Author: A.M. Miles

The artificial intelligence called Capsaicin is an eight-foot tall tower of star-steel that leaps through the dust-filled air in perfect grand jetes, their legs parallel to the ground, their arms flying to their sides like wings ready to take them to the skies. Day light glints off their steel body and makes little suns. It pokes Dynamo in the eyes, forcing him to look away, and the scant few seconds he’s depraved of the view are the worst in his life.

“Go on,” Powder Keg says, “Talk to ‘em.” She’s seated next to him at the outdoor bar, a lascivious grin slapped on her face, half-hidden by greasy hair.

Dynamo cracks open another bottle, “Nah, nah. You think an intelligence would wanna have words with me?”

Powder Keg rolls her eyes, “If you keep bloody staring they’re gonna have words with you whether you like it or not.”

Dynamo grumbles and wipes some errant dirt off his chipped front tooth. Capsaicin never stops dancing.

“You still have that tape, don’t you?” Powder Keg says, reaching over the bar for a bottle of whiskey.

“Which tape? We have a lot of tapes.”

“From the Dune Baron. And a one, and a two.” She says, miming a pianist.

“Maybe. Yeah. What’s it to you?” Dynamo isn’t looking at Powder Keg.

She grins, “You spent three weeks learning the dance on it.”

“You spyin’ on me?”

“All those moves, and those spins,” She says, “Never nailed the jump, though.”

Dynamo is silent.

“Ow, ow,” something smacks Dynamo on the head. Powder Keg’s holding her bottle by the neck.

“You’re staring again.”

“Jealous, love?”

“Jealous?” Powder Keg scoffs and smoothes her hair back. A scar runs across her forehead, “The only thing I’m jealous of is how clean they are. Do you know the last time I had a real shower?”

Dynamo doesn’t reply. Capsaicin is closer.

Powder Keg groans and reaches for another bottle.

They’re machine perfection. Dynamo knows they’d been designed by someone far smarter and richer than him, but their eyes, a blazing fiery orange to match the dust, flutters between every little thing in their world – besides Dynamo. He can’t care about their artificial birth. Whatever Capsaicin is now is more real than most everyone he knows.

“Oi, scrap!”

A brute, face hidden beneath a spiked gas mask stumbles out from a corrugated shack across the street. Capsaicin stops, and the street joins them.

“You don’ own this town!” The brute slurs. His hands are bundled into fists the size of Dynamo’s head, and a jet-fueled hammer is strapped to his back.

“Dynamo, I swear,” Powder Keg says.

He fumbles for his gun.

The brute screams and rushes Capsaicin. Dynamo takes aim. The brute collapses to the orange ground without his head.

Dynamo balks at his pistol. The barrel’s cool.

A tendril’s popped up from Capsaicin’s shoulder, buzzing with electrified heat. Powder Keg guffaws and returns to her liquor. Scavengers go on their way after looting the brute’s corpse.

Then Dynamo realises he’s right beside Capsaicin.

“You tried to help me,” they say. Their voice is a gourmet blend of static and androgyny. Dynamo has never had anything that could be called “gourmet”, but he’s sure this is it.

“Uhh,” Dynamo says.

“Go on you stupid bastard.” Powder Keg says. Capsaicin laughs, and their half upturned grin returns.

“Spit it out,” Capsaicin says, “That’s supposedly what humans do.”

“Could we dance?” Dynamo doesn’t hear the tremor in his voice.

“We could,” Capsaicin says with happy eyes, and envelopes his hand in theirs.