Gusts of the Milan
wind and rain flushed against the windows of the old
ballroom that had been the venue of the Kitani Ready to
Wear shows since 2057. Various types of models stood
frozen in mid movement on and next to the catwalk,
waiting to be put back in their boxes or else, if they
caught Kitani's fancy, for the download of their show
programming. Kitani Faruzza herself was very much an
organised person, but Ian's designer enthusiasm was such
when he was demo-ing his new babies of the season that he
could not be bothered to get them out of the way and
store them before he was finished.
Kitani inspected them one by one, knowing their type and
type number by heart, seeing them as close relatives: the
Cynthia Mark II, the Ghauri Royale de Luxe, the Ghauri
III ... she halted at a Claudia Mark IV and lifted the
tousled hair from its face. `What would she have been
thinking of if she were real?' she thought, looking at
the moist eyes, that somehow radiated melancholy. The
robot models had become better and better, far beyond the
beauty and charm of the women that had been their
examples, even beating the Dancing Mannequins that had
been the first and second generations, who had their
heyday when Kitani was new in the business. Yet, it was
the afterglow of an industry. Robot models were a species
on the verge of extinction, like the fashion shows that
were their natural habitat. More and more customers and
journalist preferred to watch new designs on the 3Deo in
the comfort of their own home, without the confusion and
the noise of a show. A sad thought. Kitani loved the
staging of the shows as much as she liked designing
fashion. She drew the fabric of her elaborate dress
closer around her. The countless veils that circled
around her body protected it from view, but not from the
draught travelling from a crack in the wall to an open
Maybe she should ask Ian if he could bring in some
revamped Dancing Mannequin models. After all, the clothes
of this season were twenty years retro too. They had to
try something to get out of the trodden path.
`There is one more thing.' Kitani
sighed with relief. This was Ian's way of introducing
something novel, something he was unsure about. Usually
Ian was unsure about his best ideas. Only in the final
phase of meeting, when people were shifting their mood
into a pleasant goodbye mode, he could bring himself to
mention that he had something wild. You could consider a
meeting with Ian wasted if he had not brought up `one
`Oh? What's that?' She wished she could send him an
encouraging smile, but he would not see it through her
veils anyway. Already he was jogging to a crate in the
back, the only one that had not been opened. Mucking with
the back of a hammer head he opened it. He knew very well
what he was doing after being in his job for twice as
long as Kitani in hers, but still he managed to look like
a clumsy but contented teddy bear.
Kitani followed in his tracks, manoeuvring the skirts of
her dress around the odd bits and pieces of paper, wood
and cardboard on the floor. Ian was a hurricane in more
than one aspect. With the lid of the crate in his hands,
he watched her coming.
`It is your design, you can't blame anyone else for it,
darling,' he said when she got temporarily stuck at the
corner of an empty crate.
`I would not run if I were wearing a bathing suit
either,' she replied, `As you know well.'
`There is nothing wrong with any design of yours.'
`Good. For I would still wear them if I had to be in a
wheelchair to do so,' she said. `Now kindly show me your
He stepped aside, to give her a view of the contents of
It had golden blond hair, a smooth round face and a tiny
nose. It was not a robot model, but a doll. To make that
clear even more she wore an outfit well known to girls
worldwide as the Saturday Night Clueless: a white mohair
sweater, a pink fur miniskirt and a pink feather boa of
the kind you could only wear as a show dancer, or an
Eighties teenager out to a disco party.
`Ian, this is a MegaFluff,' she said. `You know what
happened the last time we tried those.'
`The people loved it,' he said.
`It was a mess. They lack the control, the precision and
the perfection of a robot model. They are just not cut
out for the job. They are people.'
`That is why the people loved them. And this one not just
a Miss Prettylegs in a doll's costume.'
`Neither were they.' True enough - they were robots for
almost all but their human brains, and even that was
embedded in silicoid technology. But Ian seemed very
convinced about this one.
Slowly she bowed over the crate and grabbed the doll's
left arm. The skin was thick and rubbery - hard to
imagine it contained still much of the original organic
material, but she knew it did. Under the skin weren't
muscles, but wires, batteries, strings, wheels ...
`So what is the difference?' she asked. `Is it a hundred
percent robot? Can I switch her on?' She reached to the
back of the thing's neck, but it seemed there were three
button instead of the usual two.
`Wait, what button do I use? There are three.'
`The middle one isn't a button but a socket. Don't feel
too closely because there ...'
`... might be some stray current coming out.'
`Thanks for the warning.'
Kitani turned the right button and pulled her hand back.
The doll reacted immediately to the switch. All over her
slender body humming and clicking parts responded to its
Clack. Clack-clack. Clackclack. The doll opened its
enormous blue eyes, closed them and opened them again.
Great. They were dealing with an intellectual. `Welcome,
dear.' Kitani said, more to see what would happen than
because she meant it. The doll's eyes flashed and seemed
to jump at her.
Kitani could have believed she heard the noise of her jaw
dropping. Perhaps she did. It took her seconds to find a
reply, and it was not a very bright one.
`We will see ... Ian, before we go any further, what do I
have to fork out for it? And what on earth make you think
`She is yours to keep, for free.'
`You mean you are giving it away?'
`I am not giving her away as she is not mine in the first
`Then whose is she?'
`Yours.' The doll winked at him. Click-clack.
`I am asking a serious question, Ian.'
`In a way she belongs to us all. She is the last hope of
the industry. Yours and mine, as I see it. But ... you
may consider her the gift of an admirer, if that makes
you feel good.'
`I would have preferred roses.' She had never owned a
robot model or a MegaFluff. The models were hired from
Ian's agency when she needed them for shows or photo
shoots, and she regarded MegaFluffs a decadence for
people who were misguided enough to think that for
children their parents' care and attention were
replaceable. But who was she to be the judge ... the
thought of Cherri, out there, living on Moon Dust or
Hypnotal made her shiver. She should be nineteen by now,
or should have been.
And of course, you could not really own a
MegaFluff. They were licensed to you, or you bought their
time, like you did with any employee. The whole
conversation had taken a rather absurd turn. Ian loved
absurdity, and it was the butter on his bread.
`You're okay?' It was Ian. She took a deep breath.
`Yes, I'm fine.' If just the doll stopped staring at her.
`Really, Ian dearest, I don't think it's a good idea ...'
`Why don't you watch me first?' Kitani could swear there
was an undertone of ... despair in the doll's voice. The
speech generators got better too, apparently. And there
had to be someone in there of course, someone who knew
how to handle her plastic body, her voice, everything. Or
there was no point in her being here. She had to be
brilliant in whatever it took, and yet she had took for
granted that she could be switched on and off whenever it
pleased someone else, and be put away in a box for months
maybe. How desperate could you be? But again, who was she
to be the judge?
`All right, show me.'
`Ian's Big Magic Trick ...' He started to search through
the many pockets of his jacket. The doll veered up,
blinked - click-clack - and reached out for his left
breast pocket and took out a what looked like a little
electric plug without a cable. With her left hand she
lifted her hair from her neck, to put the plug in with
her right. Elegantly she stepped out of the crate, walked
to the curtain end of the catwalk and turned to face an
imaginary audience. Ian grabbed his keypad from another
pocket - this was much easier to find as it weighed down
his jacket on one side. After some banging on the keys,
he looked expectantly at the doll. Her pose stiffened and
a flurry of rattles and clicks went through her limbs.
Initialising checks. Kitani recognised them from the
behaviour of the robot models. It was important that
everything exactly as it should - the robots moved very
fast and perfectly able of launching themselves into the
audience by a wrong movement.
The noises stopped and for a second the doll just stood
there. The next moment it walked down the catwalk,
briskly, every pair of steps the quantum copy of the
last. Having reached the little plateau at the end, she
started to perform a set of ballet moves that were beyond
the co-ordination and control of a human brain. Yet, it
was clear there was someone on that catwalk, no,
not just someone, someone with presence, with it.
`Ian, who is this? Why isn't she making a fortune
being nanny-toy for some billionaire's kid or in theatre,
instead being run by a computer for practically nothing?'
`She had a difficult time for a few years.'
Aha. Contrary to what the general public believed, the
girls and the few boys that became MegaFluffs were no
dropouts, losers and cranks. They could not be. Not with
the jobs they were supposed to have. For some reason this
kid, who probably spent some time on drugs in the street,
had managed to get through selection, or found a sponsor,
or just someone who desperately needed an organic liver,
heart or whatever.
Looking at her, Kitani realised there was something
bothered her, even made her angry. Envy? True, like so
many girls she had wished to be on the catwalk, even if
the robot models had won the battle over the real life
models - being cheaper, more reliable and just better.
Yes, she had wanted to be on the catwalk, but she could
handle envy ... what was bothering her?
And then, when looking at a Cindy Classic, she knew.
Unlike the other girls, she had not loved to be a model,
she had loved the models themselves, or rather the
Dancing Mannequin robots of those days. Like she had
learned to love their successors, the robot models - no
longer moving shop window mannequins with an engine, but
serene, realistic replicas of the ancient real life
models. But all this would be wiped away if there would
be more dolls like this one. And possibly they would save
her industry, but they would doom Ian's - did he
The doll pirouetted, her hair curling around her head as
she turned and turned. She reached up, but her hand got
stuck and perhaps a split second before the girl realised
it herself, Kitani saw she had lost her balance. The urge
to restore her balance cut through the computer control
and effectively hastened what it had tried to avoid. The
doll shrieked even before it fell on a chair next to the
plateau. The glass back of the chair crushed into
Ian was with the doll before Kitani
was, hugging and comforting it. He was very pale and did
not notice he nearly toppled a Claudia Mark IV, that
ignored the disaster in blissful deactivation. Kitani
felt sorry for the girl. Twenty years ago, she had been
lying there in the same way, but it had not been a
deserted ballroom, the sanctuary of camera-shy fashion
designer, but a tryout show, with every seat taken. Yet,
she needed to make a clear unsentimental decision now;
the finances of Kitani Inc. did not allow for much. She
pointed at the broken chair.
`If this had been a real show, that would have been the
chair of Rebecca Myers of Vogue. You know
`Twenty years ago I gave a girl a chance', Ian said, `and
she failed. So I gave her another chance.' His gaze tried
to pierce through the veils that curved around Kitani's
`But not at modelling.'
`I would have, if there had been the slightest reason to
believe you would succeed.'
`I don't think there is any reason to believe that she
will succeed.' Kitani nodded in the general directions of
the doll. It was sitting at a chair, her knees pulled up
to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. Damn.
Cherri used to sit like that.
`You don't know, Ian said, `Linked up to the computer,
she just needs some more training and a better program,
while you, twenty years ago and relying on your own
brain, never had a chance against the mechanic precision
of those dolls. Everybody needs a second chance sometime,
Kitani. Everybody deserves one. You do, I do, everybody,
if it makes sense.'
`A mistake like that would ruin me if it happened in a
show, Ian. The second chances aren't always there. I did
not get a second chance to make up for whatever I did
wrong with Cherri, you did not get a second chance from
Love of my Life Hugh. The streets are full of people who
did not get a second chance. If Kitani Inc. goes bust,
some of my people won't get a second chance either. Life
is not fair.'
`Just because life is unfair, there is no reason we
should be.' Kitani saw helplessness in his eyes. Ian
stretched out his arms and said: `What can I say
to change your mind?'
Kitani did not fail to notice the stress on `I'. It would
have been preposterous if anyone else had put it in that
way. `Nothing,' she would have said. But Ian had given
her a first chance: a little girl desperate to be a
model, a chance to be the first non-robotic model on the
catwalk for decades. And when she failed and started out
as a designer, he had rented her out his mannequin models
in the first difficult years of Kitani Inc. for
practically nothing, just because he felt responsible for
her disaster on the catwalk. He had said goodbye to `the
lads' for months when Giovanni died, her husband, just to
be able to be there, and again when Cherri was not in her
bed one morning and apparently was nowhere else, ever
again. No second chance. It was Ian who had told a
thousand journalists to go get screwed when they
suggested Cherri running away had something to do with
her being a test tube baby and Kitani being unable to be
a real mother. Even more, he had used the strings to make
sure everybody in fashion industry told the
journalists to go get screwed.
What could he say? She looked at the doll. It would not
get a second chance anywhere. Not with Carmaro, Taka
Takana or Oliveira, who used male models only, including
for female clothing. Not with West Red and DIY, who where
bailing out of the show circuit next year. And hopefully
not with Yamamaha, who had a reputation of damaging his
models beyond repair.
The doll's head sagged between its knees. What could he
say? What should she say? Kitani looked at the
robot models. She loved them, always had, more than
anyone would ever know, but it would not be the same to
see them marching and dancing on the catwalk. Not now
that she ... Let the dead bury the dead, she decided. She
looked at the MegaFluff, that made little, jerky
movements, as if she was fighting something inside
`Ian, this kid should have a mother somewhere, or someone
who cares for her. Let's find her. And until that time,
she can stay with me, and you can train her and we will
see if it comes to something.'
People say dolls can't cry. Kitani had
read somewhere that in a penguin colony of tens of
thousands of identical birds, a mother can find her own
baby squealing for her to come to the nest.
Picking up with her ears the faint,
whistling noise coming from the doll, more like a
sustained, anguished breathing, she knew that it was her
daughter crying in there, having returned to give her a
She cursed her stiff plastic legs, because she almost
fell when she tried to run to Cherri. She cursed her hard
plastic arms when she did her best to hug the doll, but
the strangest thing was, she could feel her heart
thumping at the place where it had been until, twenty
years ago, a girl had been foolish enough to let herself
be rebuilt into a Dancing Mannequin.