9: Void Famous Final

Vultures find their meals by constantly, constantly circling.

Fame is not smelt — it is seen.

Vultures heads are bald to make the feeding easy.

 

Fame is felt by the consumer and the producer. 


 

"The android smells all wrong."  

Sylvester Collins paused in his presentation, his realistic android model on the table. 

"How are androids supposed to smell?" 

"I mean, more real," pressed Sylph Android's CEO. "Void Inc makes incredibly real androids—they smell like clean skin. Your new model smells like a tire. Can't you fix that?" 

Sylvester rubbed the android's synthetic skin at the knuckles, something that normally dulled the sizzling irritation. But this time the frustration built, a wrecking ball pounding at his forehead until he couldn't see, and the knuckle popped under his grip. The androids eyelids fluttered. 

"We can always put perfume on it.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic.” 

"So, air fresheners will be a new part of my development budget?" 

"We appreciate your hard work on synthetic skin, but we'll need more than a tactile expert in the future." 

Sylvester snorted. Then, in a moment of wild fury that would go down in corporate history and spread all over New Chicago, Sylvester Collins flipped the table and detonated the android. The Board dived under the table just as the chest exploded, and Sylvester stood beside the smoking wreckage, the smell of burning rubber filling their nostrils. 

"Fine. I'll work at Void Inc."


 

It takes an absent woman to make a man. 

As a boy, Sylvester thought he’d design fabric. He loved shopping with his mother just to touch things, to drag his fingers down the aisles of clothing. He loved handshakes, skin textures, fish scales, and naked women. Especially women. He spent hours with those early girlfriends, trailing his fingers over their soft skin, their hair. They had teased him for his lingering, but he never lingered for long. Until Joan. 

Unexpected Joan like sand in a garden where you expect wet dirt. Rose petals in a bathtub with her rough knees and glassy lips. 

He became a lake on fire, not just a creature of the passion, but of all his passions. He left the family motorcycle business for Joan’s cramped flat in Chicago. Naked, he wrapped himself in buttery cotton and developed formulas for textures, ignoring phone calls, being a scientist and an artist, as Joan lounged on his bed bemoaning the state of Art. 

Uh-huh.  

One Thursday he woke up to his James Bond collection playing on the television—Goldfinger—and Joan was gone. Sylvester had lingered for a moment in bed, the women curling across the screen, the sharp suits, the secrets so stylish he could feel them in a haze around his temples.

Sylvester Collins realized that, for the first time in his life, he was alone.  

He was like James Bond. 


 

As the inventor of human-like android skin, Sylvester Collins managed to get an interview with Imre Void, the president of Void Inc. Because Void had the reputation of being a recluse, Sylvester imagined a moist-handed, fat man in a dark office. A genius no doubt—Void invented the android—but a genius with wires, not humans. 

 Sylvester waited outside Void’s office as Naomi, the world’s most perfect secretary poured him coffee. He reached out to “accidentally” touch her—he imagined the feel of her pressed blouse and smooth skin—as she placed his coffee cup on the table. Naomi jerked away. 

 “Can I get you anything else?”

He smiled at her. “How many offers have you gotten from other companies?”

 Naomi smiled back, her lips full of secrets. “I’m loyal to Mr. Void. He’ll be ready to see you in a minute.”

 Sixty seconds later, the door to Void’s office opened.


 

Imre Void was streamlined. A man in a black suit with a firm grip, smooth hands, and even though the president of Void Inc. didn’t look a day over thirty-five, his eyes reminded Sylvester of obsidian arrowheads: ancient, broken, and inscrutable.  

“Welcome, Mr. Collins. Thank you for arranging this meeting. I wasn’t aware you had left Sylph Android.” 

Sylvester found himself straightening his tie. “Well, yes. I was fed up. I wasn’t being treated with respect.”

“Respect is important,” said Imre Void. 

“I would like to work for you, if you have a place for me.” 

Void paused, looking out over the large windows above his desk. “That is such a strange expression... I have always found we make places for ourselves, nests in the cosmos based on whatever bits of twigs we can gather, luck, and what we want for ourselves.” Void turned, his gaze tearing through Sylvester like he was a toilet seat cover. “What do you want?”

 “Wh-want?”

 “We’re in a strange business. I make machines to act like people. You spend your hours crafting skin and hair to convince people that metal pieces have souls.”

 “Bodies,” corrected Sylvester.

“Souls,” repeated Void. “You are a soul; you have a body. But here we are, designing identities. Bodies too. Why?”

 Struggling against the panic, Sylvester said the first thing that came to his mind, his fingers trailing down his suit jacket. “It reminds us that we are alone and powerful. It gives us secrets.”

The moment the words fell out of his mouth, he wanted to kick himself. 

 “Secrets,” repeated Imre Void. “Yes, I suppose we all desire secrets.”


 

Sylvester Collins waved to the last Void Android scientist as she left the studio. He locked his computer, waited three minutes, and then he left as well. But instead of walking towards the exit, he hurried towards the Back Laboratories. 

He tapped in a password and put in a contact lens before doing the retina scan on the door. Cool as morning, Sylvester looked down the hall before the heavy, safe-like door swung open. Machinery filled the room like abandoned dinosaur bones, cold and dusty beneath his fingertips.  

No one visited these rooms anymore, save for inventory check-ups every three weeks. 

He located the Void Android prototype olfactory engine, the android smell engine, and attached his computer. Then he clicked download. And send. 

 When the first file of four was sent, he returned to his work station down the hall. Corporate espionage had never been so easy. 


 

“See you tomorrow, Sylvester.”

 

 

The Back Laboratories felt like his room now. The huge door clicked shut behind him. 

He finished his download, sprawled out on the floor holding a dusty funnel like a martini glass, and allowed himself a chuckle before getting to his feet. 

Sylvester crossed the room — the secret man who knew everyone's business — and pushed down on the door handle to leave.

It didn’t open. He frowned and pushed against the door, but it was solid. Cold. Mild panic crept across his skin as he tapped emergency combinations into the door’s computer, growing increasingly frantic as the door beeped but didn’t open. 

He typed. He banged on the door. Then he looked through the tiny window, down the empty hallway, and that was when he saw Naomi watching him. 

Naomi never blinked. She just stared until he started to scream at her, the door soundproof, inventory check three weeks away, and that’s where she left him: locked inside the Back Laboratories. 

With no secrets at all.