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Parenthood

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        Julia fumbled the key into the lock and shoved the door open, readjusting the bags in her arms as she walked into the house. With a heavy sigh, she let the groceries drop, kicking the door shut behind her before throwing herself onto the couch. Stretching out, her joints crinked and popped in response until she relaxed. Taking her shoes off, she tossed them in a vague direction then rubbed her aching feet until she was mildly relieved. 

        "Fuck, let's see how much we got this time." She mumbled to herself, fishing her tips out of her pocket. Counting the cash, she made a noncommittal sound before groaning as she sat back up. "Paycheck for bills, tips for college." She continued, putting the extra into her savings jar. With a bit more cash and hopefully that scholarship she applied for, she may just make it to college for the next semester. 

        "Seriously, Julia? Come on." A voice exclaimed, followed by the sound of the door. "You can't just throw things wherever the hell you feel like." Her wife, Mackenzie, said while shoving the tossed shoes out of the way. 

        "Sorry, Mack, it's been a long day." Julia huffed, preparing herself as she stood once again, her body protesting as she grabbed the grocery bags. "How was work?" She asked, beginning to put the food away. 

        The aforementioned woman shrugged, grabbing an apple out of the bag before taking her place on the couch. "Mission was a success, we've got another rover on Mars. Hopefully the last one, there's talk of finally getting people up there." Tossing the fruit back and forth, it was eventually bitten into. "Y'know, I've been thinking."

        With a grimace, she realized the dishes were beginning to pile up too. Deciding to deal with those later, she hummed for her partner to continue as she finished putting everything away. However, the other woman's next words had her pausing.

        "We should adopt."

        "Adopt?" She questioned, turning away from her duties to instead rest against the counter. "Adopt what?" A cat would be nice. It would make the house a lot less lonely when Mack went on missions. Even a dog could work. 

        "I know you don't want kids because of..." Mackenzie trailed off, gesturing vaguely with her free hand. They both knew she meant the other woman's past. "Honestly, I don't want any either. I can't stand children." She said, taking another bite before speaking again. "But, there's a new program where you can adopt robots to raise. Supposed to 'create a positive bond between human and machine for a better future'." 

        "You complain about robots all the time, wouldn't you rather get a pet?" Julia questioned, sitting down on the floor, sensing a long conversation ahead. 

        The other woman shrugged, "I'm not much of an animal person. I don't like the mess. At least with a robot you're guaranteed a smart 'kid' and you don't have to potty train. Besides, you can take it to work, we can get a pocket sized one. I think the neighbours have one, it's like the size of my finger tip."

        "Grey and Asha." She reminded, they were a nice couple. "He's so tiny though, I'd be afraid to lose one that small." 

        "Point is, I entered us into the program." 

        "Mack!" Staring at her wife, she shook her head. "I can't believe you! I'm trying to go to college, I don't have time to raise a kid, any kind of kid!" Looking around the house, she only became more frustrated. Talking about it was okay, but actually doing it? They didn't have the time or emotional maturity for it. She was still trying to heal from her own awful childhood, her wife wasn't always the most compassionate...

        "I'm covering all the costs, we both know I have the money for it. Besides, I don't complain about you putting your money towards your hobby, so let me have this. It's an investment, we're being handed a guaranteed genius. I'll teach it everything it needs to know and you just need to take care of it when I can't, we'll be fine." Getting up, Mackenzie tossed out her apple before sitting down across from her wife. "Come on, Julia. Will you have a weird robot baby with me?" Clasping the other woman's hands, she kissed her partner's forehead. 

        "Alright, but we do this together."


 

        Tapping her foot, Julia checked her phone again. Still no messages and the appointment time was quickly approaching. Her wife still wasn't here and her anxiety began to grow as she looked around the room at the few occupants there. Then her phone began to ring, so she quickly answered it. "Where are you?" She demanded, uncaring as a few people glanced at her. 

        "I can't make it, my sister needs something, you know how Lena is." Mackenzie sighed, before briefly putting the phone down to talk to someone else. "Just pick out a promising looking one. I need to go, love you." 

        The other end hung up before Julia could properly reply, causing her to nearly toss her phone. This was absolutely ridiculous, being there wasn't her choice and she began to consider canceling the appointment. Beginning to stand, she was interrupted by a lady walking out.

        "Mrs. Mackenzie and Julia Wilson?" 

        With a sigh, she raised her hand. "It's just me." With an indication for her to follow, they entered another room before the lady sat across from her. Looking around the room, she saw many different designs for multiple models. Some were commissioned, others were simply customized, or there were pre-built also called the used. Mackenzie most likely wanted one completely from scratch, but she wasn't exactly here to help with the commission. Julia wasn't sure how the whole process worked and voiced as such. 

        "Well, you have three options. We can build you one however you want, we just need some information, paperwork, it's also more expensive. You can pick from a base model, customize it a bit, which is cheaper and the most common choice for most people. However, we do also get some returned or donated to us, typically from rogue creators who no longer have use for their creations or have been reported for mistreatment. Not as many people like to go the used route, there are definitely some bugs, but it is also the cheapest option we have. I see your wife has already paid, so I would recommend a commissioned bot, but in the end we want your choice to be the best fit for your family."  

        Maybe she was being a bit vindictive, maybe she just knew the power of second chances, but she couldn't help being interested in the third option. "Can I meet some of the used A.I's?"

        The worker seemed surprised, but didn't outright object. "Of course, you have plenty of time to make your decision, you may find some designs you like in there, I'll let you explore." 

        Another door was opened and she was let in, given free range of the facility. It was surprising, but they did have other people to attend to, so she took the opportunity to explore. Most of the rooms were for building or filled with customizable premade models, none quite caught her eye. They had no individuality and looked lifeless, which wasn't what she wanted. Thankfully she had a choice. 

        Eventually she found the room housing the used bots. Another worker allowed her in with only some brief exchange, then she was once again left to her own devices in a room filled with them. It was surprisingly lively inside, filled with machines of varying sizes doing what they pleased. Some were completely silent as they played or cleaned up, some were occupying themselves with reading or writing, others socialized. Mindful to not step on anyone, she took a seat in a clear spot, simply observing. A few observed her right back, but none approached her. 

        They were all so different in design and personality. A few hung from the ceiling or flew around the room, others were attached to walls or other devices. She didn't know how she was supposed to choose, especially alone. There were some doing mathematical equations or conducting their own experiments, ones her wife would likely be more interested in. This was her choice though. 

        Two flying A.I chased each other above her, bringing her attention upwards as she watched them crash into each other. The smaller one fell directly into her lap, which cushioned the fall. "Are you alright?" She quickly asked, picking the drone up. They had a silver spherical body, with two rotors on each side of it, a singular green optic focused on her. 

        "Who are you?" They asked in a soft voice, bouncing in her hand as they attempted to get back in the air. 

        "I'm Julia." She introduced herself, keeping her own tone quiet. 

        "Julia." The drone repeated, sounding it out a few times. "Thank you, Julia." 

        "No problem." It was hard not to smile, they were cute. "What's your name?" 

        "I am Tau, this is my nano-drone body." Tau told her, finally managing to gain flight once again. "Follow me, I want to show you my module." 

        Standing, she agreed, following the little drone and remained mindful of where she stepped. She was led to a table with a flat, black box, a screensaver of stars displayed on the monitor. At least until the drone landed beside it, then a triangular A.I formed on the screen. "Hello, Julia." The A.I greeted. 

        "Hi." She responded, sitting down on a chair and picking up the module. "Is this your main form?"

        "Yes, I also control more nano-drones and an Aries." Tau said, more of the drones landing on the table. Another bot transformed, arms and a head extended from the frame, looking at her with a bright red optic. That black bot must be the Aries body then. They were all so small, not pocket sized thankfully, but the module was the size of a tablet and the Aries was about up to her knee. Tau and their bodies were all adorable. 

        "That's so cool." She replied, encouragingly. This may be the one. 

        "...Do you want to listen to my music?" They asked, sounding almost sheepish, as if she could reject such a thing. 

        "Of course, I would love to!" The other bots completely faded from her radar, she knew for sure, she wanted this one. As the music began to play softly, an unrecognizable and no doubt original tune, she was completely sold. Listening intently, she was impressed. Once it was over, she asked simply to prompt more conversation. "Did you make that?"

        "Yes, did you like it?"

        "It's amazing, you are so good. I like making music too." The thought of bringing a bot to college with her wasn't desirable, but if they liked music too, the prospect was far more exciting now. Firstly, she wanted to make sure the connection was mutual. "Do you want to come home with me?" She asked, hoping for a yes but not looking to pressure. 

        The light on the module seemed to explode from excitement, a visual 'mind blown', causing her to laugh out of fondness. "Really?" Tau sounded as if they were in total disbelief. 

        "If you want to, it's up to you." She made sure to clarify, before unexpectedly being tackled by multiple nano-drones. Rotors buzzing so erratically it almost sounded as if they were purring. 

        "Please! I want to go with you, Julia. I want to go outside and make music!" The A.I sounded and acted so much like a child, she knew she would love them regardless of being made of flesh or metal.  

        "Let's go then." She said, lifting Tau and making sure to keep a steady grip on the module, before holding the Aries servo with her free hand. The flock of drones flew closely behind her as she left the room, receiving a strange look from the worker who watched her parade of used bots. 

        Returning to the office she was in previously, the lady in there seemed equally flabbergasted. Before quickly covering it with a smile as Julia sat down, holding and surrounded by Tau. "Would the amount my wife paid cover them?" It wouldn't make much sense for the components to be separate as they weren't much use on their own, but she still wanted to clarify.

        "Yes, are you hoping to commission a similar set?" The woman asked, taking note of all the models. They were original creations, so recreating them would be difficult but the engineers could get it close enough. 

        "No, I want this one. I want Tau." Julia said firmly, smiling down at the A.I who seemed both nervous of her rejection and excited for the new environment. 

        The worker's expression turned to one of concern. "Are you sure, this one has a colourful past." Pulling up the A.I's file, the woman showed her all the information they had. The list of abusive behaviour from the creator was long, his picture alone sent a shiver down her spine. He looked so cold, it was hard to believe he could create something so passionate. He reminded her of her own father. 

        The worker and even Tau looked to Julia, expecting something so broken to be rebuffed by her. She had so many options, she could get a brand new bot personalized for her, she could also find a used bot with far less trauma. Tau's confidence dwindled, the module's lights gradually flickering with growing anxiety as she read deeper into the file. 

        "Can I get a copy?" Julia suddenly asked. "I want to avoid as many triggers as I can for Tau." She said, holding them closer. Looking at their history made her all the more determined to adopt them.

        The lady still didn't seem convinced, but gave in enough to print off a copy. Handing it over, she added more paperwork. "This is in case things don't work out, you have six months to return it." 

        "Alright." With that as the only response she dignified, she began to put the file and return paper into her bag. Tau's module went in as well for safe keeping. Thanking the worker, Julia made sure she had everything and everyone before walking out of the building. Holding Aries' servo and keeping an eye on the drones as they all took in the outside world for Tau. 


 

        Unlocking the door, Julia let the A.I enter first as they continued to eagerly look at their surroundings. The house wasn't immense, but the tour took a while. Tau was so full of questions and curiosity, they also spent a good hour in her music room. Eventually they got to their room, which she already had ideas for once she talked to her wife. Who she desperately hoped would like the bot and all their components. As much as Mack liked the idea of academic intelligence, she also liked to tell jokes, awful jokes, but that side may learn to love Tau. 

        "Where do you want your module set up?" Julia asked to distract herself.

        "Near a window!"

        "Alright." She laughed, before pausing when she heard the front door open. "I'll be right back." Running down the stairs, she greeted her wife, who looked exhausted. 

        "I should have cancelled that appointment." Mack sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there. Lena is just so.." Releasing a frustrated sound, she finally turned to the other woman. "You didn't end up picking anything, did you?"

        "Actually, I did-"

        The loud groan in response cut her wife off. "Son of a...It's my fault, I should have cancelled, I knew I should have."

        "Why?" Julia questioned, her good mood gradually disappearing. At first she was far too happy at the outcome to be annoyed at her partner, but her ire was growing again. 

        With an annoyed roll of her eyes, Mack gestured to the door, before opening it. "Julia, meet Arti. A gift, from Lena." An employee from her work stood in the door, holding another A.I. It's frame was white, with a bulbous orb for a head, attached to a pole meant to secure it to the ceiling. Intelligent green lights moved in a triangular formation within its spherical screen as it observed Julia back. 

        "Hello, Julia. I am Arti. I have heard a lot about you." He said, earning a small smile from her. Based on vocal patterns alone he sounded like the intelligent type her wife wanted. Not to say her choice didn't hold intelligence as well, they were just more artistically intelligent. 

        "Nice to meet you, Arti."

        "Likewise."