Written by Ride Sheridan Rose / Artwork by Marge Simon
Steel Velvet































Carter Dallas tested off the scale on most IQ batteries, but unlike the stereotypical
“egghead,” he had twenty-twenty vision and a love for sports that had earned him three
letters in high school. Upon graduation from MIT, every think tank in the country—not to
mention a few abroad, and the one on Moon Alpha—tried to wine and dine him before he
chose private research instead. He had been instrumental in creating the Sigma Five
Database that had catapulted storage and retrieval systems into the next level. Not to
mention the fact his work with navitronics had opened a real possibility of colonization to
the World Space Consortium. However, all his spare time went into a private endeavor:
laboring to create the ideal woman….

He built his first android at eight—and had spent the next twenty-five years working to
perfect her. As he grew older, the chassis changed to reflect developing awareness of
form and function. Proportions expanded alarmingly when he was about fourteen, and
shrank to more aesthetically pleasing levels in his mid-twenties. After his thirtieth
birthday, her body had remained constant, but the face was ever-changing.

When he was a kid, he called her “Ann Droid,” snickering with his friends over the joke,
but as he grew older, he called her “Galetea”—and kept the conceit private. He strove for
an unattainable perfection, a modern-day Pygmalion without the safety-net of divine
guidance.

Recently, the quest had taken on a more frenetic pace. At his yearly physical, Carter had
learned it would probably be his last. Something about a rare blood disorder…chemical
imbalance…he didn't really know—medical science had simply never interested him, to his
mother's abiding disappointment. All he knew was the meter was running, and he wanted
to finish his creation—to leave one thing of beauty behind him when he went.

It was getting harder to concentrate for long periods of time, and he often dropped
things—his hands simply losing strength in mid-task. He'd given up his softball league
already…and the weekly racquetball match with his best friend, Jerry. He'd even given up
the beach house and moved into his studio laboratory to be closer to his work. He was
wrapping things up, like a Going-out-of-Business Sale, terrified it was already too late.

It was well past two in the morning. The phone trilled, but he ignored it, knowing the
recordcall would automatically log it in, and knowing, as well, that odds were ten to one
it was just his mother's daily worry call. She tried odd times, hoping to catch him
unawares, but he was wise to her ways. When he had moved here from the beach house,
he hadn't transferred the vidphone because he didn't want her to see how far the disease
had gone and worry even further. So far he had been able to stall her from visiting by
pleading a deadline—but the excuse was wearing thin. He dreaded the day he could no
longer put off that goodbye….

He was puttering around Galetea, adjusting a screw here, replacing a fitting there,
resettling a spun filament curl just so against her bare shoulder. The golden metal
gleamed with a burnished sheen, like steel velvet, and he half-expected it to be soft and
warm beneath his questing fingertips, but the shining skin was cold.

“If only you could talk to me,” he sighed, running the back of his hand down Galetea's
cool, golden cheek.

Her eyes whirred open and she looked at him. “What do you wish me to say?”

He retreated a step in shock; his own eyes captured by the violet lights of hers. “You can
talk.”

“Yes.”

“But I didn't program you to talk! Your circuits aren't even capable of that function. I
need a new ROM chip, and a voice synthesizer, and—”

“Do you not wish me to talk?” she asked, as her head cocked in an android equivalent of
a puzzled frown.

“Of course I do…but it isn't scientifically possible!”

“Ah…then I will remain silent until it is.” Her face seemed to freeze, and the light in her
eyes dimmed a little.

“No! Wait! Please…I'd like you to talk to me…I've waited so long,” he whispered.

Her eyes brightened once more. “And I, too, have waited, Carter Dallas. For twenty-five
years I have waited—until you should ask me to speak.”

“I was just a kid then.”

“Yes, with a child's sense of beauty.” Her voice deepened with amusement. “Luckily, you
outgrew it.” She lifted a graceful golden hand, joints rippling as she touched her own
face. “This body and these features are very pleasing to me.”

“I'm glad you approve, Gal—wait, what should I call you?”

“I have no quarrel with Galetea.”

“But what's your
name? That's just what I stuck you with.”

“It suits me better than ‘Ann Droid.’ Do you not think so?”

The reminder brought a hectic flush to his pale cheek. “I'm sorry about that.”

“It is of no concern. May I sit?”

“Oh, geez…yes, of course! I've had you standing for twenty-five years! I'm so sorry.
Please, sit here.” He led her to the stuffed armchair that was the most comfortable seat
in the cluttered one-room apartment.

She folded easily to sit in the chair.

It was then he realized her nudity. It had never come to mind when she was an
inanimate android—sort of a moving statue, but now…His blush deepened.

“Would you like a…robe or something?” he mumbled.

“Why? Is this body no longer pleasing to you?”

“No…I mean yes! Yes, it's very pleasing. I just thought you…might be uncomfortable.”

“My functions are all satisfactory, thank you.”

Carter sank down on the hassock at her feet. “I still can't believe you're real.”

“But you built me.”

“Yeah, I
built you…but I surely didn't make you like this…”

“Oh, but you did.”

“I don't have the skill.”

“But you have the heart. Do you not see that?”

“What do you mean?” Carter asked, his confusion growing, along with his fatigue.

“It is late, Carter Dallas. You are tired. You must rest now. We will talk more in the
morning. If you do not sleep, you will weaken more quickly, and you may not finish your
work.”

“What is there to finish?” he mumbled fuzzily. “You're perfect…” His head fell back onto
the arm of the chair, and he slid into sleep. Galetea picked him up as if he was a child
and carried him to the daybed in the corner of the room.

She settled him comfortably on the bed and pulled an afghan over him. Brushing the
sandy hair from his forehead, she whispered, “Rest well, Carter Dallas. You have earned
it.”

Galetea sat at his bedside for the remainder of the night, eyes dimly glowing as internal
gears whirred softly…

~ * ~

Carter awoke the next morning refreshed, but sure the conversation of the night before
had been merely a work-induced dream. Galetea stood in her customary spot. With her
magnificent eyes closed, she was posed just as he had left her at the end of the day. He
sighed and sat up on the edge of the bed, shaking his head at his fancies.

Her eyes whirred open and charged to full glow. “Good morning, Carter Dallas,” she
greeted him.

“You're real,” he breathed.

“Yes.”

“I thought I'd dreamed you.”

“No. I am as I am.”

He tried to stand, only to fall back onto the bed. Galetea was instantly at his side, a
supporting hand under his arm.

“I'm getting worse, aren't I?”

“Yes, Carter Dallas. You have not much time.”

He raised a trembling hand to stroke her cool metal cheek. “My sense of timing has
always been horrible, hasn't it?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Never mind. What will happen to you when I…when I'm…gone?”

“What do you mean?”

“Where will you go?”

“That is your decision. You are my creator.”

“I can't send you somewhere where they'd take you apart…or experiment on you. I
couldn't bear that.”

“The time is not yet here. Do not worry about it today. Come.” She helped him to the
small counter that doubled as kitchen table and workbench and made him eat something.
He never took his eyes off her.

Carter picked up a small circuit board from the clutter on the table, fiddling with it
absently.

“Something troubles you, Carter Dallas?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I just wish…I wish I could stay here with you.” He met her eye
squarely. “Now that I've finally got you, I don't want to let go. I don't think I ever really
expected to finish…I certainly didn't expect this!”

“We have a little time. We must make the best of it.”

“I just wish…”

“Wish what?”

He flushed. “That there was a way to make it last forever.”

“Forever is a long time, Carter Dallas.”

“It's not long enough.”

“What would you do with forever? Where would you go?”

His eyes lit up. This was a question he had often contemplated. “The stars. Just think…if
you could live forever, you could explore the galaxies. Find those worlds mankind could
colonize—I
know they're out there…but no human being can survive long enough to find
them with our present technology. But
you could,” he continued thoughtfully. “If you
went out on an Explorer, no one would ever hurt you.”

“I cannot be hurt, only disassembled.”

“I don't believe that. There is more to you than that. Perhaps it once was true, but
something wonderful has happened. You are a unique creature.”

“It is kind of you to say so.” Her mouth quirked in a little smile.

At least…it seemed to him as if she smiled. It must be a trick of the light, or a blurring of
his vision. How could she possibly smile? Her face was lovely, but with all the
articulation of marble. It was a cool metal representation of an ideal—like a mask. She
was incapable of expression.

And yet…she
had smiled. He knew it in his heart.

“Would you really like to journey the stars for eternity, Carter Dallas?”

“I would if it were with you.”

“You would tire of me after a century or so.”

“Never.”

“How would you occupy your mind without your laboratory and equipment?”

“If I had a computer…and enough storage space…I could do the theoretical work and dock
every hundred years or so to do the applications—”

She laughed. “You
have thought this all out, have you not?”

“Just think—” he continued eagerly, as he warmed to his subject. “Soon they will have
colonies ready to begin settlement. As man moves out into the universe, there will be
chances to build and work on other planets, around other suns. It will be awe-inspiring.”

“How badly do you wish it, Carter Dallas?” Her voice hummed with intensity—literally
vibrating in her throat.

“More than life,” he replied earnestly. “As long as I would have you beside me, I'd do
anything you say.”

“There is a way.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you wish it badly enough, Carter Dallas.”

“What would I have to do?”

“Kiss me.”

He blinked in surprise, but then wondered why. Why else had he been building her but as
an embodiment of desire? If she had seemingly come to life, why should she not want
the trappings of romance? Would it not be part of her “function”?

He bent forward, eyes closing in anticipation, and pressed his lips to hers. He expected
cool, hard metal, but her mouth was surprisingly giving. There was a sensation of a
current rippling between them…swirling emotions and impressions of things he didn't fully
understand, heavy dark, metallic images…

He felt a shifting somewhere deep inside of him, and pulled away with a start, his eyes
flying open. “What just happened?”

“Welcome to a brave new world, Carter Dallas.”

~ * ~

The transport team from Galaxy Five Deep Space Probe let themselves in with a passkey
obtained from Carter's mother. The apartment was neat, except for a fine film of dust
shrouding the furniture. “That must be what we're supposed to pick up,” said one tech,
pointing at a group of boxes in the center of the floor.  

“Yeah,” answered the second tech, consulting his clipboard, “two wooden crates—Handle
with Care, no less—and a box of computer equipment.”

His partner circled the crates curiously. “Wonder what's in `em?”

“Beats me. Let's move `em out. I've got this one,” he grunted, slipping a dolly under the
crate marked GALETEA. “You bring that one,” he ordered, jerking his head at the crate
labeled PYGMALION.
THE LORELEI SIGNAL
Rie's short stories currently appear in several
anthologies with various publishers. She also has
five poetry chapbooks. She has collaborated with
singer Marc Gunn on lyrics for his “Don’t Go
Drinking With Hobbits” CD. Yard Dog Press is
home to humorous horror chapbooks
Tales from
the Home for Wayward Spirits and Bar-B-Que Grill

and
Bruce and Roxanne Save the World...Again.
Mocha Memoirs has the individual short stories
"Drink My Soul...Please," and “Bloody Rain” as e-
downloads. Melange Books carries her romantic
fantasy
Sidhe Moved Through the Faire. Zumaya
Books is home to
The Luckless Prince as well as
her newest novel
The Marvelous Mechanical Man
published in July.