"Is that a dead body?" Scott shrieked in a frankly impressive falsetto, that Stiles would have been much less disturbed by if he wasn't in the middle of trying to drag what — to Scott's credit — did indeed look like a dead body through their front door.
"Of course not," Stiles hissed through clenched teeth. "Keep it down! Now help me before the neighbors notice! He's fucking heavy, alright?"
Heavier than Stiles could manage, in all honesty, but instead of rushing to his aid Scott merely stared with a horrified look on his face — as if it was actually entirely plausible for Stiles to be coming home one evening with a dead body in tow. Granted that weirder things had happened during the time they had been sharing an apartment, but Stiles still felt mildly insulted. It wasn't a dead body.
"It's an android, alright? I found him in a dumpster two blocks away and I really can't carry him further and—" Stiles cut off when his grip slipped. The heavy thump from the android hitting the floor made Stiles wince. Mrs. Bridger downstairs had definitely heard that. The entire hallway probably heard it.
"Well, shit." Perhaps Stiles should have planned this a little better.
The android was just lying there, face down, barely even past the threshold, and their neighbors were bound to come snooping any minute now. They couldn't have that. Someone would surely overreact and call the cops or something equally unfounded.
Stiles did not need another arrest that his dad would undoubtedly hear about within hours, thanks to the frankly astoundingly effective police gossip network. Never mind that he lived several hundred miles away. That one arrest — however brief — involving the college tech lab, a welding torch, three fire extinguishers, and a massive explosion was clearly more than enough for his dad's fragile heart to bear. Although Stiles took offense because he honestly hadn't been trying to set the school on fire. It was pure accident, caused by too many hours without sleep and an ungodly mix of Skittles, energy drinks, and Adderall.
Yeah, okay, so maybe Scott couldn't be blamed for his reaction, but he was in a serious risk of losing the title as Stiles' best friend if he didn't man up soon and help Stiles drag the limp — possibly stolen — android away from prying eyes. Priorities, for heaven's sake.
"Scott! A little help here!" Stiles barked, delighted to see that Scott finally snapped into action, rushing forwards to help Stiles drag the heavy android the last couple of feet, into the safety of their apartment.
Stiles let out a relieved sigh once those long legs were clear of the door and he could turn around, only to come face to face with Mrs. Bridger. Stiles swallowed a curse and quickly moved to stand in the doorway, hopefully covering what for all intents and purposes looked like an unconscious — possibly deceased — man on Stiles and Scott's hall floor. Thank God the elderly Mrs. Bridger was nearly blind.
"Everything alright there, dear? I heard this awfully loud noise." Her voice was soft and sweet, milking the stereotype of a kind, neighborly grandmother to its last drop. Stiles wasn't fooled though, oh no, he was on to the nosy little lady. Her hearing was sharp enough to shame a bat's, and she was always dying for some gossip.
"Yeah, totally. Absolutely fine," Stiles babbled, discreetly closing the door somewhat to hide the majority of the incriminating evidence that quite literally lay at their feet. "I just stumbled when I got in. Tired from work, you know?"
Stiles shrugged in what he hoped was a casual manner, but the glimmer in Mrs. Bridger's beady little eyes said that she didn't believe him. Time for a tactical evasive maneuver.
"Did I mention that Scott has a new girlfriend?"
It worked like a charm.
Mrs. Bridger's face lit up in delight and Stiles grinned despite the surprised and horrified little squeak from Scott. He would just have to take one for the team.
"Oh, sweetheart! Tell me all about her!" Mrs. Bridger cooed, waving for Scott to come closer. He did, if hesitantly, partly because he had to step over the still decked android and because despite her size, Mrs. Bridger had an iron grip that could snap an unsuspecting wrist in half if she so wanted.
"No, really, Mrs. Bridger, I don't want to waste your time with—"
Mrs. Bridger interrupted Scott's feeble attempt to avoid her razor sharp attention.
"Nonsense, my boy, come over for tea and tell me about this lovely girl!"
"Her name is Allison," Stiles supplied helpfully, while stepping aside to give Scott more room by the door, "and she's really smart. Beautiful and sweet too!"
Mrs. Bridger reached out, much faster than her age would suggest, and grabbed Scott's arm. Once she had her claws in you there was nothing to do but go with her and suffer through hours of agonizing chatter while sipping tea from leaf-thin cups and politely praising her collection of doilies.
Stiles grinned widely as Scott was dragged out of the apartment by the overly enthusiastic Mrs. Bridger, who was already waxing on about her late husband and their tumultuous relationship. Scott shot Stiles a wounded, betrayed look that Stiles replied to with a jaunty salute. Throwing Scott under the bus wasn't something Stiles had a habit of doing, but he couldn't deny that he was secretly pleased to have the apartment to himself. Scott would be fine.
Stiles quickly shut the door lest he give Mrs. Bridger enough time to decide that Stiles should also attend the improvised tea party, and as he leaned back against it his eyes fell on the android lying motionless on the floor. Stiles was giddy with excitement. He had never been this close to an android before. Not a live, active one.
Sure, he had seen and poked at some during engineering class at school — before he got kicked out for setting it on fire — but that couldn't measure up to this. Those had been works in progress, or outdated models given to the school for educational purposes. Those androids had been dismembered, broken pieces of exposed circuitry and wires, and nothing at all like the work of art at Stiles' feet. Because he truly was. This android was beautiful.
Stiles bit his lip in a vain attempt to curb his excitement, before he quickly set to work on dragging the android towards his room. The living room couch was undoubtedly closer, but by the look of the android Stiles would need most of his tools in order to kick it back online, and those were spread out across his workbench in his bedroom.
It was a struggle since the android was heavy not only because of the materials it was made of, but the sheer size of it as well. Stiles figured that it probably stood as tall as Stiles himself, but was broader along the shoulders and made of nothing but firm, hard muscle. The skin was still surprisingly soft and life-like — it was only the lack of moles and birthmarks and the too symmetrical spacing of the pores that made it stand out as android.
Stiles had no idea what model it was even if he made a point to always keep up to date with the newest releases, but if he was to guess it had to be a new one. A very new one. Like every other android this one looked just a bit too physically perfect to be real, but unlike them this one actually felt real. The skin and tissue gave a little under Stiles' fingertips, like human skin would. It was nothing like the thin layer of gelled plastic that had covered the androids at school. This one even felt warm to the touch, as if he wasn't actually made of metal, wires, and highly sophisticated but still artificial materials.
It almost made Stiles uneasy since it didn't feel like he was handling a robot, but an actual, live human being.
Stiles had never really known where to stand in the whole debate about androids and their levels of humanity. One part of his mind — the rational, cynical part — knew that they were nothing but machines, and machines didn't have feelings. But another — the starry-eyed geek within him — desperately wanted to believe that they could create life, and that it would actually become sentient. When handling this particular android the squealing fanboy part was definitely winning.
An excited chirp sounded from his workbench when Stiles kicked open the door to his room, and he gave the blinking little bot on the tabletop a wide grin.
"Hi, baby! Did you miss me?" he crooned over the limp head of the android, chuckling softly when SAMMI-B got stuck on a wrench in his haste to roll closer to the edge of the desk.
Stiles' strategically placed tools was meant just for that purpose, since SAMMI-B hadn't recovered from that time he fell off the table and banged one of his wheels. He was still tilting and wobbling a little drunkenly, despite Stiles' attempts to fix it. Then again, the fumbling was kind of adorable.
SAMMI-B gave another delighted chirp — clearly too stupid to understand why he wasn't getting any further — and Stiles shook his head at his bot's antics. It was a pathetic little thing, really, put together from spare parts Stiles had nicked from the shop he worked at and spent painstaking hours building. It was mostly worthless as anything besides a glorified penholder. Still, he didn't have the heart to tell SAMMI-B that, who was happily blinking his tiny LED-lights and rolling around in uncoordinated circles on Stiles' workbench. Stiles suspected that his bot was a bit of a retard.
With a mighty heave Stiles dragged the android the last couple of feet to his workbench, for now ignoring SAMMI-B's excited, attention seeking whirs and blips. The tiny bot would have to get used to not being the center of Stiles' attention eventually, and Scott clearly thought that Stiles was spoiling the little thing. Stiles, on the other hand, thought that he was a great bot-parent. Totally.
Stiles maneuvered the android as gently as he could, not wanting to break it somehow, but in lack of better options — or super strength, more correctly — he had to settle for propping him up against the wall next to the workbench. There was just no way Stiles would be able to lift all that dead weight high enough to get it on top of the actual desk. Not to mention that it was already occupied by a deranged little bot that zipped back and forth over the tabletop like an overenthusiastic, if a bit slow, puppy.
Stiles winced when SAMMI-B managed to overturn the flimsy plastic box containing various screws and bolts, and proceeded to spread them out over the desk with a series of happy hoots. Stiles really should do something about SAMMI-B's spatial recognition bugs.
"Hey, sweetums, don't get your wires in a bunch. Look what I brought! A friend!" Stiles gestured towards the motionless android and SAMMI-B — being the obedient little bot that he was — whirred closer and chirped in awe.
Not that SAMMI-B had actual eyes to see with. He was the bastardized lovechild of a toy car, a pinchbot, and a Roomba, and was equipped only with a motion sensor, dodgy voice recognition software, and a somewhat lacking understanding of space and depth. It was pathetic really, but he was Stiles', through and through, and he couldn't deny that he loved the little guy to bits.
Stiles smiled and reached out, holding his hand in front of the small bot. SAMMI-B chirped while gently closing the two prongs constituting his pinch arm, squeezing two of Stiles' fingers with a soft, purring whirr. SAMMI-B never seemed to misjudge distance when it came to hugs.
"Now, let's look at your new pal, shall we?"
SAMMI-B hooted his approval and Stiles took a step back to give the android a sweeping look, from head to toe.
He was clearly in bad shape. There were nicks, scrapes, and what could probably translate as the android equivalent of bruises on the skin — vague discolorations, probably caused by micro-leaks of the fluid imbedded in the skin cells — and the clothes were torn and dusty. Someone had clearly not cared too much about the fate of this particular android, which Stiles found somewhat baffling considering the high quality.
Stiles might have gotten kicked out before he got his degree in engineering and AI-programming but he could see clear as day that this was a high-end, expensive android. The mere fact that it was so life-like that it could easily pass for a human to the untrained eye was proof enough of that. Stiles hadn't even known that they had gotten this far in advancing the technology.
He crouched down in front of the android, studying the face closely. The features were sharp, somewhat angular, and it surprised him that there were what had to be intentional inconsistencies in the symmetry of the android's face. Usually they were even and flawless, which made them stand out as inhuman even when they tried not to. This one, on the other hand, had thicker eyebrows than what was common and a nose that actually looked quite characteristic, unlike the generic ones all the other models were designed with. Stiles was intrigued. This android was something special.
If Stiles hadn't known that it was an android, he would have thought that the guy was just resting, dark lashes resting peacefully against high, pale cheekbones. He looked like he was asleep. Well, except for the obvious lack of a pulse and the stillness of his wide chest. Androids only breathed when they were online, and this one clearly wasn't.
Whether he had been shut off before or after he took all the damage was difficult to say, but Stiles had a feeling that it was after. The android had probably been dumped because it was considered beyond saving, what with all the cuts and bruises it had. There was no telling if any of the underlying circuits and wires were broken too.
Stiles grinned and reached out, tilting the android's head up a little. The smooth skin on the android's cheek felt more human than Stiles liked to admit.
"You're lucky that I can't say no to a challenge, big guy," Stiles said with a cheeky grin.
The android, unsurprisingly, didn't answer.
SAMMI-B did though, hooting excitedly from atop the workbench. Stiles grinned at the tiny bot.
"We better get started on fixing him up, don't you think?"
Stiles chose to take SAMMI-B's revving tires as a sign of agreement.
At least he didn't have to worry about recharging the android, since there seemed to be more than enough electricity flowing through the circuits.
"If you ever do that again I will withdraw your Internet privileges and change the WiFi-password," Scott threatened as he barged into Stiles' room, looking about as scary as a frustrated poodle. Stiles gave him a quick glance before looking back to the exposed circuits he was trying to figure out.
"I totally would."
And he really would. He had done it before. Stiles had been beyond miserable, until he managed to hack into one of their neighbor's WiFi instead. He never told Scott about that, though, because he didn't want to burst Scott's bubble of actually having something to threaten Stiles with.
"I'm sorry, but Derek took priority," Stiles replied, frowning while gently pushing the android's head to the right, to give him a better view of what he was doing. He reached out, redirecting the small pocket flashlight SAMMI-B was clutching faithfully between his tiny pincers, offering what little help he could while still remaining safely on top of the workbench. Stiles absently patted the bot as it chirped proudly.
"Derek? Who's Derek?"
Stiles sighed, rolling his eyes at Scott's confusion.
"This is Derek." He gestured towards the android, whose face was still relaxed and motionless, despite the open hatch just behind his ear. It looked pretty morbid, truth be told, but Stiles tried not to think about it. Nor did he try to think about the fact that those slightly parted lips had proven to be surprisingly soft and pliant, when his fingers happened to slip and press against them.
"The android's name is Derek?" Scott asked dubiously, crouching down next to Stiles.
"Well, no. Not technically. His name is D33R3 according to his serial number." Stiles twisted a little, grabbing the androids lax hand before holding it up for Scott's consideration. The serial number was printed in neat, simple writing on the inside of the right wrist.
Scott raised an eyebrow.
"And you figured 'Derek' was a good idea?"
"Well, yeah." Stiles shrugged, gently placing Derek's hand back against the floor. "Sure beats a sequence of numbers and letters."
Scott snorted in amusement.
"You're not exactly known for your great naming skills, but I'll give you that one."
"Hey!" Stiles was offended. "I am great at naming things!"
"Oh please," Scott teased, "Surprisingly Annoying Miniature Machine I Built?"
Stiles slapped Scott's arm while SAMMI-B bopped excitedly from his perch on the high table. Insulting Stiles was one thing, but insulting his baby bot was unforgivable.
"You are not my best friend anymore," Stiles declared in a huff before turning back towards Derek. He had every intention of ignoring Scott until he went away, but unluckily for him, Scott always knew what to say to overcome Stiles' sulking episodes.
"So how's it going with Derek?"
Stiles sighed in defeat, looking forlornly at the android's still form.
"I don't know. I mean, I'm not an expert to begin with, but I've fixed the worst of the damage and triple-checked everything. I can't find any leaks or broken circuits. Everything that should be turned on is turned on, but he just won't start."
Scott tilted his head to the side. He, unlike Stiles, had never been particularly interested in engineering and androids. But it was virtually impossible not to get a little involved considering that he lived with Stiles, who liked to talk hours on end about the things that fascinated him.
"So perhaps it's the software then? Like... a bug or something?"
Which was exactly what Stiles had begun to suspect.
"Yeah, I think I need to run some diagnostics."
He still had the old AI-programming software he had bought a license for while studying. It was outdated and probably not compatible with such a new android model, but it was worth a shot. It wasn't like Stiles was good enough to write his own program. He could improvise and use what was on hand to create small miracles — SAMMI-B was proof of that — but to build his own program or android was way above his skill level.
Stiles rose from the floor with a slight groan, his knees protesting as he tried to straighten them out. SAMMI-B gave a couple of blinks, but faithfully held the flashlight directed at Derek's head. Stiles limped over to his bed to fetch his laptop.
"Stiles, don't forget that you have work tomorrow, alright?" Scott's voice was careful, as if he was afraid that he would get reprimanded for reminding Stiles of his responsibilities. And as much as Stiles wanted to snap something insulting, he knew Scott meant well.
"Yeah, yeah... I won't stay up all night," he promised, keeping his reply intentionally vague. It would have been easier to be enthusiastic about going to work if it had actually been something Stiles enjoyed doing.
"I know that you want to keep tinkering with the android, but we both know that lack of sleep isn't going to improve your ability to focus, and you really can't risk losing this job—"
"Yes, Scott! I know!" Stiles interrupted harshly, not that keen on hearing about his obvious failures.
He knew that it was his own fault that he got kicked out of school and ended up with a shit job at a repair shop, but that didn't mean that he wanted to talk about it. Or hear about it. Or even think about it. His teachers had told him that he had great potential — not a genius perhaps, but he was inventive, eager, and not afraid to take chances. But when one of his experiments derailed and resulted in serious damage to the school facilities, no one thought that his innovation was something to be encouraged anymore.
And Stiles could live with that, he could. He was still tinkering as a hobby — SAMMI-B was built long after Stiles got kicked out — but he didn't want to be reminded of what he was missing, and how far he could have gotten if he had been more careful.
He gripped his laptop so hard his knuckles cracked, but inevitably felt his shoulders slump in defeat.
"I'm sorry, Scott." It wasn't fair to take out his frustration on his best friend, who was only trying to look out for him. He turned around, meeting Scott's sad puppy eyes, feeling an even larger twinge of guilt at the wounded look on Scott's face. "I just— I've never seen an android like this before."
Scott looked at Derek, his gaze thoughtful.
"Neither have I," Scott admitted quietly. "I mean, I know even less than you do but he looks... so real. It's nothing like the commercials and billboards."
Stiles nodded while walking over to his workbench, placing the laptop on a safe distance from SAMMI-B's pincers. He turned back towards Scott while waiting for it to boot up.
"I honestly don't know where he comes from. I just found him in a dumpster." Stiles chuckled softly. "I thought it was a dead body too at first, until I got close enough."
Scott's smile was a little crooked, but friendly. It turned into unease a moment later.
"Do you really think it's a good idea to bring him here? I mean, he's clearly top of the line and really expensive — I can't imagine that his owner would want to get rid of him."
Stiles pursed his lips.
"Well, if he's broken then I guess they figured he was useless... and if not? Their loss." He shrugged effortlessly. He honestly didn't want to think about it. He knew that there was no such thing as finders keepers — not really — but he didn't want to give Derek up either. Stiles was already a little attached, and not only because it was his first real android.
Scott looked hesitant, but nodded eventually.
"Just promise me to be careful, okay? He might be defective. And I don't want you to get into trouble." Scott straightened and leveled Stiles with a stern look that was actually rather effective when it came to making Stiles feel a need to behave.
"Tell you what," Stiles began before turning to his laptop, clicking around until he found the correct program, "I'll start the diagnostics but after that I promise not to do anything else tonight. It will take hours anyway and it's not like I'll gain anything from watching the progress bar fill up."
Scott grinned, clearly relieved.
"Sounds awesome. How about we watch a movie?" Scott suggested, eyes bright and happy. Stiles wasn't nearly evil enough to say no to that.
"Sure thing. I'll just set this up, okay? Be out in a minute."
Scott bounced — literally bounced — out from Stiles' room, and Stiles scoffed as he bent down, gently grabbing Derek's right arm and rolling the long-sleeved Henley up to Derek's elbow. Stiles pushed two fingers against the soft skin just above the crook of Derek's arm, grimacing a little when the pressure made the skin part and reveal the data port. It looked quite disgusting, even if there was no blood — just a clean cut deep enough to reach what should have been bone, but in Derek's case was a mass of steel and wires.
Stiles fumbled for the cable he had connected to his laptop and carefully inserted it into the port, smiling encouragingly towards SAMMI-B, who had helpfully redirected the flashlight to shine on Derek's arm instead. How the bot managed to do that without actual eyesight or a command was beyond Stiles, but he was willing to accept it as a part of what made SAMMI-B into the best pen and flashlight holder in the history of pen and flashlight holders.
Once Derek was hooked up Stiles returned to his computer, clattering away while setting up the diagnostics he wanted the program to run. The mere fact that it actually recognized Derek's software was a bit of a miracle in itself, since it was probably way beyond what the program could handle. Stiles was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, however, and simply finished off his preparations.
"You coming?" Scott shouted impatiently from the living room.
"One minute!" Stiles called back, just as he hit enter. The computer blipped in confirmation — which made SAMMI-B respond with a happy chirp, as he had a habit of doing whenever something spoke his limited language — while Stiles double checked that the program was running as planned.
Once he was sure everything was as it should be he turned to look at Derek again, taking a slow, steady breath.
He knew that this was a monumentally bad idea.
Just because he found an abandoned android didn't mean that it was actually thrown away. It could have been stolen or wandered off on its own. Someone might be out there right now, looking for it. And it wouldn't be pretty if they found him at Stiles'. But what else could he do? Just leaving him there seemed like an even worse idea. At least Stiles had every intention of fixing him up instead of stripping him of parts or something equally horrendous.
Stiles carefully moved closer, straddling Derek's legs once more before reaching out to shut the open panel on the side of Derek's head. It clicked into place and when Stiles ran his fingers over the seams he barely even felt that it was there. Derek was a true work of art.
He stabilized Derek's head with his hands, smiling softly at the still unmoving android.
"You hang in there, alright? I'm going to fix you right up. Good as new."
Stiles' thumb brushed over Derek's smooth cheek, and it was impossible to deny just how handsome he was — even for an android. Probably because he looked slightly flawed, as opposed to all the plastic, perfect androids that seemed to be so popular. No, Stiles definitely preferred Derek. He preferred originality. Stiles couldn't wait to see what Derek would look and sound like when he was online.
Stiles sighed longingly, tilting his head to the side. Derek's eyes remained closed, his expression peaceful and calm, and Stiles felt a slight clench in his chest. He looked so real. It would be so easy to forget that Derek was actually a machine, especially if he got to the point of walking and talking on his own. Stiles couldn't wait.
"I'll fix you, Derek. Don't worry."
Derek didn't answer. But, then again, Stiles hadn't expected him to.