"When I was born I was so small I was mistaken for a french fry. I was never an ordinary child. My best friend was a seagull. I was also illegal. Artificially intelligent people like me had been banned ever since that thing with the Twelve Elevens. Mother raised me for profit. Buyers and sellers had other plans for me, but then I grew a mind of my own. This is the story of how my brain ended up inside this box."
Candles is a black-market, "artificially intelligent person" (or A.I.P., or "ape" in the colloquial sense, as in 'the planet of the'), an organic being, farm-raised on genetically engineered smoothies and destined for auction to the highest bidding criminal enterprise. Gifted with the ability to communicate with foul-mouthed seagulls and ill-tempered felines, this gender-less, age-less, race-less creature has to find its way to escape from the clutches of its mother and other assorted enemies, in this fairly exciting and ultimately utterly unexpected story.
I was in a frenzy as I ran. I didn't know where to go so I just told myself to keep going downhill, down down down until I couldn't go down anymore. I raced through street after street, twisting and turning to follow the slope. I didn't dare pause or stop or look back and I didn't know if Stan had seen me or Itchy had seen me and just because I didn't hear any yelling or barking didn't mean they weren't right on my tail, so I ran and ran and ran. All the time there were thoughts going off in my head like miniature bombs, thoughts that were new and had never been in there before.
I'm really not one of THEM, was the central idea. I realized for the first time that I was not a boy and not a girl, I was neither. Gender had no meaning in my case and I wondered if this was also true for my batch-mates, although I'd always thought of Random and Joker and Lindley as male and the others, including myself, as female. It meant nothing. I had none of the reproductive organs and none of the chemicals either – somehow I knew there were chemicals involved! I had had the long hair until June Lee cut it but that didn't signify anything either. I could pass for either one. I had to get rid of that outfit. I had to disguise myself. I had to get lost and stay lost but at the same time I knew I needed help. I was going to have to make contact somehow with some one or some thing.
The other main thought was that I had no real understanding of how it was they were able to control me. Marta had paralyzed me with that needle, and even Stan was able to give me orders which somehow I had to obey. How did that even work? Did they have to be within sight of me, or could they control me from a distance? Could one of them make me return to them any moment? Could they make me chop my own self into pieces? I didn't know and I was terrified. What I did know is that they considered me their property. They had bought me with money, a hundred kay (whatever that meant), and were planning to sell me for more. Since people-people are all about buying and selling, according to Midgerette, they weren't going to let me go so easily. They would be coming after me, hunting me down, just like Mother always said.
All of these thoughts bursting in my brain and all the while I was trying to avoid the cars that were zooming about all around me and zigzagging around the occasional people and dogs I saw on the sidewalks.
Eventually I found myself at the bottom of the hill. I was on a busy street, not one of the ones filled with houses but one filled with stores, and many more people on the sidewalks everywhere. I stopped running and looked around. Most of the people paid no attention to me or to each other. They were busy enough with their own concerns. Some people did notice me, though, and that brought another alarming thought shooting through my skull. Any one of them could be friends of Marta or Stan or both. I could see some of them talking on little boxes they held up to their ears and mouth. They could be talking to Marta or Stan or both. They could be telling them about me, where I was, and what I was doing. What I was doing was panicking. I had practically paralyzed my own self with fear. It was growing darker by the minute but with the many streetlights in that district I was open and vulnerable. An old woman came walking directly toward me, attached by leash to a small white dog. The dog looked right at me, bared his teeth, growled and said, “Don't you just love Ileen? Isn't Ileen great?”
I could only stare. What was it about these creatures?
Oh, don't mind Willy,” the old lady said to me, “He's harmless.”
I knew better, but I didn't say so, only nodded. I was reminded of something Midgerette once told me.
“Everyone in the world hates dogs,” she said. “Except people-people. And dogs hate everyone in the world too, except for them. If it was up to us birds, there'd be no dogs. We'd kill them all if we could.”