You would think such a used street would be cleaner.
As I drove down V14, I couldn't help but take in the massive amount of damage the underground passage sustained. People frequently traveled this lane, so its state of disarray always gave me a vague sense of confusion. The simple fact of its usage should have given it plenty of reasons to profit repairs, but I'm not too surprised that the money was most likely being wasted elsewhere. Still, I found something in the chipped corner stores and round-edged curbs intriguing, so I slowed down some and let my eyes pick and stray at the area I was in.
Of course after a full day of work, I was tired enough as it was, even though I was used to the strain. So when I had left my office and began the short drive back to my estate, I did not think it possible for the muted colors of the city to make me drowsier. Sadly, I was mistaken, and the dull shades and shifting shadows created by the moon and the trembling light of the apartment lanterns all but closed my eyes for me. I refused to let my body win over my will and continued to struggle against it even as I continued onward, though my speed was slowing with every second, but that was no bother.
It was late in the evening, a quarter to midnight to be accurate, so I knew most people were inside rather than on the streets. Besides, I had nothing more than work waiting for me back home, and that could easily be completed in half an hour, no matter my state of mind. Nowadays even my work schedule had become tedious, though I had little else to do with my time. There was nothing to lose from stalling but, perhaps, there could be something to gain.
My eyes traveled the worn edges of the buildings down to the split cement below; up and over the flickering street lamps, passed the cracked sidewalks, and into an alleyway on my left. There, stuffed between the wall and a dumpster, tucked in the tight crevice, was a person. I slowed further until I was practically at a dead stop. Looking around I had noticed no one, not a single soul outside - not one whom might have been looking for this person.
My consciousness rushed its way forward, pushing my fatigue out of its way, and commanded me to see to whoever this was. I was hesitant to move, however. The negatives of this situation were equal to the positives. How did I know they weren't a mugger or even a killer? With how run-down everything seemed to be, I wouldn't be surprised if they were playing dead for sympathy or if they were asleep and my being there would wake them. Even with those thoughts in mind a part of me tugged my hand closer and closer to the door: How dare I let this poor person sleep in the cold?
Done with the psychological tug-of-war, I opened the door and stepped out of my car. But, still weary, I made sure to bring the small handgun I always stowed in the passenger's safety compartment, just in case my suspicions were confirmed. However, I ended up with no need for its usage as this person wasn't even a human.
He was a robot.
I drank in the image of him as I knelt down, tucking my gun in the waistband of my belt just in case. Robots were a common thing in this area, some put to use as employees or servants; I'd even overheard talk of my fellow workmates buying them to be toys for their children. I never saw the need for such a thing, so their idle chatter never quite caught my interest; not to mention any robot I had purchased ended up being too emotionless for my taste, much unlike an actual human being.
I casted my eyes towards him and his appearance; how disheveled he seemed and how out of place it was. These humanoid machines were not always taken care of properly and got the cheapest repairs some could afford, but they were repaired nonetheless. To be out by the trash, he must have been broken, yet he looked so new. As I got closer my senses were overwhelmed by soot and ash, as if someone had tried to burn him. However, there were no fire marks on him, none at all. Besides, why would anyone purposefully try and set such a conventional handyman ablaze?
Honestly, in that moment, I should have left. I should have ignored this robot with no home whom smelt of fire; ignored how life-like he looked and how new he seemed. I should have gotten back into my car and went back to my house; I should've have ignored this walking question mark. But I could not.
Already I was mesmerized by this being with his black on white hair and delicate structure. I had no idea how beautiful these machines could be. There was no possible reason for anyone to willingly throw him out or set the poor thing on fire. Something must have had happened for him to be here.
So, instead, I slid my hand beneath his upper back and knees and lifted him away from the trash, cradling him to my chest. The smell of him was too close for me to smell the garbage - I did not know if that was a blessing or a curse - and walked him back to my car. Opening the back door was a challenge at first, but I had him in the back seat soon enough.
As I continued to drive home, glancing back at his prone form every so often, it seemed as if he were only sleeping. The feeling of caring for another person was alien to me, but I felt happiness as well. Perhaps I am doing the just thing in taking him home. Someone is most likely looking for him, hoping to find their property once again. The thought quelled my first feeling of care and returned it to determination. The robot was not mine to keep and was not a reason to be happy.
When I returned my eyes to road, I repeated the statement to myself. This robot was someone's property and I would make sure he got back to them in working order; nothing more and nothing less.
Keeping another being in my house for once was a strange anomaly. The first night he was but a powered-down machine, silent and stationary and unsettling. While I was used to the absence of movement, I was hyper-aware of the fact he was in my house, that something new had came in and taken residence. It took a while before I fell asleep and I was quick to rise the next morning.
My day had flown by in swirl of binders full of paperwork, less than important phone calls, and overly caffeinated coffee. On top of my regular, monotonous work schedule was my new added search of repair shops and news of someone wanting their serviceman back. The former was easy to locate and print out the directions to while the latter was, understandably, aggravatingly unaccommodating. No news on anything about a missing bot nor a recently burned area; as if the robot in my home never existed in the first place. However, I was not deterred in the slightest and was only determined to see him back to the person responsible for him.
The time continued onward and, unlike staying late as I usually did, I used the evening to return home and take the bot with me to the repair shop. Before I found his owners, I'd need to get him back into working condition. What I did not think of, however, was the fact that it would mean he would be conscious and mobile for a few days. It had not occurred to me until I reached the shop, but it was a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. Besides, with my knowledge of other robotic handymen being nothing but obedient, I doubt the bot would be hard to handle.
It was not a long nor slow appointment. The man there fired off simple questions with equally simple answers which all led to one conclusion: The bot just needed a reboot. I was relieved that it did not take much more for the bot to be restored to full working order and, so, I gladly paid the man for all his work. (While he worked, the man murmured and mumbled over a little stick he took from the bot's nape. With my gaze of vague curiosity, he had explained that it was what gave them their personality and that this one was odd. Given the fact I had no idea they had personalities in the first place, I was intrigued somewhat, but I did not inquire why it was so important to have one.)
Yet the strangest part of all of it was taking the bot back to the house. Now fully functional and awake, he just stared around in wonder the entire time. It appeared he had no memory or knowledge of what had happened or even his old owners, which was frustrating in of itself. But, with his quick movements, wide eyes, and little sounds of enjoyment I could not be displeased. He held the charms of a young child with the quick-witted intuition of an adult; he was neither annoying nor dull and it was a breath of fresh air to be around someone who spoke with movements rather than with words.
The ride back was pleasant hum and I was even more interested in this lively humanoid being.
After the initial first days of keeping the bot in my spare bedroom with no news of anyone looking for him, I found myself piled under legalization papers instead of release statements. With absolutely nothing to go off of, and with no one coming to claim him, I had decided to take him in and to do that required a multitude of papers and a basic appearance description. Nowadays, when taking in a robot, the paperwork is similar to that of adoption: You must be trustworthy and liable above all else. However, along with the stacks of paper, I found a story hidden amongst them.
The chapters of this novel were hidden in the signatures, in the basic personality tests, in the physical description category, in the online registration form. I had tried to piece everything together from the first mention of a fire. The word had blared glaringly from the thick, cream parchment; a blot of ink so ingrained into the fibers as to never smudge into another set of syllables.
I could not help myself to the mystery, the absolutes I would be able to find. I was hooked by the first word.
Throughout the night of the file's drop-off I poured myself into every article that linked my robot to this fire. The sun had set, I ate dinner; the moon rose, I drank liquor. By the time everything slotted into place, it was well past a proper time to call "night" and the only light shined from my computer screen and the moon's slow descent. I stacked the papers together and, while glancing ever-so often at my laptop to keep my facts in check, I recited the events; this time in order.
Everything was very simple in the beginning. Kaneki Ken (the report had used his name as well as his number code, 01000101 01111001 01100101 01110000 01100001 01110100 01100011 01101000; an incredibly boring, irritatingly long, and trivial thing to use. Why the manufactures would go to such lengths baffled me.) was a commissioned bot to look friendly and caring. He was set to work in a cafe, a little shop of a corner store that needed cheap workers who would bring in a more comfortable atmosphere. It did explain Ken's appearance and the endearing quality he was programmed with, as well as his softer nature than regular work-bots.
It was when I reached the middle that blank spots started to show. It became apparent that a fire had started within the cafe - and, subsequently, Ken too - and had spread to every part of the building. The cause of the fire is one giant question mark and I wondered how something that damaging could go on as a mystery. Another part of the mystery was where he ended up. It was has if he was in the cafe one moment as it burned and then disappeared the next; there was no say in how he got to the 24th ward and the garbage where I found him at while the cafe where he had worked at was in the upper end of the 20th ward.
All that was left from this information was the basis in which he was programmed and why. Of course, I had already skimmed that part, but the basics of his personality were all those of a caring older sibling and I wondered how that matched to both his earlier reactions and original place of residence. Perhaps I was thinking far too into it, but something wasn't right.
I tried to find a suitable answer to my question within the rest of the papers, but the lines just didn't want to connect. Instead of pursuing the questions sprouting in the back of my mind, my eyes got stuck on the last paragraph of the final page. Of course, at the end was a place for my signature, but I was more interested in the legal passing of his ownership and how I was the one to choose his housing, schedule, maintenance, and name.
The last part got me; that it was in my right to legally change his name. I flipped back to his documentation records to peer down at his old name and see if it still fit the new person he had become with the loss of his memories.
'Kaneki Ken, huh?' I rolled the name around in my mind before speaking it aloud. The Ks just cut too close and sounded far too harsh for the robot that carried it. No, he would need something softer. The image of him swam before my closed eyes and I reached for sweet and smooth. Nothing too hard, nothing that sounds like a weapon.
My eyes snapped open in thought and reached for the pen to create his name. I let it float before me, letting it take shape in the steam of its own creation. Then, quietly, like a prayer to the Old Saints, I whispered it, "Haise Sasaki."
Yes, that was it. A smile tilted my lips at the corners into a bow as I scrawled his, Haise's, new name. I sat back with a pang of satisfaction at the legal and permanent binding this gave; Haise is now and will always be Haise. His old life was now just a beautiful tragedy that went up in smoke and ashes and I was sure to make this new one a calm coming-home lullaby.
Maybe it was there that I jinxed everything.
The days passed into weeks and then into months and then it had been five years and I felt content for once. The first days were awkward, with neither of us knowing just how we were suppose to act around each other, never mind the fact that I had a work-bot with no work to do and an actual personality that caused for sudden bursts into my office at the most random of times.
I believe it was after I put him to work at a nearby child center that everything slowly melded together. I had taken more unobstructed hours for work and, while I did not intend for it, my coworkers were all too sharp in my change in ethic and demeanor. Questions poured from nearly all of them, asking and prodding into the shift I had taken. It was odd as I told them, as though they were expecting something all too different to be the reason.
From then on, everything just seemed natural. Haise had slowly grown on me as I did to him and, oddly enough, we had become friends. His kindness was a refreshing change, as was his awe and wonderment about all that he encountered.
At the present time I was stuck in my office, trying diligently to word a business proposition into something agreeable for all parties involved. Passed the polished wood door was the sound of soft songs and the smell of foreign spices. I huffed a laugh from my nose, hands still posed above my keyboard, as I could clearly remember Haise's near horrified gasp when he first found out that I was not prone to home-cooked meals. A chuckle bubbled in my throat at the memory of him, quite literally, pushing me out of the office and into the dining room while he scrambled about for ingredients.
"What?!" Haise gaped at me in undisguised horror at, I supposed, my telling him of my eating habits. I opened my mouth to repeat my statement, as he seemed baffled into silence, but he beat me to it. Reaching over to pull me by the arm, he ranted on, telling me, "I cannot believe you don't always eat home-made food! I don't remember much - alright, I don't remember anything, don't look at me like that! - but this is an absolute disgrace!"
I had forgotten how strong he could be and soon gave up of regaining back movement of my right arm and of my feet; it was apparent I was to stay in the dining room while he cooked and I could do nothing about it. While I was irritated I felt for Haise fondly; maybe I could get use to his fussy ways? Maybe I'd have to anyway, whether I liked it or not...
Sighing, I leaned back from my computer and folded my hands together with my head tilted back. Honestly, the boy could be such a mess sometimes, though in a strangely positive way. I closed my eyes and let my mind wander to certain memories; ones that shined brighter than others.
I was never an outside type of person, so how this strange robot got me out here is a complete mystery. While I supposed the air was nice, the park was taking away a plentiful amount of time I could be working. 'In fact,' my eyes narrowed, 'where is Haise?' I looked around without getting up from my spot on the park's bench and it turned out I didn't need to move anyway. I could see him chasing the younger children by the pond, in what looked like a game. Haise's lighthearted nature was an interesting one, but I supposed it wasn't too bad.
That was our very first summer together and even then Haise practically got everything he wanted. I huffed air from my nose in a sigh of exasperation; the boy was just as energetic in the winter as he was in the summer - I honestly should not have been surprised by this revelation.
The cold bit into my skin before I even knew what had happened. Wiping the snow from my eyes, I narrowed them at the laughing, white-haired pain-in-the-neck ten yards away. The blackness of his roots was the only true color on him and now I knew why he pushed to go outside practically camouflaged in white. Letting my voice echo in the yard, I told him, "If that is the game you wish to play, I hope you realize that I do not intend on losing." It did not take long for Haise to yelp and start running afterwards.
Out of the winters we've had, it was definitely the first one to mark as the most fun. I had not known how beautiful the world looked shining in crystal white like, as Haise loved to put it, a "glowing bride-to-be". However, the tranquility brought another memory forward, one not as enjoyable.
It was all too quiet. While, yes, I had told Haise on numerous occasions to try and be silent whilst we were in the library, he never actually followed through with his promise. He never learned to turn the pages without rustling them nor perfected the ability to read without murmuring comments about the characters actions beneath his breath. (To compromise for some of these problems I was able to download a few electronic books for him - which worked out lovely for both of us.) However, he was never without the odd comment or two.
I glanced up and my heart stuttered on a beat. He looked so still, like he was turned off or, and what made me even more worried, like a coma patient. Before I could move, however, the light behind his eyes flickered back on and he went on smiling as he read; as if what had just happened was nothing. He didn't have another episode like that for the rest of the day, but I never stopped wondering if it would always be like that.
My brow furrowed and I could feel the headache build behind my eyes and in my temples. I quickly shook the thought away, as it only brought more like it; more memories that flashed by showing me random coma-like sleeps, strange behavior, and jerky movements. Haise was just fine.
As if my desperate thoughts set everything off, I heard a thundering crash from the kitchen and immediately set off towards it, the only thought on my mind being Haise's safety. The door flew open with a bang and my heart plummeted. On the ground was Haise, gasping in pain and twitching uncontrollably. I ran to him, with no thought other than Haise being healthy and how this showed he was anything but. Carefully taking him in my arms, his body still spasming, I could not do anything but hold him even closer to me.
All thought evaded me, the only thing rushing through my mind was how Haise was clearly in pain and I could do nothing to help him. This wonderful young man with the forever happy smile was sick and I saw - I saw - and yet still did nothing. My haze of guilt was shattered with the feel of Haise's palm against my cheek, his fingers quivering in helplessness. His broken smile tore me down, but it was his whispered plea for warmth that seized me with wracking sobs.
"Please, Arima. Everything is so cold. Can't I be warm again?"
I could feel my breath turn to gasps and tears run down my face as I nodded. I stroked Haise's cheek, to show him that I truly did care for him, before whispering, "I'll make sure you're warm, Haise." and pulled his memory chip out. In an instant the light went from his eyes and my throat closed, my lungs rattling in my chest for air. And there, in the middle of a room still vibrant with the life Haise put in to it, all color and noise and love, I knelt over his unmoving body and mourned the soul no longer within it.
The only thing I had was my memories and, with an unclear mind, I was not sure that would ever be enough.
Seeing the empty Shell before me, I couldn't help the overwhelming anxiety that told me that this wouldn't work. That the little chip in my hand could never bring Haise back, that he was gone forever, that no technological advancement could bring back a soul to someone who was never human. (I swore to myself that if this truly worked, the boy would only get physical books; this would never happen again, no matter his ridiculous penchant for electronic reading. Call it paranoia, but all of this happened after those stupid downloads were made.)
Everything about this brought back flashes of the times we spent together and even back to the day I had first seen and interacted with Haise. How small he seemed, how wonder-filled he had been. I wondered if - if this even worked - I would be able to see that wonder again or would this time be nothing but fear?
Before I could let the depression seep even further, I inhaled slowly, and hoped it would calm my nerves. As I exhaled, I stepped forward and inserted Haise's old personality chip. I held my breath when the familiar whirring of wires echoed in my ears and hoped against all odds that Haise would return to me. All thought processes stopped as his wonderful dis-colored eyes blinked to life and focused on me.
I quickly let my expression fall into a mask of composure - one that nearly broke into pieces at his whispered, "Hello. Do I... know you?" There was wonder in that gaze, in that voice, but it held no love or compassion. I did not know which one hurt more.
Knowing that this was a possible byproduct, I steadied myself. Mutely, I shook my head no. His eyebrows scrunched together; so familiar an expression of confusion with such an alien look in his eyes. But I could not let him speak. I felt it, that his questions would have me reaching for him and nothing would scare him more.
So, slowly, I did the one thing I knew. I gave him my hand and said, "Hello. I am Kishou Arima, your new owner. Your name is Sasaki Haise."