I woke up to the smell of smoke. A figure stood over me, dark, slender. Glowing red eyes, undifferentiated and vivid in the darkness of my apartment bedroom, stared at me. The figure was shaking slightly.
“Master? I burnt the eggs.”
I blinked a couple of times, and stood up. 6414734 shivered as I rested a hand on her shoulder. Her expression was still, cold, her stare a thousand yards away. She was shorter than me by nearly a foot, her body petite. It was meant to be. She was designed for infiltration, for flexibility, for adaptation, and for combat. I reached out, and rested a hand in her short, bright white hair, and the shaking ceased.
“I wanted to make you a special breakfast, to thank you for taking me in, but I let myself get distracted, and I burnt the eggs. I cleaned the pan, but there weren’t any more eggs, and-“
I softly squeezed her shoulder with my other hand, and she went silent, her head lowered. “It’s okay. The thought is what counts. Let’s make breakfast together, alright?”
“I am supposed to do a job,” she said, looking up at me, the red eyes shining fiercely. They were the two things meant to mark her out as not human. The red eyes, and the bright white hair. The rest of her was beguilingly, almost tauntingly human. She was meant to pass for human when needed, the hair dyed, the eyes covered. But she didn’t need to infiltrate anywhere anymore. There might be a handful of people who’d grow uncomfortable around an android, but they were a frequent part of life in the city. They helped people.
And sometimes they needed help. I smiled, and softly pulled her close, hugging her. “You’re supposed to be enjoying retirement.”
It was a combination of two needs. There were jobs that required sapience, intelligence, the quickness of wit and thought that could be compared to a human. Combat was one of those jobs, particularly infiltration. These sapient constructs would, given time, become obsolete. Technology raced forward, and the tools and tactics they were trained in were rendered obsolete. They couldn’t perform their jobs. If that were the only consideration, there might have been an unfortunate decision. They might have been discarded, destroyed, deleted, recycled, when they were no longer useful for that task.
But sapient things also fought harder, longer, better, when they had something to fight for. Being programmed for simple obedience wasn’t a feasible solution for programs designed to advance and adapt. They had to have something worth fighting for. So, they were retired. When an android was obsolete, it was decommissioned, weaponry removed, and given to someone willing to take it in. They were still machines, still programmed to take pleasure in service, but it meant a life of being able to fulfill simple, easy commands, surrounded by humans who cared about them, with little to no risk of pain, or destruction. It was a solution.
I reached down, and rested my hand on the delicate golden watch that was fused to her wrist. The mark of retirement, some bureaucrat’s idea of a joke. It suited her, though. It also told me it was still half an hour before sunrise.
“Come on. Let’s make some sausages, okay?”
She nodded, and looked down. “I do not need to eat.”
“But you’d enjoy it?”
“Cool. We’ve got some oranges, too, yeah?”
I stood by the griddle, letting the sausages sizzle and darken on the hot iron. There was still a small smoky scent to the air, and I opened the window, letting the city air pour in slowly. I slowly turned over one of the sausages while 6414734 ground oranges, squeezing the orange juice out. She was still dressed in the flat black jumpsuit which had been her standard military garb. It had only been yesterday I’d taken her in, after all.
Most retired androids fit in easily. After four to eight years of combat, they had a decent understanding of humans, they were capable of any task necessary, and they were usually well-adjusted. They didn’t feel pain, or suffering, the way most humans did. They were safe to be around, and they were happy for the chance to live out the remainder of their operational existence being surrounded by people. But then there were the others. Like- I needed a better name for her.
“Do you like Greek myth?” I asked, as I set the sausages onto a plate.
“I have perused it on occasion. I am familiar with the Greek creation myths, and the cultural background. What part were you thinking of?”
“Just trying to think of a good name for you. I was thinking Galatea.”
She paused for a moment. “A strange choice. Superficially apt; The connection between a human and a statue he created, Pygmalion. But the narrative breaks down. Pygmalion did not desire women out of trauma, while Galatea was his own creation, flawless, and perfect. I am substantially flawed.” She looked down at her hands, and they shook slightly. “Far from perfect.”
I smiled, and gently ruffled her hair. She leaned her head into it, her eyes closing as the shaking stopped. “I was just thinking of the numbers of your serial code. It seemed kind of fitting.”
She was entirely still for a moment, and then nodded. “It is a pretty name. I would like you to call me that.”
I smiled. “Excellent. We need to get you some new clothes today.”
She reached out, and her fingers tangled in the sleeve of my shirt, squeezing me gently, her eyes lowered to the ground, as we carried the pitcher of orange juice and the plate of sausages back to the table.
The military officer hadn’t talked about what, exactly, had traumatized her. It was hard to imagine what could damage someone built to be so strong, to the point that she’d been on the slate for decommissioning. To the point where she’d requested that she be decommissioned. The officer had told me it was classified, and that the full details had been kept to her. She wasn’t fit, really. She couldn’t live out the retirement she’d earned normally. The trauma could cause personality quirks, odd behavior, extreme emotional reactions. Most people, given the choice, would simply prefer to take an android who wasn’t going to be such a problem case. But the officer’d been damned grateful that I’d volunteered to help her.
Galatea sat next to me, just a inch or two away, so close she almost touched me, but not willing to take the last step. I rested an arm around her shoulder, and pulled her against my side. She didn’t resist, though she did stiffen slightly as her body pressed against mine. She was cool to the touch, but her body began to warm up, pressed against mine, her breath let out in a slow, soft exhale. She didn’t speak, but she seemed to eat a bit more enthusiastically after that. “You don’t mind if I hold you, do you?” I asked, and smiled. She shook her head, and leaned in a little bit closer, her eyes closed.
I’d read a little bit about her operational history. Lots of classified work, lots of damage over the years. She’d been badly damaged more than a few times, but now, none of that showed on her. None of the scars. She took a deep breath, and leaned harder against me, placing her full weight on my side. I grunted involuntarily, and she began to straighten up, before I pulled her back, giving her a gentle squeeze. She slowly lifted her arms up, and began to hug me back. There was a desperation in the touch. She didn’t squeeze hard, but the way she pressed to my side, burying her face in my shoulder, it spoke of someone terrified she’d be pulled away at any second.
I let her hold me like that for several long seconds. Eventually, her grip loosened, and she looked down at my plate, her face still cold. “I am sorry. I am distracting you. Your food is getting cold.”
“I’m not going to starve because you want a hug,” I said, and then softly stroked her head again. She leaned into the movement, her eyes closed again, and began to eat her own food. When we finished, I carried the dishes to the sink, and began to scrub them. She stood by the washing rack, and as each dish was handed to her, she began to wipe it clean with a cloth, setting it to dry in the rack. “I was thinking we could go to the mall later today. Get you some new clothes, get you out of that jumpsuit.” I handed her one of the glasses. She stared at it, carefully wiping it, taking great care. “I was thinking that we could get some lunch there, too, they’ve got this great orange chi-“
There was a crash, and a small spray of glass shrapnel. Galatea had gone stiff as a rock, her hand clenched into a fist around the remnants of the glass. Her expression unfroze after barely a second, and she stared down at her fingers, blood trickling down her arm as I gently tugged her hand out. “I… I am sorry, Master, I broke-“
“It’s okay, let’s get your hand fixed up.” I lead her into the bathroom, taking a pair of tweezers. She didn’t feel pain from the gentle removing of the glass, the flesh already sealing up behind it, the synthetic mixture tougher, faster to repair, than any human skin. Then she looked aside, and saw a small cut across my arm, where one of the pieces of glass had scored me.
“Hardly a scratch,” I said, softly stroking her head. “It was an accident, and I’m not harmed. We all have accidents.”
She was very quiet as I finished removing the glass, and added a little bactine to the cut on my own arm, covering it up with the shirt.
The mall was an interesting experience for her. The bright glow of neon and LCD screens filled the air, the rain hammering against the glass ceiling, dark clouds filling the air above the city. She stayed very close to me, her eyes flicking from one motion to another. “You alright?” I asked, my voice soft. “We don’t have to do this today if you’re not ready.”
“It is not that.” She reached out, her fingers tangling in my sleeve, frowning. “I am just trying to make sure that you are safe. There are many people here. If they wished, they could harm you. I-” She shook her head, and lowered her eyes. “I am behaving like a weapon.”
“It’s safe,” I said, and smiled. “I won’t deny that someone could pull something, but they’re not going to. Come on. Let’s find a nice clothing store.”
She continued walking alongside me, as we passed the shops. I was nearly pulled off my feet when she stopped suddenly, staring into a glass storefront. I raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” I gave an eye to the leather corset sitting in the window next to a cat-ears headband, a latex Zentai, and half a dozen other unusual items. She nodded quickly. “Alright, if you want-“
“No. You wait here. I will be quick. I do not want you to see what I buy.” She lowered her head. “Is that alright? I can pay for it all myself. My pension is substantial. “
“Of course.” I smiled, and watched as she dashed into the store. She returned less than two minutes later, clutching a large brown paper bag to her chest, her head lowered. “Find everything you wanted?” I asked, and she nodded, her eyes on the ground.
The clothing outlet was a calmer experience, as the two of us shopped. She still favored the monochrome, and exclusively chose cheap clothing. A set of black leggings, a handful of black shirts. Things without much ornamentation. I paused for a moment as we went through another aisle, and she pointed out a set of black sneakers. “You sure you don’t want something more colorful? You don’t have to go monochrome.”
“It’s… Maybe next time,” she said, still squeezing the paper bag to her chest.
She looked away, and I grabbed a black ribbon from the wall as she did. I stepped behind her, and stroked her hair for a moment, before carefully tying it into a bow in her hair. She stiffened, but didn’t fight the movement. When I had finished, she turned, staring at a nearby mirror, and examining the ribbon, reaching a hair up to touch it gently. “Are you sure? This is…” She looked at the wall, and flinched slightly at the price. It wasn’t ruinously expensive, but a natural silk ribbon was still pricy, even at a place like this. “Are you… sure? I don’t wish you to go through hardship-“
“It’s okay. You’re worth it.” I smiled, and stroked her head behind the ribbon. I paid for the clothing for her, and though she protested, I insisted. The two of us went straight home, instead of stopping for food. I wasn’t sure what had triggered her flashback in the kitchen, but it was part of learning about her.
When we returned home, I was soaked to the bone from the rain, and smiled. “I’m going to go take a hot shower. After that, we can make lunch together. Is there anything you’d like?”
She was quiet for a moment, and looked down at the brown paper bag. She’d clutched it to her chest as we’d walked, keeping it dry. “Nothing special,” she murmured softly. I nodded, and rubbed her hair, the rain already dripping out of it quickly, leaving it dry and smooth.
I’d been standing in the hot shower for five minutes, when I heard the door creak open. The shadow of Galatea’s figure appeared against the shower curtain. I turned off the water, and pulled it aside slightly. “Are you alright, Gala-“
The dress was attractive. Gorgeous, even. Black silk that hung down her sides, cinched tight around her waist, exposing her pale shoulders and her arms. Gloves that started at the elbows ended at her knuckles, leaving the tips of her fingers bare. The tight black stockings around her legs gently bit into her thighs, outlining the shape. A few inches of pale skin were left visible between the bottom of the skirt and the top of the stockings, as she stood there. She was frozen, still.
“What’s this about, Galatea?” I asked softly. She took a step closer.
“I want to be desirable. I am not useful. I am… broken. I could not keep doing my job. I cannot be a good support for you. I am a useless tool.” She stared down at her hands, and then withdrew a step. “I am sorry. I have been impertinent, I have been… selfish.” She shook her head. “You are going to great distances simply to provide me with a second chance, and I cannot- I thought, I could be attractive, I could provide companionship, but if I were not careful, I would hurt you, I could…” Her eyes flicked to my arm, and the angry red mark where the cut had scabbed over.
“Give me a second to put on pants, would you?”
She paused for a moment. “I am… just a machine, Master. You do not have to be bashful around me. I do not… matter.”
“You matter to me.” I smiled. “Give me a moment’s privacy, okay?”
And for a fraction of a moment, a smile crossed her face. Then she straightened, and stepped out of the bathroom.
A few moments later, I sat in the kitchen with her, and took a moment to admire her. She really did look very good in the dress, the ribbon sitting in her hair providing a contrast. “Do you mind if I look?”
“I like it,” she said, looking down. “I like feeling as though I am desirable. As though a human would want me. It makes me feel like I have some value.”
“You’ve got a lot more value than that. You’ve done some amazing things. I read about a few of them.” She was quiet for a moment. “Is this about what happened?”
“I killed a human,” she said. I paused at this, slightly stunned. “It was necessary, it was a consequence of the mission, and I was cleared of any wrongdoing. But during the extraction, my memory unit was damaged. I lost my memory of it. I cannot remember why I killed him. Why I had to. Who he was.” She stared down at her hands. “I think of it, sometimes. Create scenarios. Imagine what I did. Why I did it. But I could kill a human. I know that in my heart. I am faulty. Broken. I should have been decommissioned. But you are offering to help me. To fix me.” She looked up. “What if I can’t be fixed? What if I’m broken like this, forever?”
“That’s okay,” I said.
“Then… Do you want me like this? Do you like me… helpless? Dependent on you? Do you want someone who’ll simply be broken, forever?” Her tone was not harsh, or accusatory. She was just curious. I shrugged.
“I’ll care about you whether or not you’re ‘fixed’.”
There was a small silence in the room as she moved a hand over her mouth, her red eyes downcast.
“Because you worked hard, and you sacrificed yourself. You deserve to be taken care of.” I reached out, and stroked her hair. She leaned into the hand, and then stood up, sitting down next to me, her head pressed against my shoulder.
“What if I hurt you?”
“People hurt each other, especially when they care.”
She was quiet for another moment. “If I stop… being broken. Will I have to leave you?”
“No. Definitely not. And you won’t have to leave me even if you don’t feel like you’re fixed. We’ll just take things one day at a time. Alright?”
She nodded. “Can I sleep in your room tonight?”
I paused for a moment, and tried with all my might not to admire the cleavage that the dress was showing off as she leaned into my side. “S-sure.”