was a mask of muted terror; she seemed to have frozen, so Portia focused on the man she'd been talking to.

“Are you here with Sigrid?” she signed.

Hesitantly, he signed back, “we are. I'm Mike05.”

“Portia VanDamme.” Realizing why they might be alarmed, she added, “I don't like Sigrid.”

Everyone relaxed a little. “Does everyone know Standard?” Mike05 asked.

“No,” Portia answered. “Except maybe old man Hayada, but he'd think it's funny. You're safe.”

They fell into awkward stillness. What was there to say?

Portia glanced back and forth, but everyone was still ignoring her. She let go of her training, stopped modulating her breathing and posture. Automatically, her core programming put her in the most energy efficient state; all the little energy-wasting movement humans did stopped. Her breathing became mechanically regular. Once again, she looked like an inanimate object, and this time, the Brikts noticed.

The borgs managed to mostly hide their surprise; the woman with them startled, then reined herself in.

“How—”

“Long story,” Portia signed, “but you're the first others I've managed to meet.” It was dangerous and difficult, but she added, “I'd—I'd like to be friends.”

Before they could answer, a cold hand fell on her shoulder. “Portia! I didn't know you knew sign!”

Portia didn't jump, and quickly pulled her human training on again. “Hello Sigrid.” Her voice felt oddly loud after signing.

“Have I shown you my Brikts? Aren't they just so darlingly retro?”

“I'd like to hire them.” She had to stop herself from asking them if that was okay; Sigrid might get possessive.

“Hire them? For what?”

Portia just stared at her. She was a robot. She didn't feel social pressure to answer questions. In her peripheral vision, she could see the regiment watching them.

Sigrid looked away and fidgeted with the fire opals around her neck. “I… suppose that could be arranged,” she said.

Mike05 smiled, and suddenly, Portia wasn't alone anymore.

Notes: In Portia's world, the words cyborg and robot can be somewhat interchangeable. The general big difference is robots have AI; cyborgs usually have human brains. The nature of Portia's accident has left her with chunks of AI taking over damaged brain functions, primarily autonomic stuff, so she would be considered a bot and a borg, since she still has most of her meat body in good shape. The distinction is often more social than anything; even with training, Portia hits most people's Uncanny Valley, and there are different stereotypes and cultural assumptions associated with bots than borgs.

Date: 2017-04-18 03:10 am (UTC)
arashi_untumbled: (rain)
From: [personal profile] arashi_untumbled
mm i like the whole thing of... blurring boundaries, between robot and cyborg and human. feeling like not one thing or another, but finding a sort of kinship in the ones who are treated less well.

couple of us here can relate to that, in various ways (metaphorical and literal).

Date: 2017-04-19 11:13 pm (UTC)
arashi_untumbled: (not-me with pizza)
From: [personal profile] arashi_untumbled
yeah, that's one of the cool things about all your universes (well the ones i've read anyway) - you're really good at representing a wide spread of different people and perspectives i think? so it feels like a full world, realistic, and lots of different people can see themselves in it.

it's nice cause authors don't often do that - they've got a particular story they want to tell about this group, whether it's people in fiction or robots/androids or whatever, and it feels like everyone is a cipher for that story, kinda. yours really don't.

(and like, it's interesting to me as well cause back home we got a lot of different kinds of robots and cyborgs, now, and a lot of people with different perspectives on what that means.)
Edited Date: 2017-04-19 11:16 pm (UTC)
Page generated Jul. 24th, 2017 08:46 pm
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