Today's Concept Art Writing Prompt reaches back to the pulp era, where we encounter a masked man wearing a more complicated disguise than his dance partner expected. Can you think up a short story based on this robotic party goer? Post it right here in the comments.
This week's concept art comes from Virgil Finlay (via Retrofuturism), who was a prolific illustrator for the pulp magazine Weird Tales. If you can come up with a weird flash fiction tale of your own, post it in the comments.
The room was a flurry of fabrics and feathers, plastic jewels gleaming off masks, and artfully constructed suits covered in beads. But everyone at this ball wore the same disguise: All the women looked like Mary. All the men looked like Peter. Mary knew, if she plucked the mask from any man's face, it would be Ted's naked eyes staring back at her. It was only if she passed this one perfect Turing Test that she and Ted could move on to the next level together.
The music began, and a pair of male hands grabbed her smaller ones. They'd trained for this. They'd trained for dancing and dinner parties and tennis and all sorts of more intimate activities. Peter had quizzed her again and again on the small codes of his body. She knew the way his left knee twitched when he took a hard turn. She had counted his heart rate at rest and through the spectrum of exertion. Peter had blindfolded her and lined up his bunkmates, making them touch her and hold her and brush the hair from her face until she could distinguish his hands from the crowd.
They'd developed a secret language of passwords: Gilgamesh, papillon, malamute, reindeer.
But now Mary could see all that preparation had been for naught. As she was thrown from partner to partner, they whispered those sacred words in her ear. "Mary, it's me. Harlequin." "Mary, it's me. Shibboleth." "Mary, it's me. Rainment." She whirled her head around the room and saw all the other Marys bobbing their heads around, all looking equally nervous. Were they all programmed to think they were her? She wondered. Or were they aware of their deception?
Forty beings in a room. Thirty-eight robots and all the humans have to do is find one another.
If Peter were to break off from his partner and cry "Mary! Mary!" The Peter robots would do the same. She'd heard of tests that went down that way, that disintegrated into chaos. Better to play by the rules. Better to try to figure out the game.
Mary took a deep breath. She'd had her own private rehearsals for this test, had spent hours in the men's barracks drinking in Peter's scent, feeling the electricity beneath his skin when she touched him. She closed her eyes and danced.
Her hands passed through dozens of other hands. She tried to think of them all as dead hands, devoid of human feeling. Only Peter's hands would truly respond to her touch. Then she felt it! A zap of something, of muscles pulsing beneath skin. She opened her eyes. Peter stood there in red and black motley, his eyes staring hopefully beneath a black mask. "Is that you?" she asked, and as he parted his lips to say one their words, she held a finger to his mouth. She drew him in close and inhaled him. There he was. He'd been scrubbed clean, so he didn't smell like the mildewed barracks anymore, but she knew that human musk. "Oh god," she sighed. "It is you."
Peter practically collapsed with relief. "Thank god, Mary." He pulled her into a hug, whispering into her ear, "Mary, Mary, Mary."
Then, a shout sounded from her left. "Mary!" another Peter shouted. "Oh, thank god, Mary." Mary whirled around to see this Peter draping his body over a masked Mary in pink, his body convulsing into sobs. Mary looked back at her Peter — no, not her Peter — in horror. He almost looked apologetic.
Then, in the distance, she heard the whirring blades of the Separators.