The Love Mod
by Anna Sykora
“What magnificent horses,” cried a faded woman in a coat cut long, provincial style. She craned her neck as they came trotting around the Arc de Triomphe. The four, deep violet (latest fashion color from the House of de la Tour), pulled a gilded carriage tastefully painted with pornographic scenes. Pedestrians gawked as the vehicle turned down the boulevard of the Champs Elysées. “Is it an advertisement?” the woman asked her daughter.
“In a manner of speaking, maman. Simone de la Tour is getting married again, at the tender age of 69. I’m surprised she didn’t buy the mayor’s permission to parade right through Napoleon’s arch.”
“But that’s not Simone’s carriage, chérie; she always has white horses. Even I know that, though I don’t live in Paris like you.”
“This must be the carriage driving Simone’s new mod to Notre Dame. How I’d love to see his face, maman. They say he’s her finest creation.”
Even the two attendants in the carriage could not see his face, however, for André III sat swathed in a veil woven from threads of silver. When Simone lifted it inside the church, she’d be kicking off the publicity for her new line of super-expensive mods.
I’m just a luxury product waiting to be unpacked, he thought, and stared out morosely at the boulevard lined with expensive boutiques. Catching sight of a glass pyramid among them--the House of de la Tour--he fidgeted in his seat like an unhappy child.
One of his attendants, a sunken-cheeked man in a shiny tuxedo, spoke up: “Stay still, André, if you please. We don’t want you to wrinkle your beautiful veil.”
The mod gazed up at pigeons flapping across the clear sky and wrung his hands. Even the birds of Paris are free, but in an hour I’ll be Simone’s legal slave. When the humans only cracked me out of my pod this morning. He breathed slower and deeper, willing his speeding heart to slow. He had to think clearly now, like a human. He had to choose...
As they neared the Egyptian obelisk, sticking up like a weathered phallus from the Place de la Concorde, the kinder attendant--a plump man with a pencil moustache--jested to relieve the tension in the carriage:
“Isn’t it funny, messieurs, how we call this crossing the ‘Place of Harmony’ now? Back in the Revolution, Madame Guillotine did her bloody work right here.”
André flung open the coach’s door and leaped out into the street. As electro-taxis and buses honked and his minders shouted after him, he sprinted into the crowded Tuileries Gardens, ripping away his veil. Women of all ages gazed after his gracefully bounding form, pointing and gesticulating: Was he a famous athlete? A dancer? He ran as if could run all the way around the Earth.
So it’s true, they find me attractive, he thought. I must cover myself again at once.
A tall African in a sky blue burnoose was selling carved animals from a cart.
“Monsieur, if you please, can we trade?” André held out his jacket of dark silk.
The black man chuckled, flashing even teeth. “You’re pulling my tail, bien sûr.”
“Mais non, monsieur.” André unknotted his colorful cravat. “I’m fleeing the woman I don’t love, and I need to disguise my appearance.”
The man guffawed and slapped his own thigh. “In that case, brother, I will help you. Just promise not to tell my three wives that I’m living in Paris.”
André, delighting in his freedom, strolled along the Boulevard de Sebastopol, the blue burnoose safety-pinned around his head to resemble a burka. Veiled like this, he remained conspicuous, however: women gazed eagerly into his eyes, which Simone had designed to provoke and please them: long-lashed and large, and a velvety brown, with golden glints like treasure in their depths. Meanwhile, the men he passed eyed his body, as if to undress him on the sidewalk. Simone had designed him lithe and strong, not too tall or muscular:
“For the body a man admires in a man is not what women love.” So she’d written in I Made the Mods that Humans Love, her best-selling autobiography, which she loaded into the memory of every mod she designed.
Feeling thirsty in the sultry weather, André stepped inside the Galleries Lafayette to find a water fountain. Enchanted then, he browsed among the racks of stylish clothing in the immense department store, studying the busy shoppers for hours and eavesdropping on their conversations… He needed to educate himself about how the humans lived in this real world, so different from the pampered paradise of Simone’s château.
She’d equipped him to entertain her there with intelligent conversation, and all the arts of love. What good was he now, without her though? A custom love model without his lover.
Leaving the store’s buzzing hive, he ambled past a sunny, sidewalk café, where young couples dined on juicy omelets with cheese, aromatic soups and crunchy baguettes. His stomach growled; he felt ravenous, and didn’t have a single Euro to his name. How would he ever survive on the streets of Paris all alone?
Mods need to eat and drink and sleep, just like humans do. They’re synthetic humans.
Feeling downcast, he wandered back towards the river, as the sky loaded up with dark clouds. What if it started to pour? Where would he go? How could he hide? He couldn’t wear this slapdash outfit forever.
A female gendarme was directing traffic. Maybe I should turn myself in? he wondered. Left at the altar in Notre Dame Cathedral, his maker must be furious, though. Why would she ever want him back? What kind of an ad was he for her designs? They were supposed to be reliable, as well as beautiful, stylish and sensual.
No, he was on his own…
Late that night, lonely and light-headed, André bent over a parapet and watched the murky Seine flow past in the milky light of an isolated streetlight. Were fish from that water safe to eat?
During his hungry years in Paris, Ernest Hemingway had hunted pigeons with a slingshot. How do you make a slingshot? André found no details on this topic in his memory.
“Are you waiting for someone, mademoiselle?" asked a throaty voice with a German accent, which belonged to a middle-aged man whose corduroy suit had seen better days. Blue eyes glittered in his lean, scarred face under a lank blond mane.
“No, monsieur,” said André frankly. “I’ve run away, and I’m awfully hungry.”
The other eyed him up and down, as if inspecting a rabbit in a butcher’s shop:
“You have eyes like a da Vinci angel. May I please see your face for a moment?”
“If you’re not from the police, monsieur.”
He burst out laughing, and slowly André unpinned one safety pin, revealing his fine-featured, beardless face. The strange man grinned like a hungry cat offered a roasted mouse on a platter:
“My dear, you’re lovely enough to model for a masterpiece. What chiseled bones and thrilling eyes. And your lips could start World War IV!”
“It’s a crime for such a precious creature to be walking these streets alone--and in plastic flip-flops! Maybe I can help you out this evening. My name is Klaus Klinski. You have heard of me, perhaps?”
“Well, I’m always on the lookout for talent. What is your name, my dear?”
“Never mind about your past, Andréa. I don’t need to hear one word. It’s your future that interests me.”
But the clouds burst and rain fell in warm torrents. Klaus tugged open an oversized umbrella:
“Come along, my dear, and I’ll bring you to a safe place in Montmartre, where you can eat a good, hot dinner. I keep an excellent mod de cuisine.”
Fifi, an old-fashioned, squat-bodied mod, did make a splendid bouillabaisse. André asked for seconds of the savory fish stew, which she ladled from a tureen decorated with a ring of breasts.
Fifi was missing one eye, which someone had clumsily sewn closed. Standing with her back to the peeling wallpaper in Klaus Klinski’s cramped salle à manger, eyebrows raised, she studied André’s elegant eating habits.
Meanwhile, the owner of the seedy townhouse lolled red-faced at his oval table, having guzzled several glasses of wine. “Andréa, my dear,” he said generously, “you may start work as soon as you like. Please use the spare room downstairs, and I’ll make all your appointments for you.”
“Très bien.” André took another sip of the mediocre white wine. “I can start tomorrow then. The only question is what must I do?” Fifi stifled a laugh by jamming her worn-down knuckles between her lips.
Just then they heard the front door flung open and a clatter of high heels. Into the dining room pranced a tawny-skinned, green-eyed creature with curly black hair.
“Oh mon amour,” she lamented. “I’m soaked from the rain, I’ve ruined my shoes, and my client the marquis had a heart attack, again.” She stripped off her dripping satin jacket and handed it to Fifi, who shuffled away. Underneath she wore a black bustier, which set off her wasp waist and high, round breasts.
“Mon Dieu, who is this girl in a sheet?” She pointed at André, still wearing the burnoose, unpinned around his face.
He wished her a polite, “Bonsoir, Madame”
“Nicole, this is our latest asset,” Klaus explained with a leer. “Her name is Andréa, and she’s a runaway.”
Hands on hips, Nicole glared at André. “Just what we need: a new chicky straight from the egg. A Moslem, a runaway--and under-age. I can tell she has no experience at all. Where did you find her, hiding in a mosque?”
“Oh you are just jealous of her flawless, youthful face.”
“You idiot with sauerkraut for brains.” Nicole slapped Klaus’s cheek and flounced out of the room, her backside bobbing in tight black lace.
“Is she always so temperamental?” André ventured after a minute
Klaus snorted, rubbing the zigzag scar on his cheek. “She’s half Berber--her dad’s from Algeria--and hotter blooded than a racing filly in heat. She’s very good at the trade though: brings in half a million Euros a year. Too bad she blows it all on rags and trinkets. No pimp in Paris can control her.”
“Nobody tells Nicole Tizi-Ouzou what to buy, or who to screw,” she sang out from the next room. A wet shoe came flying, hit the wall and landed in André’s lap. “Maybe I’ll leave you tomorrow, Klaus. I can go to work for the Fat Turk in Montparnasse.”
“You’d never join his army of cheap, mass-produced mods, mon amour. You hate mods like a Luddite of old.”
“The Turk has offered me a starting bonus: the Cartier bracelet of my choice. And you know how I love pretty jewels.”
She stalked back in, barefoot in a robe of clinging, scarlet silk, plopped down in Klaus’s lap, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. They snuggled noisily, caressing each other as André gazed up tactfully at the ceiling…
Then Nicole blurted out: “I almost forgot, I heard a rumor that the Turk’s gonna raid some human bordellos--as part of his struggle for control of our quartier.”
“Ach.” Klaus rolled his bloodshot eyes. “He wants us to move to the suburbs, but I know he’s too cheap to stage such a raid. He’d have to pay off every gendarme in Montmartre to look the other way.”
Before going to sleep in the spare room, André took a shower upstairs. He was just relaxing in the play of scented water when topless Nicole came barging in:
“Where’s my bottle of Passion perfume? Mon Dieu, you’re no girl!”
“I-I never said I was.” André wrapped a towel around his lean hips. “Klaus didn’t ask me; he just assumed.”
“Klaus!” She grabbed André by the ear and marched him back to the dining room. “You dummy-kopf, didn’t you know your beautiful, human Andréa is a man?”
Wearily the German, still sagging at the table, shook a wine bottle’s last drops into his glass. “These days, who cares?” he grumbled. “Gender doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is the part you play.”
“So you think that you’re a philosopher?” She let go of André and turned on Klaus. “When you’re just a broken down, old Kraut pimp who drinks like a pump in an aquarium?”
“And you, mon amour, are a sharp-tongued whore nearing the end of your useful life. Sometimes I wish you that were a standard mod--so I could turn you off.”
Grabbing his bottle she tossed it out the open window, and it shattered down in the alley. A hoarse voice shouted up at them then: “Shut up, you indolent decadents. Let us poor working people sleep!”
At around three in the morning, André awoke to a tremendous thumping sound, like a wrecker’s ball beating the townhouse down. Running into the hall, clad in his undershirt, he saw a truck’s rear crashing through the door. Then three black-clothed figures in balaclavas came charging into the house, and pulled the erotic pictures from the walls and smashed them on the floor.
Ignoring him they stampeded up the stairs, and he heard wild shrieking and breaking glass. Fifi popped out of a broom closet, and pulled at his arm wide-eyed:
“No. We should go help Klaus.”
“There’s nothing we can do,” she wailed.
Shaking her off, André went bounding up the stairs two at a time. He heard a popping, like the corks on champagne, and one of the invaders came rushing downstairs.
Klaus knelt in the corner of his purple bedroom, next to the wreck of a splayed leg statue, clutching his bleeding head. As Nicole menaced an invader near the window with a contraband, silenced machine gun, he leaped out.
The third lay face down on the faux tiger rug, soaking it with blood. Cursing, Nicole kicked him with her bare foot, and he shuddered.
“Let’s see how obedient you are,” she yelled at André. “Go on, finish him off. Use that statue’s thigh.”
The mod gasped, “I can’t.” Sneering, Nicole fired another burst into the prone ninja.
“Pull off his balaclava,” Klaus groaned. “Let’s see what model the Fat Turk sent us.”
Shivering all over, André complied. This mod--a standard blonde female pleasure model--looked about l8, in human years. As he did himself.
“Unarmed. They were just supposed to trash the place,” Klaus grumbled. “The waste of a fine synthetic body.”
“All mass mods look the same to me,” sniffed Nicole.
André, horrified, stared down at the dead mod.
“What’s the matter?” Nicole demanded. “Never seen a stiff before?”
“André, help her stuff it down the disposal.”
“Please, Klaus--I just can’t.”
“Squeamish, eh?” Nicole snarled. “What a useless fool! Don’t bother, I don’t need your help.” And she lugged the guts into the neighbor room.
“At least, can’t you help her wipe up all the blood?”
“Leave it for now, Klaus, please. Do let me help you to a hospital. That wound in your head needs a doctor’s attention.”
“Nicole almost shot me in the dark. She’s about the worst shot in Montmartre. And then I fell and hit my head.” Klaus pointed at the broken sculpture.
“The doctors say he may have a concussion,” André reported to Nicole that morning, as Paris’s glowing light streamed in through the open windows of the salle à manger.
She pointed at a basket of fresh baguettes. “Help yourself. You’ve earned a fresh baked breakfast.”
“Klaus told them he tumbled down the stairs, after drinking too much absinthe. They want to keep him a few days, they said, for observation.”
“C’est bon. But he’s not the only one in Paris with a problem. Look at this.” The headline of the ad-sheet read (which she’d picked up at the baker’s, along with the baguettes): “Simone de la Tour posts a rich reward for the return of her prototype.”
André peered out the window at the clear blue sky. He’d have to leave the capital at once. In fact he should leave the French Empire, and flee to one of the few remaining states that prohibit mod slavery.
He absentmindedly smeared butter on his baguette and began munching it.
“André, do you know anything about this?” Fixing him with cat-green eyes, Nicole tapped the ad-sheet’s headline with a scarlet-nailed index finger.
He hung his head and didn’t answer.
“I knew it,” she exclaimed. “A luxury mod from the House of de la Tour can never lie to a human. Nor can you harm any living being. You poor thing, you don’t even eat meat.”
“But I don’t want to go back to Simone. I don’t love her, and I won’t marry her--even if I owe her my life as a mod.”
Nicole laughed till the tears ran down her tawny cheeks, smearing her mascara. “What a splendid revenge on Simone! Don’t worry, André; I hate her too; she never has time for anyone but herself. Come along, now. Take your bread if you like. I know how you are designed to obey me.”
As he followed her down the hall, he wondered if this perverse human, taking advantage of the absence of Klaus, might demand sexual services. These might not be unpleasant… Though human, Nicole was beautiful and still in good condition.
Instead she locked him into the master bathroom, with its view of a windowless wall--not before cuffing his right hand to the old-fashioned radiator.
“I’ll be back later,” she said airily. “I have some business to attend to. You mods don’t grow old before you wear out, but my human day is short. I must make my fortune while I can.”
Pressing his ear to the door, he heard Nicole chattering on her phone but couldn’t make out the words. Then the front door slammed, and he heard nothing but pigeons cooing outside.
What was he going to do?
A pair of them winged past the window. Lucky creatures, free as the wind.
He imagined serving the aging Simone’s sexual pleasures till she died. He imagined getting decommissioned then--his memories pillaged, his life force drained, his perfect body stuffed down a recycling unit… Crouching in front of the open toilet he vomited up his breakfast.
Then he splashed cold water over his face, and willed his thudding heart to slow.
Leaping from the wedding coach yesterday morning had been an impulse. Now he needed a human-style plan.
Reasoning was not his strong point, but Simone had equipped him with a talent more important for all his arts of pleasure: creativity.
Straining his left arm, could he just reach to the edge of the medicine cabinet? Yes! He popped it open with one finger. Inside, among the clutter of pill vials, trays of cosmetics and balls of pseudo-cotton, he found a little flask of massage oil…
Gripping the flask in his teeth, he managed to work the diamond cap off. Then he poured the contents over his manacled wrist, rubbing it in with his left hand. The musk aroma smelled delightful; not too overpowering, and he noted the brand, “Male Joy,” from the House of de la Tour.
After what felt like an hour of tugging, flexing and almost dislocating his fingers, suddenly he felt the cuff slipping off like a too-tight ring. Thrilled, he ransacked the rest of the bathroom, discovering a file and some cuticle scissors. With these he went to work on the door, digging at the lock and then trying to force it…. in vain.
He thought of Simone’s sagging, blue-veined breasts. He muttered, “May the Gods of Love have pity….”
Then he recalled his mean attendant’s taunt as they waited for the wedding carriage to start rolling:
“André, a married mod is a prostitute with just one client.”
He threw himself against the door, and it gave way with a cracking sound and tumbled him out into Klaus’s bedroom.
Lurking Fifi, drawn by the racket he’d made, raised her arm as if to ward off a blow.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her, “I’ll never hurt you.”
“You’re a mod too, aren’t you?” she squeaked. “I thought so; even though you look so perfect: you’re a real luxury model!”
“Please, can you help me?” He focused his melting gaze on her one-eyed face. “I’m the mod who escaped from Simone de la Tour.”
“And Nicole wants to sell you back to her. “
“Where did she go?”
“She’s on her way to the middle floor of the Eiffel Tower. Simone is sending a man with your ransom. He’ll wear a beige trench coat and a brown fedora.”
“Thank you so much, my darling Fifi.” André dropped a kiss on the top of her head, and she pressed her stumpy hands to her breast. “Can you help me with a disguise?”
“Don’t worry, your face is not on the web yet. Simone doesn’t want to give it away.”
Raiding Klaus’s closet, André settled on a silk turtleneck and black palazzo pants, which he paired with a hand-woven, hooded poncho.
“Now you look like a Peruvian bandit.” Fifi handed him a shopping bag stuffed with food. “Still I wish you luck and love in your free life.”
“And what about you, Fifi?”
“I will always land on my crooked feet. Nobody in Paris can create such a bouillabaisse from a lean week’s leftovers.”
Nicole peered around at the hundreds of tourists standing at the railings of the iron lattice tower, watching the sun go down on Paris. Her green gaze fastened on an elderly man in a trench coat of the latest cut, which sported grenade loops of polished brass. He wore his antique fedora pulled low.
As she waved, he detached from the milling crowd and strode towards her, carrying a sleek black briefcase. Did it hold twenty million Euros?
“Nicole,” he greeted her in a musical voice, and doffed his hat, revealing the aristocratic features of Simone de la Tour, a well-Botoxed incarnation of the great movie star and ice blonde, Catherine Deneuve.
“But maman, you came yourself,” Nicole complained. “How did you know it was me who called your office?”
“We keep a voice-gram of everyone who calls me, for security.”
“I should’ve thought of that.” As she reached for the briefcase, her mother took a large step back:
“First, my favorite love child, won’t you please tell me where you’re hiding my mod?”
“I’m right here, madame.” André stepped from the crowd. “I ran across town, and I’ve been waiting. I thought you deserved to hear first hand--”
“You ungrateful creature!” Simone hissed. “After all I’ve done to perfect you. To leave me at the altar in Notre Dame…. Imagine the public humiliation!”
“I’m truly sorry, my creator,” André replied with dignity. “But I cannot go through with our marriage. Please, do not force me. That would be unworthy of you.”
Simone sighed deeply. She tapped her daughter’s shoulder. “You see what happens when I give my creatures intelligence, wit and every grace. His predecessors, Andrés I and II, also ran away before I could marry them. One may be hiding in Venezuela. I’m not good enough for them--too old!”
“ That is not the problem,” André said warmly. “Works of art exceed their creator’s grasp.”
“How did you ever learn that?”
“It’s on page ninety-nine of your book, madame, I Made the Love Mods that Humans Love. And you will recall that--in order to make me more interesting--you permitted a small degree of mutation in the development of my tastes… Madame, I’m very sorry, for your sake--but I believe I’m gay.”
“Of course: he’s too handsome,” Nicole said bitterly. “How could he be interested in women?”
“It’s hard to keep interested in women, my dear, when they double-cross you night and day.” Klaus limped towards them and she rolled her eyes. “Fifi told me where you were meeting your maman. I wouldn’t miss this for a double bed full of gold bars.”
“So this is the man without scruples you serve?” Simone asked Nicole with hauteur.
“Like the old song says, we all serve somebody.” She reached for Klaus’s woolly hand.
“Well I think this unexpected reunion calls for an apéritif, at least.” And Simone shepherded them all towards the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower’s JulesVerne restaurant, which boasts one star from the Michelin guide for its traditional cuisine.
“This is wonderful,” Klaus burbled as the swank maître de led them towards the choicest table, with a panoramic view of the tourist boats plying the Seine. “I’ve been trying for seven years, and never got a reservation here.”
“That’s an advantage of being Simone de la Tour,” the aging designer replied.
Carrying only a sleek black briefcase, André waited to board the speedplane bound for Baqi Arabia.
“Are you really certain you want to do this?” Klaus asked one last time.
“Oh yes. I’ll be free as a bird over there, once I learn the language. The Baqis don’t even believe that mods exist.”
Anna Sykora has been an attorney in New York and teacher of English in Germany, where she resides with her patient husband and three enormous Norwegian Forest Cats. To date she has placed 106 tales and 221 poems in the small press or on the web. Writing is her joy.
What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
Please yourself when you write, and eat your rejections like pretzels.