All I want is to go with Flo. She’s pretty much my dream girl. If I had known how to build myself a girlfriend at sixteen, this is what she would have looked like; cogs and shiny chrome. But Flo is even better than my dream girl, because she plays in a band. That metal on metal sound her fingers make when she plucks the strings of her electric guitar makes me ache. I want to dance to her tunes, wildly, but I can never get into the rhythm. All I can hear is that sound of her fingers, apart from, not a part of, this well-oiled musical machine.
I’ve seen Flo play twenty times but this time I’m going to talk to her. She comes out of the green room wearing a pale pink t-shirt and jeans. Up close, I can see that she’s glued rhinestones to her chest plate; two straight lines where her collarbones should be.
“Hey,” I call out to her before she can walk past me. She stops but her gaze is still fixed on where she’s headed. There’s this whirring sound coming from the small of her back.
“Hi,” she says, “Are you one of Joey’s friends?”
“What? Oh no, I’m a … You guys were really great,” I say.
Flo smiles, says, “Thankyou.” But she’s still not looking at me. She’s staring across the room at a small group of people, all human I think. One of them looks like a girl I went to uni with, except she’s got way shorter hair now. I take a long sip of beer and swallow, keep going.
“Where’d you learn to play guitar?” I ask.
“I got someone to program me with the basics.”
“Oh. Cool.” I am standing so close to her, I feel my throat start to dry up. I have another sip of beer. I can hear every piece of her moving, but she won’t look at me. She’s staring at that girl, the one that I did go to uni with, Joey Zhang. Fuck, Joey looks really good with short hair and I’m not even into people. Flo must think so too; a tall boy whispers something in Joey’s ear, and she smiles at Flo. Flo smiles back. I watch them, I can see all the pieces that make up their flirting falling into place. I feel sick.
“There’s a part in you that’s going to break,” I say.
“What?” She doesn’t stop staring at Joey, who is staring at me now.
“That whirring sound. If you don’t get it checked out soon, something will break.”
“I know that,” Flo says. She places her hand on the small of her back. “But how do you?”
“I work with me- I’m an engineer.”
“Oh. Cool.” Flo looks me in the eye as I take another sip of my drink. And I mean, she really looks at me. Her eyes change a shade as she takes me in.
“How good are you?” she asks. I respond by swallowing another mouthful of beer and trying to speak at the same time; some of it spills out the side of my mouth.
“How good are you? Of an engineer. Are you a really good engineer?” I try to wipe the beer away as casually as I can.
“I mean, I’m pretty good.” I shift my weight and break our gaze. I think about Flo, standing on that stage, legs apart, shoulders back, rhinestones gleaming. I think about all that power flowing through her, coming off her chrome shoulders in a heat haze. When she shreds, she says Look how good I am at doing this. I am doing this, and I am fucking exceptional at it.
“Are you better than Joey?” Flo asks.
“Yeah.” I say. I adjust my stance, stand with my legs a little further apart, shoulders back. I look her in the eye. “I’m better than Joey. I was better than everyone in my class. And I’m better than everyone at work, too.”
Flo smiles. “Hot,” she says.
I watch the mechanical irises of her eyes as they flex, as they change from clear blue to a hazy sunset-violet-pink. I can see that she is working through something. I know because I’ve built eyes like hers with my bare hands. Is she flirting with me?
“Want to head back to your place?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say. Keep going, keep going, whatever you’re doing, it’s working. “You want me to see if I can fix you?”
“Sure,” Flo says, and turns towards the exit door. “Let’s see if you can fix me.”
We hail a cab, and Flo takes the front seat. We speed through the back streets, from the Tote to my house in West Preston, and in the close silence of the cab the sound of her breaking back is too loud to ignore.
“How do you know Joey?” Flo turns and asks me.
“Oh we used to go to uni together. She had a lot of the same classes as me, actually. She’s a mechatronics major, too.”
“Yeah, I know,” Flo says.
“Oh. Right. Well, how do you know Joey?” I ask.
“Just from around,” she says “I like to hang around with engineers. In the same way you like to hang around with metal-kind I guess.” There’s a skittering of metal on metal inside her; the cab driver flicks a glance at her, frowning. “Seems like we both have weird ways of getting off.”
I nod into the dark. Hours earlier my housemate Lily had walked in on me fingering myself with the robotic hand I’d been trying to repair. She didn’t see me at first, but when she did she just stood there for a few seconds, holding the mug of tea that she had brought me inches above the desk. Then she let out a loud, singular ‘HA’, and walked out. Later I heard her talking to Pete, as I was getting ready in the downstairs bathroom.
“So is it like, you know, that woman who married the Eiffel tower or whatever?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, they’re sentient and all that, and I’m pretty sure they are capable of love.”
“Forget love, are they down to fuck?”
Another metal sound, a crunching this time, the sound of something bigger coming away from the main working parts.
“You’re not going to catch on fire, are you?” the cab driver asks, shifting in his leather seat. Flo looks at him, and the fierce blue glow of her anger lights up the cab.
“I mean, it’s just…” he shrugs, voice shaking a little, “it’s happened before, that’s all.” He looks back to the road, and I grin at the back of her headrest, a big grin that, if I were metal-kind, would light up the cab, brighter than her eyes are. I cross my fingers on both my hands and pray to the street lights blurring past that my housemates aren’t home.
Flo’s hand is cold to hold but as I lead her from the cab up the steps to my front door, a warmth starts to spread through me. It’s familiar, like the warmth I’ve felt sitting at my workbench, putting together metal hands, imagining they are her fingers that are touching me. I fumble with the house keys in my sweaty palms. As I open the door I can hear Lily and Pete chatting in the kitchen. I should stick my head in, I think, I should thank them for giving me the shame I needed to do something about this crush. Instead I just lead Flo past the open door. Her broken parts skitter and rattle around as I follow her up the stairs to my room.
“Shit, I’m sorry. I should’ve really cleaned up first.” I start to gather the hands that are scattered across my bedroom floor. Flo hesitates in the doorway.
“Who do these belong to?” she asks.
“No one yet. Hands are just my favourite parts to build. Sometimes I sell them off to metals that can’t afford a full upgrade.”
Flo crosses the threshold, nodding, and walks over to my work bench, to where a work-in-progress lays palm up, fingers spread. She leans in real close to inspect it, her nose almost touching the index fingertip.
“This is really great work,” she says, “You’ve got a great eye.”
“Thanks,” I say, “I’ve been trying to get those LED palm lines to work for ages, I think I’ve finally cracked it.”
Flo holds her own right hand next the one on the table, mimicking its shape. She runs her finger down the unlit indent of the lifeline.
“I bet I could shred even better if I had a pair of these,” she says, “These are sick. Could you make me some?”
“Sure. All these hands belong to you in my head,” I say, holding a bunch of them close to my chest. “But now that I’ve seen them up close, I think I like yours how they are.” Smooth.
“You don’t even know what mine feel like, though,” she says. She stands up straight and takes hold of my shoulders, pushing gently down until my knees buckle and I collapse onto the bed, metal hands going everywhere.
“Don’t you want me to fix you first?” I ask.
“Not yet,” she says. “Let’s start with some foreplay.”
Flo has these lips that are pretty much pure silicon. Whenever I’ve watched her sing, I’ve imagined them to be both soft and firm. They are almost too firm and when we kiss there is a resistance that I don’t expect. Her aluminium tongue is really smooth except for a sharp edge on the left side of her mouth.
“Ouch,” I say and pull away from her. The taste of blood is lost in all the metal but I can still feel the cut.
“Sorry,” she says. She slides her hand down the front of my pants and the sound of her metal fingers against my zip reminds me of her playing the guitar. I arch my back; “Cold!” She moves to pull her hand away but I shake my head. “No, no, not bad cold.”
I close my eyes, and focus on her fingers; they are larger, the joints in her middle finger need tightening. Something is keeping me from slipping into the rhythm. It sounds like something is stuck in her. I shift, uncomfortable beneath her. Her smooth finger is touching my clit but all I can hear is the fucking click-click-clicking sound coming from the small of her back.
“Stop!” I say. Flo pulls away, sits up and untangles her legs from mine.
“What’s wrong?” she asks. I am out of breath, I pant and it fogs up the shiny chrome of her shoulder. I can see that two of the rhinestones have already come away from her breastplate. I can’t say what I want to say.
Flo sighs and rolls over onto her stomach.
“Do you want to have a look?” she asks.
“Do you want to have a look inside me, for the broken part? That’s what’s bothering you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah I guess,” I sit up “Is that okay?”
I swing my leg over her back so that I am straddling her, my weight resting on the backs of her knees. Flo lifts her t-shirt up to show her back plate, the top left corner flaked with rust. I reach towards my desk, for my screwdriver, the one with the special bit that’s good for extra small screws.
Flo is complex, as I expect her to be. She has a lot of pieces, and everything is assembled in a way I’ve only seen in second-hand textbooks. I wipe my face with the back of my hand; I don’t want any of my sweat to fall into her open body and cause her to short-circuit.
“What’s the hold up?” Flo says, half into the pillow.
“I – I don’t know where start. I only know how to build things, I don’t know how to take them apart.”
“You can do this,” she says. “It’s the same, just in reverse. You might like it.”
“And if I don’t?” I ask.
“Then we stop.” She says this like it’s the most obvious thing.
I start with the piece that is closest to the top, a small bracket holding one of her small circuit boards in place. I disconnect three thin wires, two blue and one green. As I pull each piece from her body I treat it like a fragile thing. I lay them all out in a straight line on my bedspread, to remember which order I need to put them back.
“You’ll tell me if I go too far, yeah?”
“It seems like whatever’s stuck inside you has gone pretty deep.” I say
“Deep is fine,” she says “deep is good.”
Flo arches her back and I feel the curve of her ass against the inside of my legs.
“Shit, I’m sorry, is this hurting you?” I pull my hands away like I’ve touched something hot, and clench my thighs.
She shakes her head.
“You need to go deeper.”
“I don’t think I can.”
I bite down on the tip of my tongue, trying to pull pieces away, trying not to touch the bright, cold light that glows from the centre of her.
“All that’s left is attached to your core,” I say.
“Then you’ll need to pull it out,” Flo says. I laugh.
“No way. What if I can’t put you back together.” Flo tightens up beneath me, and for a second I think she’s going to throw me off.
“Look,” she says. “If I wanted to fixed I could have gone to a fucking repair depot like a normal metal.” As she speaks her whole body starts shaking, a low, vibrating hum. I clench my thighs around her waist. “I want to feel it,” she says. “I want to feel all of it.”
I realise now how she is moving beneath me. She bucks back and I drop the screwdriver into her open back cavity.
“Shit!” Flo lets out a cry, but it is a good cry, a hot cry. The hum gets louder and faster shaking the pieces that are left inside her. She’s vibrating so much now that I can feel it, not just against my skin but inside myself as well. There are bright spots in front of my eyes. Fuck. I start pulling pieces out, not looking at what they are, not keeping them in order on the bedspread. She rolls beneath me, a chrome wave, and I clench tighter, focusing on the hum, following the rhythm of Flo.
“Oh my god, I am so close,” Flo says. “Pull it out.”
“Pull it out?” I say.
“Yes,” Flo says, “Now, yes, pull it out now.”
I reach in and close my hands around her bright, pulsing core. The light glows warm and then it goes out.
Tegan Elizabeth Webb is a writer and editor from Melbourne. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Moss Piglet Journal, A Sharp Knife Zine, and Rough Magick Anthology. She writes mostly about strange creatures who have a lot of feelings, and edits a small online publication called Slink Chunk Press.