Cuffy: Part 4
"Cuffy" is a novelette set in the year 2500 about a young black man who has earned a seat in an international sculpture competition. His sculpture, Black Power, has gained the interests of powerful people who seek to interpret it for themselves. All the while, his extracurricular activities reliving slave narratives in VR from the POV of the slave master have become increasingly dangerous for his future. "Cuffy" will be published weekly on Argot in six total installments along with a continuously evolving title illustration by Tiffani Gomez. This is Part 4. Read from the beginning at Cuffy Part 1.
“Dewey. Come here.”
“I’m going to be late for work, Mom.”
“No, come here. I want to talk to you a minute.”
“You’re going to be mad when I have to use that transport beam.”
Her lips shuffled themselves into a frown. He looked away.
Cuffy walked over to the couch and sat beside his mom. She clapped a few times, muted the TV, and moved her food tray.
“Okay, Cuffy. I just wanted to tell you that I saw it, the public photos, and-” She began to tear up. “I love it, Cuffy. I love it.”
“No, I’m just so proud of you.” She hugged him and his face tightened into a pit. It fixed itself when she released him. He smiled at her.
“And you know, it’s such a positive message. Black. Power.”
Cuffy looked at the TV. Red, white, and blue balloons were cascading around a man, his arms stretched out, embracing thousands. A woman and three smiling children, mostly obscured by the balloons, clapped beside him.
“I wish my mom could’ve seen it. It’s like we can do anything, we can be anything.”
“As long as it’s black.”
“What?” She stopped smiling. “What do you mean, Dewey?”
She looked at him for a moment, saw his eyes looking at the TV and turned it off. “Look at me. I’m telling you that what you did; what you did is important to me. And I bet you’re going to win it too, you always win, but even if you don’t, no, look at me, Dewey...Even if you don’t, I still want you to know, I’m proud of you.”
She searched his eyes. He met them. She smiled.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect you to create something like that.” She wiped a tear away. “The way you talk and all. The way you dress. I didn’t think it, well, I didn’t think you cared about the struggle, and I’m not saying that to be mean, you know I’m not, I just, well, I just—You know what I’m saying.”
Cuffy started breathing hard. She didn’t notice.
“Oh, Dewey, the doctor is so amazing, the one with the lab coat and the folder. How’d you get it to look so realistic?”
His shoulders heaved. A time and a place. “I wanted it to look like a person.”
“Where it’s all coming from, that big powerful black ball, ooooooh, I don’t even-”
“I got to go Mom.”
“Okay, okay, I just...”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I know, baby. I love you too.”
Cuffy stepped off his porch and itched his arm. He itched it again and looked up. The sun was about to disappear.
He pulled out his phone. President Zephie, surrounded by thousands of balloons, grinned at him. A question mark appeared. He shook his head and swiped the screen.
“You almost landed on top of me,” she said.
“Not my fault.”
“I would’ve blamed you, though.”
“I’m sure you would have.”
“How you afford beamin anyway?” she asked, “Only person I see beamin is you and that retarded girl, Stephanie.”
“Stephanie’s aphasic...not retarded.”
The girl frowned. “I don’t know what she is, I just know they don’t hire people like her where she come from.”
He shrugged. “Maybe I’m retarded.”
“You ain’t retarded.” she said.
Some customers walked between them to their old electric car. Streaks of rust ran along the trim just like it did on all the buildings this side of town. Cuffy wrapped his apron around himself and tied it. She watched him.
“It’s this weekend, isn’t it?” she asked.
“I believe it is.”
“I saw a picture of it online.”
He looked up at her, “And?”
“I like it.”
“It was acceptable to you?” He finished his knot and started walking towards the entrance.
She frowned at him and shook her head. “Why you talk like that?”
“Like what?” He held the door for her.
“No, no. Cuff. I can’t today. Sorry, man.”
Cuffy stopped a few paces from the entrance. Bill rose tentatively from his desk and started walking over to him.
“Yeah, sorry man, I wish you would’ve called. I can’t let you plug in today.”
Cuffy let his backpack slink off his shoulder and then shrugged it back on. “What’s going on, Bill?” Some of the other technicians looked up from their monitors. Bill eyed them and led Cuffy outside.
Two ad-drones converged on the-
“NO, THANK YOU!” shouted Bill.
Cuffy watched them zip into a vertical and separate, zooming off in different directions. Cuffy adjusted the straps of his backpack and waited for Bill to say something, but he didn’t.
“You know I work at a Bever’s, right?” said Cuffy, “Fast food restaurant way, way, way on the south side. I never see ad-drones over there.”
Bill looked up at him, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” Cuffy said. “Just an observation.” Cuffy watched him nudge something with his foot. “Bill?”
“My boss found out that I was letting you play for free.”
Cuffy closed one eye and snaked his thumbs through the straps of his backpack, “Well, I mean-”
“But it’s not just that.”
“I have money.”
“I showed the runaway to the boss, Cuffy. I wanted him to help us publish it.”
Cuffy clicked his tongue. “Okay.”
“He didn’t say anything while he watched it until, I don’t know. He must’ve seen you in the news or something...about that competition you’re in. When he saw your name in the program logs, he flipped.”
“He was so angry. Said we couldn’t work on it here anymore. Were we doing something wrong, Cuff?”
“I don’t kno-”
“He got way mad at me, man. He started asking me all these questions. I was like, no, this is what Cuffy wanted, and...It’s just weird. Like, I load up murder programs all the time, so does he, for people, for parties, it’s just not that big of a deal, you know?”
Cuffy said nothing.
“He told me I’m too stupid to fire and then didn’t speak to me after that; told me you weren’t allowed in the store anymore.”
Bill shook his hands at him. “I know! I don’t fucking understand, Cuff. Like, fire me or whatever, but like, he threatened to go public with it if I tried to publish it anywhere else, which...” He shook his head. “I-?” And said nothing else, aborting the question.
Cuffy nodded and looked at the ground. Bill waited for Cuffy to give him more, but nothing came out.
“Why would the press care?” Bill asked.
“They wouldn’t, but they’d talk about it. They’d talk about ducks and water and they’d get their views and-”
“What the fuck are you talking about Cuff?”
Cuffy looked into his friend’s confused face, saw something there or nothing at all, and shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Bill.”
“He told me to delete the file.”
Bill sighed. “Not the back up, but you’ve got to help out with this one, bro. I don’t understand.”
“I can’t, Bill.”
“What? Why n-” He stopped himself. An old woman walked into the store. The door closed. “Why not?”
“Does he look like me?”
“No, he’s old as shit.” answered Bill, but the question continued ricocheting across Bill’s comprehension until he spit it out again. “What does that have to do with it?”
Cuffy said nothing more and hugged his friend. Bill tensed, then fell into it. Cuffy squeezed harder. “Don’t worry about it, man. You know how old people are.” Bill hugged him back and they let each other go.
“Look, there’s other holo-stores you could go to,” said Bill, shrugging. “I can give you the program and let you keep fixing it somewhere else if you want for like personal shit or something.”
“You’d give it to me?”
“Yeah, I mean, you practically wrote it.”
“Just the AI motivations, you programmed every other inch of it.”
“Just the surfaces.”
Cuffy looked down. Bill regarded the action and leaned over to get in his eye line.
“Do you want it?” asked Bill again.
Cuffy nodded. “All right.”
“Good, give me a second.”
Bill went inside the store and came back out with the small silver drive. He stared at it in his own open hand, then with the smallest hesitation, put it in Cuffy’s.
“Tell the technician to load it centrally or you won’t get first person agency,” said Bill, his eyes still on the drive in Cuffy’s hands. “If you load it as is, it’ll just run from the master’s POV. The scripts runs on loops, micro and macro.”
“The AI programming we made is in there.” He said, before ripping his eyes from the drive in Cuffy’s hand. “I mean, it’s there already, but it won’t show up if you just watch it. You’ll have to tell them you like deviating from the script, so they’ll give you that storage space. The AI should load automatically if they do it right, and it’ll be expensive, but otherwise, you’ll just be trapped inside the loop watching the script, unable to participate.”
“I know you know, but they’ll just operate on their assumptions, so you’ve got to tell them, Cuff. Zero Point Improv Storage works best.”
Cuffy nodded at him and put it in his pocket. “You have other slave programs?” He asked.
“Yeah, but none like that one. None that I put more time into...detail. Every time you came in, it just kept getting better and better, more reactive. I couldn’t just delete it.”
“You’ll make something else.”
A moment passed between them and Cuffy started to back up.
“Hey Cuff, why didn’t you tell me the ISC committee selected you? I had no idea you were that good.”
“Pride,” said Cuff, “the pride of humility.”
Bill held up his phone. “I saw your sculpture.”
“It’s amazing man, huge. Congratulations.”
Cuffy smiled at him, “I’m handling the Earth, son!”
Bill laughed, “Those people on spikes?”
Cuffy seemed to think about the suggestion, then shook his head. “Nah, they’re just people...coming from the same place.”
“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t get a good look. What’s it called again?”
Bill nodded. “Cool name. I wish you would’ve told me, I’m into sculpture myself,” he said, opening the door to the holo-store. “We could’ve talked about it, but hey, good luck tomorrow, I got to get back inside.”
“Sure, see you later, Bill.”
“Okay. Yeah, see you.”
Cuffy watched the doors shut behind him and pulled the tiny drive from his pocket. He rolled it between his fingers and brought it close to his face, examining it. The metallic surface caught the sunlight and bounced a spot onto the mirrored wall of the holo-store. Cuffy looked at it a moment, then began tilting the thing, back and forth, playing with the angles, watching the spot quiver from his own imprecision. Behind him, he heard the whispered hum of an another ad-drone descending towards him.
“No, thank you,” he called, but he’d said it too soon. It was not yet upon him.
Erik's Goldsmith's short stories have been featured in Metaphorosis, Hidden Menagerie, and Wavelengths Anthology. He also has a book of short stories called "Tinker's Pain Calculator" published by Scarlet Leaf Press. He teaches English in Texas.