December 18, 1992, 8:32am
Tinte heard the bell from his shop, just finishing the last of his newest doll. He had never gone to sleep and his fingers were burning from fine motions and half-melted sticks of ceramic bone. He tripped twice and jammed his ankle into the horn of an anvil in his mad rush to the door.
On the other side of that door was Craig, flanked by a small, cute ginger. The girl looked like the blood vessels in her head were about to burst open. Craig had obtained a long scar above his left eye. Both of their heads had a fine layer of dusty frost.
“Can we please come in?” Craig said, his breath came out as a fine mist. Tinte moved back to let them in.
Craig started rambling about the brain and his plans for the new doll, not giving up one single word in edgewise because of his haste for work. Tinte let this go on until he saw his daughter in the corner of his eye. He sent her off to play with the little ginger while the men would work.
“Is the frame ready?” Craig asked after the girls had disappeared from sight. “I have everything ready for the connections in the truck.”
“Great, back it up to the garage, that’s where the shop is.” Tinte pressed a button and the garage opened, exposing the skeleton-like frame he had hung from the ceiling. He knew it looked creepy, but there was nobody close enough to care about it.
“That’s it?” Craig said after moving his truck, now touching the frame. “It’s just how I wished it would be. You really are a genius.”
“Right, right.” Tinte jammed a crowbar into the crate nearest to him. “Did you bring enough for more than just one doll?”
“yeah, I brought extra in case we messed up at any point. I even brought two operating systems. Why?” Craig helped to pull on the heavy wooden lid. With a loud strained creak, the mound of electroactive polymers was released.
“Great, then we won’t mess up the first time.” Tinte grabbed an armload of the long, white strings and dumped them on his worktable, Craig came soon with the black ones.
The first step was to connect all of the muscles to the bone, an extremely hard process that tested patience and the will to continue living. Craig tried to help, but was quickly overwhelmed by the comp-lexity of the task before him and left it to Tinte.
The next step was to connect all of those muscles to the spinal column with the neural connections. This was much too complex for any man to do by hand, a tiny pair of remote-control tweezers had to be used.
Finally, the operating system was set into the skull and connected to the neural array in the spine. The facial senses came next. But the doll wasn’t ready yet, all of that had taken several hours and the tendons wouldn’t set until the next day.
Tinte showed off his shop then, a macabre collection of metal and fleshy limbs hung on the wall. Eisen was still hung up, just a dull metal skeleton to remind Tinte of something, he’d have to think of a lesson for when he told the story to Sanft.
Craig loved it though. “If we can get him hooked up, he could be like a prototype model.”
“I guess.” Tinte sighed. “But it would require double muscle mass just to move, it would be better to just have him run on pistons and gears like other robots.”
Craig sighed as well. “At least it can go to the robotics museum, that frame is a work of art in itself.” He brightened back up. “I do have an idea for how to market your dolls.”
“Is that right?”
“Can your daughter sing?”
Craig was interrupted when the ginger busted though the door, frantic. “your daughter just passed out!” She yelled.
Tinte walked to the main room, where Alice had set Sanft on the couch. Both of the guests were fuming when they saw how unworried Tinte was as he sat next to her and checked her head.
“Why are you not more concerned!?” Alice screamed at the old man. “She’s hurt!”
“She has a weak heart.” Tinte said “ she’ll pass out if she gets too excited. What did you do?”
“Nothing, we were looking at jewelry.”
“For three hours?”
Sanft always had been weak and sickly ever since she was a baby. Part of the reason Tinte moved to the mountains was for the fresh air and to train her lungs for altitude. Her mother had loved the view of the city lights at night, she said she wanted to see them every day until she tired of them, she never did.
“She’ll be fine in a few hours.” Tinte tucked a blanked around his girl, turned to face Alice. “Can you bring me the doll, the big one in her room?”
“Sure sir.” She went off to fetch the doll, content in the fact that her new friend wouldn’t die.
She reminded Tinte of a cousin-in-law, she had that same strange need to care about people, even ones that she only barely knew. Alice obviously had not become aware of her personality yet, that would be a fun day.
Tinte rarely saw people anymore; he usually hated them because of the stupid ways they acted. Craig was alright and Tinte’s mailman had needed to take a personality test. Alice was lucky, she could go just about anywhere and be completely in her element. Lucky, because otherwise, she would still be in the truck.
“What’s wrong with her?” Craig asked suddenly.
“You name it.” Tinte put her head in his lap. “Weak lungs, heart, one bad kidney, anemia, her left kidney belonged to someone else.” She looked like she would break if she was touched.
“Does she know yet?”
“No, she was too young to remember anything and the scars have faded. She just knows that she faints sometimes.”
“Is she on the heart donor list?”
“yeah, but you know how that works. They say that it isn’t a problem and other patients need it more than her. At least they’re right, this heart may be enough for the rest of her life, or it may not.”
“Anything else?” Craig was trying to seem sympathetic, everyone always did that.
“well, her immune system is probably better than yours. That’s about it.”
“is she the reason you’re making these dolls?”
Tinte didn’t answer because Alice was carrying Seiden into the room. She looked almost scared to touch it. Craig, seeing Seiden closely for the first time, was dazed by the sight of it, much the way Sanft had been.
“Just sit her down on that chair over there.” Tinte waved Alice over to sit Seiden down, as she then did.
Craig started to inspect her. He poked her rubbed her skin, looked deeply into her eyes. He moved her jaw and checked her joints. Overall he just gawked at her.
“You wanted to remake this one?” Craig said, still not taking his eyes from Seiden. “We can definitely do that.”
Tinte smiled. “Then move her into the shop, we’ll have to start before Sanft wakes up.” Tinte moved his daughter’s head onto a pillow. “Alice, you watch her. There’s mashed potatoes in the refrigerator if we aren’t done by dinner.”
She gave a salute as they returned to the shop, carrying Seiden by the armpits.
Sanft awoke with a start when the doorbell rang. The bell had never rung in all of her short life, so that was an exception to the scenarios she knew how to deal with. Whoever was there, they would be really important, like the president or an alien.
She watched from behind a corner as her father greeted two strangers, a geeky-looking man and a girl with a fiery head. They didn’t look that important at first, but Sanft had never seen this many people up-close.
The girl was the first to notice her.
“Is that your daughter, sir?” she asked Sanft’s father. She dropped herself down to Sanft’s level, grinning wildly.
“Yes.” Daddy said. “Sanft, come over here.” She ran forward and hid behind his leg. “Sanft, do you want to go play with Alice while I talk to Craig?”
“OK, daddy.” She said and grabbed hold of the girl’s hand. Sanft led her away to her room.
“My god!” Alice yelled when she saw Seiden, sitting on the side of the bed. “She isn’t breathing!”
“That’s Seiden, my doll.” Sanft said, a little annoyed at the woman for thinking that big sis was a dead person.
“Oh.” She relaxed.
Alice tried to touch Seiden, but Sanft slapped her hand away. She stood there between Seiden and Alice, her tiny arms formed a protective barrier.
“You don’t get to touch my sister!” she had become immensely serious in the defense of her precious sister. “She doesn’t want to touch strangers.”
“That’s fine.” Alice backed up and retrieved something long and pink from her purse. She gave Sanft an evil look. She teased the ribbon in her hands. “I guess you wouldn’t want the little gift I brought for you, I am a stranger.”
Sanft’s face softened and she held out her hands in desire, she kept the distrust inside of angry eyes. She wanted the ribbon desperately, but refused to compromise her dignity in taking it. So she stood there, hands outstretched, while Alice kept the ribbon taut before Sanft’s eyes, teasing her relentlessly.
Sanft saw it as a battle of wills. Either she would win and Alice would give her the ribbon, or she would need to ask for it. The former made her the alpha; the latter made her into the girl’s lesser. It was her house; she intended to maintain her dominance.
“Fine then.” Alice said, releasing one of her hands. “I guess I’ll just have to wear it, you apparently don’t want it.” The hand went behind her head to prepare the knot.
“No!” Sanft grabbed the girl’s hand and got rid of her defensiveness. “I want it, you can’t have it.”
Alice laughed with her victory and tied up the little blonde’s hair up in a bow. Just the way Sanft liked it that week, tied up a little bit to the left side. It was also one of the ways he tied up his dolls.
Daddy made lots of things that other people couldn’t. Toys, furniture, clocks, jewelry, boxes, glass things, and most of Sanft’s ward-robe. He could make anything, especially pretty things.
Sanft had a big, oak box full of the pieces of art that he had given her over the years, all sorts of necklaces and rings, she had a little tin raven and a brass eagle.
Sanft looked back at the girl again. “Do you want something too? I have a whole box of nice things.” She opened the box and laid out several pieces that would easily fetch a few hundred dollars apiece if sold on the open market. She giggled as Alice’s eyes grew wide in fevered excitement. “I like these ones the best.” They were a set of tiny rings with miniscule metal butterflies set into them.
Alice took one and raised it to her eye. “This is amazing! How could you afford such a thing?” She remained awestruck by the immeasurable beauty of the thing in her hand.
“My daddy makes them for me. Aren’t they pretty?” Sanft was clearly amused by the other girl’s strange expression. “Come on, try one on.” She held out another tiny ring.
Alice took that one as well and slipped it onto a finger. Sanft watched as the delicate metal butterfly brought a tear to the ginger’s face.
“You can keep that if you want to, I have a bunch and daddy is teaching me how to make more like it.” Sanft picked up a primitive looking hairclip, featuring a large, dull turtle. “I’m still not very good at it.”
“It’s better than anything I could ever make; you have a real talent for someone so young. I sure wish I had a talent like that.
They then proceeded to talk and play around for at least a few hours, that is, until that dark sheet fell over Sanft. She fell asleep even while she was standing up.
Flensing knives poised in Tinte’s hands cut deeply into the doll’s flesh, stripping it efficiently from the bones. Her beautiful body was cut into so many fleshy pieces on the ground as she became the epitome of macabre horror. Craig watched in horror from the corner, almost crying because of the silken angel’s death.
When Craig first saw her, he felt something he couldn’t quite explain. This is my reason for living, he said to himself. It did make sense though; his psychiatrist said that he was noticeably codependent.
It just hurt so much to watch that pretty face being cut off in slabs by an old man with long, sharp knives. Tinte seemed not to care about his grizzly chore, that, or he had resigned himself to animating this girl and couldn’t allow his emotions to get in the way of his great work. His hands never strayed from their tasks, even if that task was flensing a preadolescent girl down to the bone.
By the end of the process, Craig was tucked into fetal position and Tinte was poking him in the head. Craig couldn’t remember curling up, but there he was. Even though the process wasn’t bloody, it had proven to be too much for him to watch.
“Hey, are you alright?” Tinte was bent over Craig and kept poking him, waiting for an answer. “You still have to install the brain, wake up already.”
“Right, sorry.” Craig stood and want to the worktable, a skeleton waited for him, the blue computer lay inside its skull.
“No matter, it scares me too.”
Craig took the brain and carefully cemented the brain into its compartment. The mass of nervous cords hung loosely out the back. Craig connected that tangle of cords to their proper places within the spine. Tinte moved in with a bundle of black cords.
Once the tendons were connected to the nervous system, Tinte attached them to their places on the bones. Craig then connected the white cords to the system and Tinte placed those muscles in their places as well.
As a test, Craig let a slight electric pulse out from the brain. All of the connected muscles contracted violently until he finally switched off the current.
Finally, the sensors were put back in. The eyes, ears, nose tongue, and gravity sensors were re-attached to the brain. Craig noted that he had developed this equipment himself, after having it described to him by Tinte.
It took less time than the first one, probably because they had done that very thing just that morning. Tinte was the only one who could mold flesh, so Craig was sent back to the house. Thankfully, he was able to leave with the contents of his stomach intact.
Sanft still hadn’t woken from her deep sleep, she was laying face-up on the couch and Alice was flipping around on the internet. She seemed too entranced by what she was reading, she didn’t even notice Craig walk into the room.
Alice always had been a very focused person, whenever she was interested in anything, she usually ended up ignoring everything around her. Craig was sitting right in front of her and she still didn’t seem to have any idea he was there, or she did know but just didn’t want to break her concentration.
Craig noted that she had a new ring on, one that would probably cost his yearly salary if he were to be that stupid. The design was so delicate that it looked as though it would break at any moment. There was no crystal, but the ring obviously did not need one.
“Alice, where did you get that ring?” He finally asked.
“Hm?” She looked up from the computer screen. “Sanft gave it to me when I gave her that bow. Her father made it.”
“Amazing, definitely a man of many talents. I knew he could never make that much money with toys, no matter how good they are. Can I see it?”
Alice slipped it off and placed it in Craig’s outstretched palms; he barely felt it as the light metal settled on his hand.
On close observation, it was a band made of tiny metal webs. The cullet had been replaced by a metal butterfly.
On the free market the thing was worth a fortune. To Tinte, it was fifteen dollars and a weekend’s work. Craig couldn’t understand why the man didn’t live in a mansion in the middle of a river, probably because he poured it all into the doll project. It had cost millions to develop all of those special parts.
“What are you reading?” Craig asked, Alice had returned to staring into the computer screen.
“I was reading about these ‘laws of robotics’. Do your dolls have them yet, they seem really important.”
“No, those laws were designed for robots in the position of a slave. Tinte wanted his dolls to follow the same laws that humans do.”
“Is that safe?”
“The same thing that keeps you safe from me is the thing that keeps you safe from a doll. There is no reason to kill you, and it is against the law.”
“hm.” She was desperately trying to figure out what that really meant. Such a comment deserved a good slap, but she was still deciding whether she had just been insulted or not. She eventually just shrugged it off and went back to her screen.
As an assistant, she was extremely good, but she was not a programmer. Then again, most assistants had no interest whatsoever in what their employers did. Alice did seem interested; she even let him ramble on until he was actually hoarse.
The truth, if Craig wasn’t such a shy person, he would have already asked her out. She was cute and smart and didn’t mind hanging out with some weird dork who kept rambling on about robots and the like.
Sanft sighed as she passed from only unconscious to asleep, a sign that she was no longer unable to be roused. Under her head, a small wet spot was steadily expanding from where her trail of drool was landing. Her eyelids flittered rapidly as she shifted into a dreaming state.
Craig felt that same emotion as he felt when he first saw the doll. There was no reason he could think of that would provoke such a powerful protective response. The girl simply forced everything around her to protect her, like god meant for her to always be safe.
And with a languid sigh, she rose from the dead. She stared at Craig with tired eyes and wiped the crust from her eyes.
“Uncle, why are you staring at me?” She dully wiped the drool from the corner of her mouth.
For a moment, Craig was unable to form a though. This sweet girl had already designated him as family, she was so isolated that she probably latched onto anyone she saw as family. But she had called him uncle, he was awestruck.
“You were drooling on the pillow.” He finally answered.
“Oh.” She took it and dropped it in the laundry bin. “I’m hungry, do you like potatoes?”
When she had one, Alice wanted to have a child like Sanft.
Sanft was smart, generous, social, and of course, cute as a button. Not one of those regular buttons either, more like a pink, strawberry-shaped one. Alice could see why Tinte wanted to immortalize her as a doll.
Really, Alice had expected a shy, sheltered little girl. She was living on a mountain with a man who apparently had lost his mind years ago. Anyone would expect her to be a sociopathic shut-in.
Sanft heated up three bowls of mashed potatoes until they became a soup; she appeared to like food that had the ability to melt through glass. Though there was no pepper to be found, Sanft liked hot food, not painful food.
While they ate, Sanft prattled on about everything she knew, whether or not anyone had brought it up.
“Then last week, I told everyone on daddy’s mail list about what he was making.”
“Really?” Craig was interested.
“Yeah, I told them that daddy is making robots in the garage. Daddy doesn’t let me go onto the computer anymore; I guess it was a secret.” She shrugged. “And the week before, I made a bracelet with a little cutout bird.”
She kept up like that long past when they finished their meal. Alice was almost grateful when Sanft went to get dressed for bed. Craig took over the couch and, while there wasn’t another, Alice refused when he offered it to her.
Alice instead brought in a camping bed from the truck. She had just finished setting it up when Sanft came back. She was dragging her feet and her nose was making a stain on her shirt.
“Seiden is gone!” She managed before breaking down into racking sobs.
Alice took her by the cheeks and wiped the tears away. “She isn’t gone, honey. Your dad is just fixing her up a little bit.”
“Promise?” Sanft sniffled.
“Would I lie to you?”
Sanft shook her head. “Will you sleep with me tonight, I’m scared when I’m alone.”
“Of course I would, honey.”
Sanft took Alice by the hand and led her back down the hall to her room. They both slipped into the comfort that exists in satin sheets and a king-sized bed. Even with both of them in it, the bed seemed to extend forever in every direction, they could both flop around as much as they felt like and still be entirely safe from falling.
But for the sound of their breathing, there was silence. But for the constant hug they were in, there was no significant feeling. But for the warmth of Sanft’s tiny form, there was no heat that meant nearly as much.
It was comfort, pure and simple. It was the safety and love that existed only in sisterhood.