When Mark returned from lectures, there was a brand new, highly advanced, supercomputer powered robot standing in the middle of the room.
"Mark," said the robot, turning with a smile that seemed to brighten the whole room. It had big innocent eyes, limbs that looked a little too big for its body and it looked like a boy, so at least they'd got that right. "Hello."
Mark pushed past it to get to his desk, and it bounced along after him like a particularly hyperactive puppy.
"How was your lecture? What are you up to? When are Dustin and Chris coming home?"
So Mark's parents had done their research. Mark sighed and sat down in his chair, spinning it so he could meet the robot eye to eye. He held up one hand and the robot slammed its mouth shut obediently. Apparently it could still beam with its mouth closed. "Do you have a name?"
"Wardo," it said brightly, folding its ridiculous legs up so it could sit on the floor at Mark's feet.
"Okay," Mark said. "Wardo. You're a robot."
The robot—Wardo—tilted its head to the side, its bright smile very clearly saying 'I know this is a joke but I will humour you because we are best friends.'
"Seriously," Mark said. "A robot. You're a carefully engineered piece of hardware and software from Cybernet industries programmed to be the best friend money can buy. I filled out a whole personality profile and they built you to match up with me."
Wardo's smile faltered a little but he covered it with a nervous laugh.
"You're the new big thing," Mark continued. "What upper middle class parents get their children for their birthdays."
Wardo glanced down at his hands then back up at Mark. For a long moment they sat there staring at each other. Mark imagined he could see the tiny cameras in Wardo's eyes.
"I don't get it," Wardo said, brow furrowing a little. "What's the joke?"
Damn program. Mark pushed his chair back to sit on the floor opposite Wardo. "You think we've known each other forever, right? You think we're best friends? You don't think it's at all strange that I had to ask your name?"
"Um," Wardo said.
"There's a subroutine in your program that tells you to ignore everything that doesn't quite match up," Mark said. "I'll take that out later, I can't imagine it being anything other than an annoyance."
"Um." Wardo glanced down at his hands again. "So I'm... you asked for me?"
Mark sighed and stood up. "No, I asked for a new laptop. You can't have everything."
Dustin arrived twenty minutes later to see Mark coding on his laptop and Wardo staring intently at each side of a rubix cube in turn as though it might fix itself through force of will. "What are you doing?" he asked, stepping around Wardo to lean over and read over Mark's code.
"Jailbreaking my robot," Mark said.
"Cool," Dustin sat down beside him. "Can I help?"
Chris got in around dinner time when Dustin was looking through the cable drawer, Mark was tapping his fingers waiting for his code to compile and Wardo was turning each side of the cube in turn, apparently trying to solve it through process of elimination. "Do I want to know?"
Dustin looked up with an Ethernet cable in one hand and a red vine in the other. "Mark has a robot," he said "But it's programmed to never believe it's a robot, so we're hacking it." He gave each of the items careful consideration before tossing the cable and eating the red vine.
"Uh-huh," Chris said in his familiar 'I'm just going to pretend that made sense' voice before turning to Wardo. "And you are?"
Wardo's fingers trembled a little on the cube. "Hey Chris," he said. "I'm Wardo. I suppose you don't remember me either."
Chris frowned, looking between Mark and Dustin before settling on Mark. "He's the robot? Your parents bought you a robotic best friend?"
Mark shrugged. "I asked for a laptop."
"Victory!" Dustin interrupted, rolling over with a USB cable held high. "Now, where do I stick this?"
There was a moment of silence during which Mark blinked, Wardo drew his legs up against his chest and Chris looked seriously tempted to knock his head into something heavy.
"Okay," Dustin said, slower and more carefully. "Everyone can stop thinking dirty thoughts in three... two..."
Chris snatched the cable from his hands and turned to Wardo who was now rocking back and forth a little on the floor. "Didn't he come with a user guide?"
Mark glanced back at his code. "There might have been an email attachment with instructions."
"Where is it?"
"I deleted it and told them to send me a laptop."
Chris let out a low sound of despair and tossed the cable at Mark before crouching down in front of Wardo, touching one hand hesitantly to his shoulder. "Do you come with a manual?"
Wardo buried his face in his knees. "I don't know," he said, muffled by the denim. "I don't know and I'm not a robot and this isn't funny anymore." He turned his head to throw a desperate look at Mark. "I remember your fifth birthday. There were red balloons with fire trucks on and a bouncy castle. You had a cake in the shape of a hedgehog and you ate so much you threw up and I was there."
"It was a caterpillar," Mark said, pushing Wardo's head round and forward to bare the back of his neck. "And no, you weren't. You're not even five years old. Dustin, in a minute I'll need you to search something."
"I remember it."
Chris reached out to take one of Wardo's hands. "Memories constructed from data given by Mark's parents, most likely. You're programmed to believe them without question, it's barbaric and wrong and I'm starting a campaign but—"
"No one cares," Mark said, sliding his fingers carefully across the synthetic flesh on the back of Wardo's neck until he found the small indent. He dug his fingernails into the edge, ignoring Wardo's slight tremble, and pulled up the flap to reveal the control panel complete with USB port, a whole array of switches and a serial number. "Dustin, google a user's guide for a Cybernet AI unit, EdURD0."
Dustin rolled over to his desk and typed something, then paused. "Like Eduardo?"
"You always call me Wardo," Wardo muttered, hands clasping and unclasping on his knees. "Always."
"He's midrange," Dustin called, wheeling back into the room with his computer on his lap. "Pretty decent from the looks of things. Good at math, capable of learning, enough memory for at least ten more years of input data."
Mark picked up the cable and wired Wardo up to his laptop, pulling the computer down onto his lap so he could scroll through Wardo's memory drives. "You think we've known each other all our lives, hey?"
Wardo's head dropped against his knees, pulling the cable tight. "I'm dreaming. This is just some stupid, crazy dream or you're playing a trick or something and it's not funny anymore. I don't like it and I want to wake up." He reached behind him with one hand, feeling where the skin of his neck lifted away to reveal the control panel, his fingers closing around the point where the cable plugged in.
He tore his hand away. "It's a dream. It's just a—"
Mark dragged his new program across to the centre of Wardo's command structure and started it running, reaching out to close his fingers on Wardo's hand. He only meant to stop Wardo from pulling the cable out, but Wardo's fingers closed almost painfully tight on his the moment they were in range.
"He works as a speaker," Dustin said, wheeling in from the other room. "There's a button to open him up and there should be an iPod dock somewhere inside."
"We can look inside?" Mark asked, already scanning the few buttons on the control panel. It's not that he had any plans to open Wardo up and pull out the incredibly powerful circuitboard powering him. He was just curious enough to hit the button and take a quick peek.
Wardo's hand went loose, his head falling forward until it hit his knees.
"Mark," Chris snapped. "What did you—" he broke off as the back of Wardo's head split open, parting his hair to reveal the soft blue glow of the tech inside.
There was an ipod dock secreted neatly at the base of Wardo's skull, a few slots for additional graphics or memory cards but more importantly there was a circuitboard that Mark had never seen the like of outside of advanced computer theory. "Dustin?" he said slowly, pulling his hand free of Wardo's limp fingers. "What hardware should he have installed?"
Dustin rolled a little closer. "Latest intel processor, Cybertronix learning chip and a Flashback memory card all on the Cybernet basic unit?"
"Yeah," Mark said, ghosting his fingers around the curve of Eduardo's skull. "He doesn't have any of that. This is... I don't even know what this is. It shouldn't be possible."
Dustin leant forward to get a look and let out a long whistle. "Wow."
"Okay," Chris said. "All I see is chips and circuitboards. What am I looking at?"
"The most powerful theoretical tech ever," Dustin said. "It's supposed to be impossible to manufacture but the theory is that every time the computer learns something or commits something to memory, storage only increases. This isn't a slow programmed learning curve, this could download, like, all the information in the world ever and understand it." He leant forward a little further. "There's a whole load of inhibitors on it, but theoretically it could be used to run anything and I'm not talking a small company website I'm talking a small country. Or a large country. Or, like, the entirety of google could run off that one chip. No one in their right mind would put it in a basic robot companion."
Mark was still staring at the board, running through everything he could do with it from destroy the world to create world peace. "Chris, if you bought a pack of cornflakes but found a chocolate bar inside and didn't return it, the chocolate bar would still be yours, right?"
Chris frowned. "I think technically yes?"
Mark nodded. "So it's my technology. They made a mistake and I get to keep it." He tilted his head to get a better look at how the board was attached and what the best ways to get it out would be. "Dustin, I need a toolkit and a—"
Chris slammed the two halves of Wardo's head back together, hiding the world's most complex technology beneath the universe's most mysterious hair. "He's yours to have as a friend and look after. If that board is as good as you say it is he should be the most advanced AI out there which means what's in his head belongs to him and it's up to him to decide what he wants to do with it."
"Chris," Mark hissed as Wardo started to stir. "This is futuristic technology. You don't throw the future inside any old robot and then let it make its own mind up as to what happens next."
"I don't care," Chris threw back. "I am not sitting here and letting you tear him apart."
Wardo's head jerked upwards between them, his hand pulling away from his neck. "Did I-" he looked around for a moment. "You switched me off?"
Mark glanced at his laptop to see that—yes—his program had finished running. "What are you?"
"Wardo," Wardo said absently, running his face with one hand. "Eduardo. I'm a robot, I'm—" he turned slowly to look at Mark. "I'm your robot."
"And," Dustin added, waving his laptop. "You're programmed to fall in love with him in six to eight weeks. I know love should be a surprise but I thought I'd tell you because it's Mark and no one should be forced into that without warning."
Wardo looked up at Mark. He had big brown eyes that logically hid cameras but all Mark could see in them was slight confusion and complete trust. Somewhere behind this face was the most powerful circuitboard in the world and all it wanted was to be here with Mark Zuckerberg.
"Yeah," Mark said, reaching out to pull the USB cord out from Wardo's neck and slide the flap closed over the control panel. "You're my robot."
"You were called in front of the ad board."
Mark blinks, looking away from the window to the woman sitting opposite him at the long table. "That's not what happened."
Gretchen frowns—a neat little tilt of the brows—and consults her notes. "You weren't called in front of the administrative board?"
"No, back. Back when I met Wardo—I didn't—I wasn't going to break him up for parts. Where would you even get that?"
"The data is a transcript of the video recorded by the robotic unit's external cameras while in standby mode. The Eduardo unit was programmed to send back-ups of all its data to the Cybernet servers at regular intervals." She pulls up another page of notes. "You successfully disabled the function on your third day of ownership along with a whole list of other core functionalities of the unit." She slides the page across for Sy to pick up. Mark doesn't bother looking.
"There were inhibitors on the chip and the other hardware to make him seem more human. I disabled them and I cut the links to Cybernet industries as it was detailed in the terms and conditions that jailbreaking Wardo would result in him being cut off from updates so it didn't seem necessary to keep the link in place."
"Why did you want him less human?"
Mark swallows and tries to work out the best way to word this. "At the time I wasn't interested in the personality construct programmed to become my friend but I was interested in the hardware which the construct could help me understand. I left Wardo's personality intact but took out the inhibitors that stopped him using the hardware to its full potential."
Gretchen nods, taking a few notes. The man beside her looks sour. "So you were called in front of the ad board?"
Mark picks up his pen and presses it against his note pad. "It wasn't a big deal. We were messing around and we crashed the network."
"How did you crash the network?"
"Mark," Sy says. "Answer the question."
Mark twists his pen on the pad, digging through the top layers of paper. "We wanted to test the capabilities of Wardo's tech so we hooked him up to the internet and he tried to download it. There was too much data and it overloaded the Harvard servers. I was given a month's academic suspension and instructions to take better care of my technology." He stabs his pen hard against the page. "It wasn't a big deal."
"It made the Crimson," Getchen remarks, pulling out a clipping.
Mark doesn't look at it. He knows what it says, all that shit about proper robot care and how a computer science major should know better. "It was a slow news day."
"So one week into ownership, you had already expressed an interest in dismantling the unit, removed some of the humanising functions of the unit and put the unit in a state where it could have been overloaded and destroyed. I think this shows—"
"No," Mark interrupts, ignoring Gretchen in favour of the man to her left. "No, you know as well as I do that Wardo wouldn't have overloaded. The servers would always have gone down before his memory chip filled up. I knew that, Dustin knew that and Wardo knew the risks when he said we could."
"Oh Wardo said you could," the man drawls, leaning forward in his chair a little. "How lucky we all are that you remember Eduardo giving you permission to do all of these things since we can no longer ask him. I mean, if it wasn't for you remembering we might have cause to doubt that he had ever said anything at all."
Mark clenches his fingers around the pen and wonders how effective it would be as a missile flying straight into the man's smug, self important mouth. "He was my robot. I would never have hurt him."
"You are truly delusional, Mr Zucker-"
"At least I'm not filing stupid lawsuits far too late to actually fix my mistakes."
"Because we all know how you've never made any mis-"
"I make it eleven thirty-five," Sy interrupts, grabbing Mark's arm to drag him away. "Let's call that lunch."
"A robot called me a dick today," Mark said, slamming the dorm room door shut behind him. "Some generic friendship bot who was in my lecture taking notes because its owner couldn't be bothered to get out of bed. I mean, surely even with its limited intelligence drive it would know that I was less of a dick than the asshole that bought it."
"You say that," Chris said from the sofa. "But we all watched Wardo doing your homework yesterday."
Mark waved this off with one hand. "He likes math. He's also good at it because he actually has intelligence installed." He grabbed a beer from the fridge. "I mean, anyone could see it was just a stupid prank and Wardo barely even started to overheat before the servers crashed and everyone knows he survived." Mark had barely landed on the sofa when Chris's bottle opener was in his hand. "If the fucking Winklevii can figure out that Wardo isn't a normal robot, surely another robot could work it out."
Dustin rolled into the room. "What's a Winklevii?"
"Tall, big shoulders, rows crew, two of them." Mark opens the bottle and takes a long swallow. "They found me after I walked out of my lecture."
Chris immediately pulled away. "You walked out of class? Mark—"
"Don't bother telling me off," Mark said. "Wardo has a lecture saved for times like these and I'd hate to disappoint him by learning my lesson before he has a chance to play it to me. Anyway, if I hadn't left I wouldn't have bumped into the Winklevii and-" He glanced towards his closed bedroom door. "Is Wardo still switched off?"
"We haven't been in there today," Dustin said, rolling over to them. "What did big, strong and seeing double want?"
"Chris, could you go check on him? If I left him off, bring him out." Chris gave him a long look. "Please," Mark said. "It's been a long day of being intimidated by rowers and hated by robots."
"I bet Wardo could out row the Winklevii," Dustin said thoughtfully. "In fact, we could just rig up an engine to plug into his USB port and power the boat that way. Unless that's cheating."
"I am going to get Wardo," Chris said. "So you can repeat that to him and he can do whatever he did after you tried to hook him up to a popcorn machine that made you creep around guiltily for days."
"It's not fair," Dustin said, rolling up next to Mark. "He has Bambi eyes." He leant his head on the back of the sofa and watched Chris disappear into Mark's room and shut the door. "Okay, so what is so terrible it can't be said in front of Chris?"
Mark looked down at his beer. "The Winklevii heard about us crashing the network. They think I somehow upgraded Wardo's circuit board on my own and they want it."
"They want you to upgrade all their circuit boards to holy-shit-Wardo circuit boards?"
Mark glanced at his bedroom door to check that Chris wasn't emerging with Wardo. "They're building a website," he said, quickly and quietly. "Like match.com for Harvard guys—they also asked me to code it for them—but they want to run it off something simple like, say, a single computer. They only need one board."
Dustin's disappointed face says all Mark really needs to know. "Are you asking me because you think I'm more likely than Chris to say yes or because I'm less likely to hurt you when I say no?"
Mark swallowed and repositioned his hands on the neck of his beer. "Their final offer was three hundred thousand dollars, Dustin. Three hundred thousand and we don't even have to—we could pick up a normal Cybernet circuit board for five hundred bucks and transfer most of Wardo onto that instead. Chris wouldn't even notice. Just think of all the things we could do with the money. I have this idea for a website—it would blow the Winklevii's idea out of the water but we'd need some start-up cash and we don't know anyone with that kind of money."
Mark's bedroom door swung open. "I can't find the on switch and he's heavier than he looks," Chris said, stepping back into the room. "Get in here and switch him on. Dustin, tell me what the Winklevii wanted."
Mark met Dustin's eyes and tried to make his expression sufficiently pleading as he stood up and headed for his room.
"They have an idea for a website," Dustin said behind him. "And they've come to the clearly ridiculous conclusion that they want Mark's help with it. Clearly in a week they will be so fed up of him they will change their minds."
Mark closed the door behind him. Chris had got as far as pulling Wardo out from under the bed. It wasn't the greatest storage space ever, but Mark's room was small and a switched off Wardo was too still and heavy to share a bed with.
Mark lifted his head up to reach underneath for the control panel and flick the small on/off switch into its other position. Wardo's fingers twitched, his eyelids flickered, and he sat up so fast Mark had to jerk backwards so they didn't headbutt each other by accident.
"I'm awake," Wardo said, then turned his head to see Mark sitting back. "Shit, sorry, did I hit you? What time is it?"
Wardo would run fine off a less powerful computer. Mark passed robots in the hallways every day. Sure, their expressions had no subtleties and they didn't have the random knowledge of a sizable chunk of the internet stored in their memory banks but they could run a personality construct.
Wardo turned his head to look at Mark properly, eyes wider than normal in defiance of all laws of physics. "Mark?" he said, sounding so hesitant that Mark moved forward to take his hand before he really registered what was going on.
"Is there a problem?" he asked, reaching up to close the flap over the control panel. "Are you functioning okay?"
Wardo reached up with his free hand, touching his fingertips to Mark's cheek. Five small points of cold lab-grown skin that slowly traced the lines of his face, following the curve of his lips and the slight frown of his brow.
"Can you see okay? Do you need me to take a look inside?" He reached back for the control panel but before he could even touch Wardo's neck, Wardo flinched back, pulling away fast enough that he hit the bed and his hand was torn out of Mark's.
"Don't!" He reached back, pressing his palm against the back of his neck as though to stop Mark getting at it. "I'm fine, my eyes are fine, everything's fine, please don't sell me." He said the last bit fast, then turned his head away.
His hands were shaking, eyes flickering closed and face twisted up in something like fear.
Mark couldn't stop himself moving forward, reaching out to touch Wardo's shaking hand and his stupid frumpy hair. "Hey, it's okay. It's okay, I'm not—why would you say that?"
Wardo swallowed and looked down at the hand shaking in his lap. "I heard—the Winklevii. They want to wipe me and use me for a website. You said—you need the money."
"Chris said you were switched off," Mark said, stupidly. He tried to remind himself that it was three hundred thousand dollars for one tiny circuit board but it was so hard to think objectively when Wardo was curled up by his bed rocking back and forth.
"Standby," Wardo mumbled. "I was on standby, I don't switch off and I can still see and hear but I wasn't going to tell you because you wanted a normal robot and they switch off but I heard you and I don't want to die."
Mark stared at him for a long moment because—because he'd been turning Wardo off at night and sticking him out of the way like he was just another computer even though his brain was just as complicated as Mark's and probably more complicated than any fucking Winklevii's.
But he hadn't even wanted a robot and his parents never listened and he didn't need this responsibility. A normal robot on a normal chip wouldn't be intelligent enough to understand the complexities of hurt feelings. They wouldn't get sad and confused and they would turn off whenever they weren't needed. Wardo was complicated and deep like a person and Mark did not sign up to look after a whole person. He couldn't look after so much as a plant.
"I have to keep reminding myself that you've only known me for a week," Wardo said, unfolding himself a little so he could press his cheek against Mark's shoulder. "I've known you as far back as I can remember but you met me a week ago. You don't remember everything we've done together, all the plans we had." He closed his eyes. "It's so strange, how I can be nothing to you when you're everything to me."
Mark let his fingers slide through Wardo's hair, feeling the slow pump of Wardo's cooling system against his chest. Like a heartbeat.
"Don't transfer me to another chip," Wardo breathed. "I've seen those things and I don't want—you should remember me like this." He took his hand slowly off the back of his neck, resting it against Mark's knee.
He was circuits. Circuits and wires and silicon and somewhere inside him a fan was blowing so warm air would brush Mark's neck like breath.
Mark pushed him off and stood up, walking over to push open the door. Chris and Dustin were sitting on the sofa, pretending they hadn't been watching the door like hawks. "New rule," Mark snapped. "Nobody is turning Wardo off again. Not ever. And we're going to beat the fucking Winklevii at their own game and nobody is selling anybody to anyone for anything."
Chris sighed in his ' I knew you weren't telling me everything' way but he was smiling. Dustin beamed, tilted his head to the side and asked if he was allowed to sell Chris to Billy Olsen for cupcakes.
Mark shut the door on both of them and turned back to Wardo. "I didn't ask for a robot at all," he said. "But I got you and I don't know what a normal friendship robot would be like but if they're nothing like you then I'm not interested so you should just act like you and be honest with me."
Wardo stared up at him for a long moment while Mark bounced on his toes and waited to be told that he was an asshole or a dick and if Mark wasn't planning on breaking him up right now, Wardo would just leave.
Then Wardo's face broke into a bright smile and he bounced across the room to pull Mark into a hug, burying his face against the side of Mark's neck. "I knew you were the Mark I remember."
Wardo turned his head and Mark thought they were pulling apart so he moved too and the kiss that was aimed at his cheek brushed his lips instead. A moment of stillness, then Wardo kissed him again, one hand moving up to cup Mark's neck and tilt his head back.
Wardo's mouth was warm, his lips soft and his teeth hard where they bit lightly on Mark's bottom lip.
Mark closed his eyes and held Wardo closer. "I'll try to be."
"I don't understand," says the woman Mark thinks is called Marylin. She's pulled a salad out of her bag to eat in the room. Mark looks across the empty chairs at her and wonders if Sy told her to keep an eye on him. "If they programmed the robot to fall in love with you, can't they just look at the list of instructions and see if they programmed him to give you whatever you wanted?"
Wardo always used to hit Mark for laughing at other people's ignorance. He doesn't really feel like laughing now. "Try to define love," he says instead. "Describe it in short, simple words that can be typed into a computer program."
"I—" her fork hovers in the air over the salad. "I guess it's needing someone or, wanting them to be around? Wanting them close but not just as a friend."
"Tell a robot to need another person and they'd crash whenever that person left the room. 'Not just as a friend' covers everything from apathy to 'kill on sight.'" Mark shakes his head. "You can't write a list of statements to define love, you can't write it into code." He taps his fingers on the table. "Do you know how a personality construct works?"
She shakes her head.
"It's just like a person," Mark says. "It starts with the very basics of a personality, the building blocks of life. These come from a questionnaire that each person fills out when they're purchasing a robot. After that, memories are installed and the personality is left to process each one, growing more advanced with every reaction. Once it is installed on a circuit board and implanted into a body unit, living is just gathering more memories and letting the personality react to them."
"So if there isn't a program, how do they make it fall in love?"
Mark shrugs. "They didn't make Wardo fall in love with me. They made him to be a perfect match to my personality, made sure I was his type and he was mine. The rest happened naturally." He can't help smiling a little at the memory. "His personality was etched in every part of that circuit board, colouring everything he did and everything he saw. They think they own it, but why would they? It was Wardo's head, Wardo's tech, Wardo's in every sense of the word. They put so much money into making him human and now they claim he couldn't make his own choices."
"If he was human," Marylin says, soft and surprisingly free from accusation. "There'd be a different word for what you did."
Mark closes his eyes, all traces of a smile fading. "He was a person and he was in love. That's all."
"Okay," Mark said, pouring out three more shots and lining them up on the floor between his knees and Wardo's. "So do you have any memories that I'm not in?"
Wardo thought for a long moment, even though he had a search function installed that would let him know in nanoseconds, then downed the three shots. "No."
"Really?" Mark picked up the bottle to refill the classes then paused. "And that didn't strike you as strange? Were we Siamese twins in your memory? Did someone handcuff us together at birth?"
Wardo punched him in the arm, far softer than he was capable of. "It was just another of those things I was programmed not to notice until you went into my head and took it out." He looked down at the replenished shot glasses. "How many of these do I have to drink for you to scientifically establish that I can't get drunk?"
Mark looked down at them and tried to remember how many Wardo had already done. The bottle was definitely nearly empty now as opposed to half full when Chris and Dustin had left for their Caribbean party. "You should be able to get drunk. I've seen robots drunk."
Wardo shrugged. "I can't. I bet you any money it wasn't real drunk, they just throw an inhibitor in to fuck with our functions when a sensor detects alcohol. You probably took it out without even realising."
Mark picked up one of the last shot glasses and downed it instead. "For that I apologize."
Wardo laughed and punched him again. Now he'd worked out how to control his strength so he didn't bruise, he seemed to believe casual violence was totally okay. "So I know I'm not human, I don't backup and I can't get drunk. I'm the uniquest robot around."
Mark downed the second shot so he wouldn't have to think about Wardo's back-up system. "Yes," he agreed. "All other robots know what is and isn't a word." He picked up the third shot. "Anyway, I doubt Cybernet's back-up units are suitable for storing the amount of internet you have crammed into your brain."
Wardo beamed. "You should hook me up to a projector, I have some kick ass porn up here."
"You didn't tell Dustin that, did you? Please don't suggest that to Dustin."
Wardo pushed him and Mark had probably had a bit too much vodka earlier because he fell over way too easily. He grabbed Wardo on the way down so they collapsed on top of each other. The nearly empty vodka bottle span off across the carpet but more importantly Wardo's hands landed on either side of Mark's face and Wardo stilled, his lips less than an inch away from Mark's.
"I can get drunk," Mark said, reaching up to cup the back of Wardo's neck with one hand. "What's your excuse?"
Wardo leant in to press his lips lightly against the corner of Mark's mouth. "I need an excuse now?"
Mark tugged him forward into a real kiss. Wardo let his knees rest on the floor on either side of Mark's hips, his legs pressing tight against Mark's thighs and his tongue sliding into Mark's mouth. Mark's free hand slid up to push under the ridiculous shirts Wardo always wore and drag across his bare back.
Wardo moved his hands to Mark's shoulders and somehow flipped them both in one movement so that Mark was lying on top of him without breaking the kiss. Mark had the distinct advantage of not being filled with a tonne of heavy electronics so he could rest all his weight against Wardo and Wardo's hands were free to slide into his hair.
"What did Dustin say before he left?" Mark breathed as Wardo kissed a trail from his mouth to his ear then back down his jaw.
"No sex on the couch," Wardo said breathlessly. "And Chris outlawed the table."
Mark slid both hands up under Wardo's shirt—tearing a handful of buttons in the process. "No one said anything about the floor?"
"Good." The rest of the buttons tore just as easily and Mark had the whole expanse of Wardo's chest spread out before him.
"See," Wardo said, shivering as Mark dropped a kiss against his collarbone. "It's moments like this that make me glad my every thought is no longer backed up on someone else's database."
Mark dragged one hand up Wardo's bare side and kissed down the side of his neck. "I don't want them to have a backup," he said against Wardo's skin, because he was selfish and a shitty person and he didn't care. "I don't want anyone else to have you."
Wardo's smile widened and his fingers tightened on Mark's hair, because mistaking Mark's possessive jealousy for affection was something he did all too well. "Yeah, I like you a lot too."
And Mark could've said 'that's not what I meant' but he had meant what he said and if Wardo chose to interpret it as... whatever, well, that was his decision.
Mark pushed his thoughts away and pulled Wardo in for another kiss.
Chris came in with a hand over his eyes. "I hear typing," he said. "But after Wednesday I make no assumptions about what that could mean."
Mark deleted a bracket and added another line of input data. There was a movement against his leg and he looked down in time to see Wardo raise his head and wave in the direction of the doorway. Mark nudged him with one foot. "Wired in means no distractions."
Wardo turned his head to kiss Mark's knee. "I hear sleep also means no distractions. Just think about it, lying in bed with your eyes closed and no distractions at all."
Mark had to take a hand away from his keyboard to attack Wardo's hair which not only stopped him coding but was a complete waste of time because Wardo's hair looked the same whatever you did to it. "Stop talking and work."
Chris dropped his bag beside the doorway. "You don't actually have to do his homework for him just because he asks you, Wardo. We all know you're capable of saying no."
"It's not homework," Mark said. "He's writing algorithms for the site."
"Ah." Chris turned so he was headed for the fridge instead of his bedroom. "This would be the super magic awesome site that you keep coding even though you can't afford any of the hardware required to get it to run?"
Mark took his hand out of Wardo's hair to add another line of code. "I applied for three credit cards and a loan today." Wardo passed his pad of paper up and leant back so his cheek was pressed against Mark's leg.
Chris opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. "I see. Did you remember to go to class?"
"I reminded him," Wardo said, because he was a complete traitor. "But he didn't go."
"It's all a waste of time anyway," Mark said, and all these distractions were causing him to make mistakes. He wished Chris would go into his room so it would just be Mark and Wardo's warmth pressed against his leg. "Either I already know it or I don't care." He stretched out a hand to Chris. "Thanks."
Chris raised his eyebrows and sat on the sofa with both bottles of beer. "Get your own, I need at least two for this conversation. Have you eaten today?"
Apparently he was staying. Mark took his hand back off the keyboard to rummage under the desk for his headphones. "Wardo made me a sandwich."
"What was in it?"
Mark shrugged. "Food."
Chris nodded. "Uh-huh, and when was the last time you slept?"
Mark shook his head but Wardo looked up. "He fell asleep at his keyboard for three hours earlier, but he keeps refusing to go to bed."
Mark stopped rummaging for his headphones and looked down at where Wardo was carefully not meeting his eyes. "You are a terrible, terrible friendship bot. You promised to wake me up if I fell asleep."
"You haven't been to bed in forty eight hours," Wardo pointed out. "Only one of us runs on batteries."
"That's what red bull is for. The Winklevii have a similar idea, remember? It's shitty and terrible but if it goes live first then the audience will split. It's all about users. We have to be up and stay up and get users and keep users and—"
"And not fall asleep on our keyboards."
"Guys?" Chris said, reaching underneath him to pull out a crumpled piece of paper. "Can you stop acting like an old married couple for five seconds. Did someone get punched?" he glanced sideways at the couch. "And, wait, is that another one?"
"Wardo," Mark said, electing to give up on code for as long as it took to get Chris out. "Everyone wants the best robot on campus, I've lost all respect for Final clubs. Are we done?"
"How do they know he's special?"
"There's a Cybernet guy poking around campus and shockingly the most intelligent students at Harvard are capable of putting two and two together after the internet stunt." He read over the last few lines of code but what he had been planning to type next had slipped out of his head. "Hey Chris, don't you have a credit card?"
"No," Chris said. "No, you are not sucking me into this."
"I need server time and a domain name and a router and a dedicated linux box running apache with a mySQL backend. It'll only be about one thousand dollars to get it all online and you can have... fifteen percent of the company."
Chris tossed the two letters onto the sofa and drained the rest of his beer. "I'm going to take a nap. Wardo, don't let Mark bully you too much."
"Can I bully him?" Wardo asked.
"Any time you like." The door swung shut behind him and Wardo turned his head so his eyes were fixed on Mark.
"Please come to bed with me," he said, pulling out the ultimate puppy eyes and leaning his head sideways against Mark's thigh with his lips slightly parted as if to say 'this is what you are turning down.'
"I just want to finish this page," Mark said, reading over the last three lines of code at breakneck speed and typing too fast to worry about spelling mistakes.
Then there was an arm like an iron bar around his stomach and his hands were moving away from the keyboard as Wardo slung him over one shoulder.
"One page," Mark protested, putting up a token amount of resistance even though he knew it was a complete waste of time. "Put me down or I'll—I'll reinstall your strength inhibitors and I'll download you onto my laptop so you have to run as a text only chatbot or I'll just take out your primary circuit board and stick you in a robot dog or something so all you can do is bark."
Wardo dropped onto his bed, manoeuvring his grip so that Mark was cradled against his chest instead of flung over one shoulder. The room was dark and Wardo was warm, his stupid hair tickling the side of Mark's face.
"I'll find Dustin's porn collection," Mark continued. "And download it all onto your memory card with innocent names so you're just scanning for a memory and bam lesbian space pirate porn."
"Uh-huh," Wardo said, combing one hand through his hair and kissing his forehead. "Good night, Mark."
"I'll sell you to the Winklevii," Mark said and his eyes weren't drifting closed and that wasn't a yawn he was just getting ready to fight his way free so he could get back to his website. "Only I won't tell them that you're actually the computer so they'll think you're a butler robot and you'll have to do what they say all the time." Wardo was actually really, really comfortable and Mark was totally just going to close his eyes for like thirty seconds to summon the energy to fight his way free.
"'M not gonna sell you to the Winklevii," Mark said, his voice muffled by Wardo's shirt. "'M not gonna do anything you don't want me to."
"I know," Wardo said, but Mark could hear him smiling. "Go to sleep, you idiot."
Mark buried his face in Wardo's neck and closed his eyes for a minute.
"Facebook went live in February, 2004."
Mark opens his eyes and looks up at Gretchen's impatient face. "TheFacebook," he says, to see her lips purse and her fingers tighten on her notes. "TheFacebook launched on February 4th, 2004." His head is hurting and he wants to curl up, his head tilting to the side the way it always does before his subconscious can catch up to the fact that Wardo won't be there to lean on. "Wardo went to a phoenix initiation to get the mailing list and we emailed the link out."
"How did you afford the costs of running the site?"
Mark drags a hand back through his hair. "The same way anyone runs a website. I maxed out three credit cards and my overdraft to rent equipment and server space."
Wardo should be here. He should be here to smile and know all the right words to placate everyone so that somehow no one leaves with what they wanted but everyone is happy with what they have.
Mark hasn't needed to tell anyone this story in so long now.
He misses Wardo more than he ever knew he could.
"Wardo was listed on the masthead as a co-founder, yes?" Gretchen asks.
Mark nods and Sy elbows him in the ribs to remind him that there is someone typing everything up. "Yes," he says. "It was more of a joke than anything, because he was always around while I was building it." He reaches for the glass of water in front of him. "He isn't on there anymore."
The man beside Gretchen laughs—a snide noise with no trace of actual humour. "Of course, it couldn't possibly be that you finally realized Eduardo still belonged to us and you didn't want to risk us having a claim on your website."
Mark almost expects the glass to shatter between his fingers, but he's no robot. "You have no grounds to claim a stake in anything related to Facebook." He's leaning forward, the water sloshing back and forth as his hand shakes. "Mark my words, Mr Mahoney. You can fight for my time, my money and my technology but you will not lay a finger on my website."
Sy rests a hand on Mark's shoulder and tugs him lightly back into his chair. Mark finally takes a drink, but it does nothing to dislodge the lump in his throat.
"Mr Zuckerberg," Gretchen says, shifting her notes as though nothing is wrong. "Can you tell me what happened after the initial launch?"
Mark drops the glass on the table and picks up his pen, drawing circles within circles within circles all over the pad they gave him. "Is everyone here over eighteen?"
"If you needed money to start a website, why not sell the robot to my clients? You knew they had money and you weren't using the unit for your project."
Mark keeps his hands under the table so no one will see them ball into fists. "Wardo was a birthday present from my parents, he made a useful assistant and he was also my best friend. He wasn't some cheap trinket to be torn up and pawned for cash."
The Winklevii look venomous, Narendra snorts and Gage raises his eyebrows. "So if I wanted to meet with him now I could, I suppose? If that's how you treat your friends, I'd hate to be your enemy."
Mark presses his fists against his legs and says nothing.
Wardo's leg was pressed against Mark's, one of his arms resting against the back of Mark's chair. His fingers kept brushing the shoulder of Mark's hoodie, not enough to touch Mark's arm but enough to distract him from the speaker.
"-the first artificial intelligence was white text on a black screen but people's reactions to it were still so strong. This was a computer that they could talk to, that they could have an actual conversation with. So Joe came to me and said 'Look, it's going to happen without us. We have to start it now.' And so I said, 'Okay, you're right. Let's get personality constructs out there.'"
A few people laughed, mostly those with the awkward, perfectly upright figures of robots sitting next to them. The others, the ones who had only spoken with constructs online or in passing sat in polite bemusement.
Wardo slumped his head on Mark's shoulder and blew a line up and down against his neck. "We already know all this," he said. "I'm the next stage in robot evolution, I can slump and smile when I'm sad and remember the entirety of Paradise Lost. Can we do something interesting?"
"—at this stage we were working with the most basic robots. Unless you paid extra for a full computer—which at the time meant your robot was three times heavier and five times more bulky—you got three emotions, tops."
Wardo's fingers trailed across Mark's leg. "Mark. Maaark. Maa-aark. Maybe TheFacebook's crashed. We've left it on its own for like three hours now. Don't you think we should go check?"
Mark pulls out his phone to show that he has no new messages. "Dustin is with it. It hasn't crashed."
"But it might. It might be preparing to crash and if we don't leave now we won't get there on time and Dustin won't know what to do."
"I promise you, TheFacebook is not going to crash."
Mark rolled his eyes. "Not ever. Come on, Wardo, you watch me sleep for eight hours a night, how is this more boring?"
"Hah," Wardo said, twisting in his seat so he could lie back with his feet on an empty chair and his head in Mark's lap. "Like you ever sleep eight hours straight."
Mark curled his fingers in Wardo's hair.
"Free," Wardo said, twirling around on the path and almost falling into a bush. "Do you smell that, Mark? That is the smell of freedom."
Mark pushed his hands into his pockets and watched Wardo twirl a pretty Chinese looking girl who smiled shyly and blushed when Wardo kissed her hand, then ran over to her friend to whisper something and giggle. "It was a two hour lecture," Mark said, leaning against the wall to watch Eduardo spin across a puddle, his legs flying in all directions and sending him into a heap on the floor. "Remind me why I'm friends with you?"
Wardo shook hair out of his eyes, sending drops of water flying in all directions. "Because I'm the latest thing, the future of technology the—what was it—pinnacle of modern engineering." He held out a hand imperiously.
Mark rolled his eyes and ignored the hand. "You're an idiot," he said. "And I'm not taking that hand because I know you and I have better things to do with my evening than wonder around being pulled into puddles."
Wardo made a face much like a wounded deer, then beamed and flipped onto his feet. "We should go to a bar. This pinnacle of modern engineering wants to go to a bar."
"Mark? Mark Zuckerberg?"
Mark turned to see three guys standing by the exit, watching him. None of them looked like robots, but some robots were better at subtlety than others. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Stuart Singer," the middle guy said. "I'm in your O.S. lab."
Mark tried to place him, but couldn't. He tried to remember when he'd last gone to his O.S. lab but couldn't recall that either. "Sure." Wardo stepped up behind him, pressing his warm chest against Mark's back. Mark took a moment to note that Wardo was warmer than he should be; that was definitely something worth checking out. Then he realized O.S. lab guy was still talking.
"Awesome job with TheFacebook."
"Awesome," echoed one of the other guys who could also have been in Mark's O.S. lab.
Mark nodded, reaching back for Wardo's hand and reflecting that actually they should have just gone to the bar. "Thanks."
"I swear he was looking at you when he said the future could soon be living among us."
Mark's attention was pulled back into the present by the third guy who wasn't looking at Mark, but staring over his shoulder. Wardo bent down a little, as though he could hide behind Mark's hair. "Uh, I don't think—"
"I don't even know who the speaker was," the guy said, though his eyes were a little too sharp and way too focused for Mark's taste.
"Bill Mahoney," Wardo said, too quickly, tugging away from Mark without releasing his hand. "Founder and lead researcher at Cybernet. We have to go."
"We could come with you, I'd love to talk about your work."
Sometimes Mark forgot how strong Wardo was. He was dragged almost a metre through the mud before his feet managed to catch up with his body and he could half jog to keep a position by Wardo's side. "What was that about?"
Wardo shook his head. "Nothing. I don't know. I didn't like him."
Mark froze long enough that he got dragged through a puddle. "Do you think Mahoney recognized you? Is that what you were worried about?"
Wardo shook his head, then nodded, then shook it again. "They didn't know what unit the circuit board ended up in but they would have known the approximate time so he could have come here to check up on me and if anyone told him." He dragged his free hand back through his hair, somehow achieving the impossible and actually slicking it back for two whole seconds. "I know you think all this—" he waved at his head. "—is yours because of their mistake but they won't see it that way."
Mark took advantage of the moment of stillness to wrap his arms tight around Wardo. For a moment he was stiff as a board, but slowly he relaxed against Mark's shoulder. "It's going to be okay," Mark said. "I won't let anyone take you."
Wardo buried his face in Mark's neck and wrapped gangly arm around Mark's waist. "Can we go to that bar now?"
Mark kissed his jaw. "What if TheFacebook crashes while you're getting me drunk?"
That got a small smile. "No crashing," Wardo said, his voice muffled against Mark's skin. "Ever. You promised me."
"Yeah," Mark said. "Promise."
Wardo's hands were everywhere, his lips pressed against Mark's cheek, his neck, pulling the zip of his hoodie down to bite a line across his collarbone. Mark's head slammed back into the tiles, cheek pressing against 'fuck Harvard Law' and 'DM <3s TASIHA'. Hands shoved his hoodie up, slender fingers tracing his ill defined chest, dipping in and out of his belly button as they traced ornate patterns across his skin.
The bathroom door opened and slammed. The sound of footsteps came in, followed by knocking cubicle doors and taps turning on. "Wardo," Mark hissed.
Wardo looked up at him, eyes shadowed by dark eyelashes, and one hand off Mark's stomach to press an index finger against his lips. "Shh."
His second hand slipped around between Mark's back and the wall of the stall, fingers pushing under Mark's waistband to touch bare skin.
Mark bit down on his lip and clenched his fists tight. Wardo pressed up against him, catching Mark's moan in his mouth and holding him in a silent kiss as his second hand reached to tug at Mark's belt.
"Fuck," Mark moaned as softly as he could bear when Wardo pushed his pants down and his lips left Mark's mouth, his head dropping lower and lower.
Wardo had to lift one of Mark's hands off the wall, stretching out the fingers one by one and resting it in his hair because Mark was gone, Mark couldn't think he just clenched his fist again in Wardo's hair and tilted his head back so he wouldn't have to look at Wardo's face, Wardo's mouth around him, Wardo's half closed eyes.
"Do it," Wardo breathed and Mark came in a shivering, helpless wreck.
"God," he said, hoping whoever came in had left but not really caring because Wardo's hands were tight on his hips even as he pulled away. "God, fuck, Wardo, fuck."
Wardo stood up and kissed Mark again, pressing his tongue back into Mark's mouth and Mark could feel each of Wardo's fingertips as a separate point of pressure on his skin, each almost hard enough to bruise but not quite. Not quite.
Wardo's hands slid up under his hoodie again. God, he was still in a hoodie, his pants wrapped around his ankles getting damp from the floor. Wardo wasn't undressed at all, the soft cotton of his pants warm where his thighs encased Mark's. "Mark," Wardo whispered, kissing and biting his way down Mark's jaw, his fingers pressing even harder against Mark's skin. "Mark, Mark."
"I love you," Mark said, one hand fisted in Wardo's hair and Wardo suddenly still against him. "You know that, right? I fucking love you."
Wardo's body was pressed against him, his hands tight on Mark's hips and it took Mark a moment to realize he wasn't moving. It took another moment for him to smell smoke.
"Wardo?" He reached up with his free hand to shake Wardo's shoulder. "Hey, are you ok - holy shit is your arm on fire?"
Wardo blinked at him. His face was slowly rearranging itself into a smile like his system had just been forced to reboot and he looked down at his arm just in time for the tiny spark to catch into actual flames across the arm of his jacket. "Shit. Fuck, Mark."
They tumbled out of the cubicle all flailing limbs and alarmed cries and threw Wardo's jacket and shirt to the floor. Mark pulled his pants up and jumped up and down on the burning clothes while Wardo ran his arm under the cold tap, watching the water steam up from the surface of his thankfully fireproof skin.
Mark looked up from the floor and met Wardo's eyes through the smoke and steam and suddenly they were laughing. Rich, half hysterical laughter of 'how is this our lives' and 'thank god we're okay'.
"I said I loved you and you caught fire," Mark said, falling across the floor to lean against Wardo's bare chest. "You caught fire from my love."
Wardo blushed and pushed him and tried to hide a smile. "You knew my cooling system's on the brink. You knew and you went off saying things that would overload my processors and disable the coolant pump."
"Disable the coolant pump," Mark said. "Catch fire out of love. Same difference."
"You," Wardo said, spinning around to push Mark back against the sinks. "You are the most ridiculous, obnoxious," Each adjective was punctuated with a kiss to Mark's cheeks, chin, forehead, throat. "Crazy, obscure, brilliant and I can't even believe you."
Mark wrapped his arms right around Wardo's waist and Wardo buried his face in the side of Mark's neck, his breathy laugher pressed into Mark's skin. "Anyway," Mark said. "It's been, like, four months. Shouldn't you love me back by now? Do I need to call customer services and complain?"
Wardo let out a noise that was either a despairing laugh or a hysterical sob. "You are an idiot," he mumbled into Mark's skin. "Seriously, Mark, you are the stupidest genius I have ever met."
"Says the robot who caught fire from my love."
Wardo pushed his face further against Mark's skin, muffling his laughter even as he shook. He held Mark tighter, pulling him close as though maybe if he tried hard enough they could melt into one. "You're such a complete idiot. I've been in love with you forever."
Oh, Mark thought as Wardo's mouth opened to press against his neck. He felt a sudden wave of sympathy for Wardo because if he was a robot he would be a fucking furnace right now.
"Oh," he managed out loud. That was not fair, all Wardo had to do was a system reboot, Mark didn't have the luxury of switching himself off and back on again. "That's—oh."
Wardo lifted his head and if he was human there would have been tears of laughter all over his cheeks. "You are such an idiot," he said again.
Mark felt his face relax into a smile. "Yeah," he said. "But you love me anyway."
"I do," Wardo agreed. "Fuck but I do." Then his mouth was on Mark's again and his hands were lifting Mark up onto the sinks. Anyone could come in at any moment but Mark found he didn't care at all.
"You expanded to Columbia, Yale and Stanford," Gretchen says.
Mark lets the silence pan out until the moment Gretchen opens her mouth to say something else. "I'm sorry, was that a question?"
Sy touches his arm. Wardo would have punched him. Mark sinks further down into his chair.
"How did you expand?" Gretchen asks.
Mark folds his arms across his chest and doesn't slide off his chair onto the floor, as much as he wants to. "We brought Chris and Dustin on board. Chris had some savings and they both applied for credit cards and loans. We bought more server space and Dustin started to help with the coding. At this point Dustin took 20% of the company and Chris took 10%."
"Eduardo had no ownership share?"
"Wardo didn't have enough of a contribution to the company to be allocated a share and as a personality construct he didn't have the right to his own funds."
Mahoney leans forward with an unpleasant expression on his face, as if the struggling moustache across his top lip smells particularly foul today. "If Eduardo didn't contribute to the company, why did you say 'we' brought Chris and Dustin on board?"
Mark closes his fist around his pen and fantasizes about stabbing it into his bulbous eye. "Fuck off. Just fuck right off with your fucking—"
"Off the record," Sy practically shouts to the note taker, snatching Mark's arm to pull him back into his seat. "Mark, Mark sit down."
"Wardo was with me, is all I meant. He was my friend and he was there. He brought me food and made sure I slept. He had as much right to Facebook as your butler robot has to the entire research division of Cybernet." Mark falls back into his chair, folding his arms across his chest. "And you have no right to him."
Gretchen glances sideways at Mahoney but he doesn't comment, leaving her to go back to her notes. "According to the terms and conditions that you signed when you completed the personality analysis questionnaire, you lost all rights to the technology when you put it in danger."
"Objection," Sy says. "You're offering a conclusion not found in evidence."
Mahoney raises his eyebrows. "Let's look at the facts here. On his first day of ownership, Mark Zuckerberg opened Eduardo up, hacked his core functioning and reflected that the primary circuit board could be put to other uses. Over the next few weeks Mark Zuckerberg continues to hack Eduardo's functions, disabling both the inhibitors that stop him causing harm to himself or others, the inhibitors that stopped him using so much processing power that he could overheat and the function that allowed him to remain backed up on a secure server. He then almost fries Eduardo's circuits with a stupid college prank. Shortly after that, Mr Zuckerberg agreed to sell Wardo's primary circuit board to the first people who bother to ask."
"I didn't end up doing that," Mark points out.
"No," Mahoney agrees. "You just spent three months saying you would—aren't you in some legal action on that front as well?" He picks up his pen, spinning it between his fingers with a cold smile. "And let's not forget how you took your robot to a meeting with a man known primarily for his hatred of robots."
Mark meets his eyes. "He wasn't in any danger."
"And why not?"
Mark shrugs. "We never told Sean he was a robot."
"He's twenty four point eight five minutes late." Wardo rocked back on his seat, eyes scanning the restaurant as though he was expecting to be jumped from behind a glass fountain.
"He founded Napster when he was nineteen," Mark said, too tired of Wardo's complaints to be gentle. "He can be late."
"I co-founded TheFacebook and I'm not even two," Wardo said, sinking back into his chair and hunching his shoulders to make himself look smaller. "We don't need him. I looked him up and we don't want him. I don't want him."
Mark sighed and moved his hand sideways under the table to rest on Wardo's leg."It's just rumours, Wardo. It got out that he doesn't like robots so people made some shit up. Even then, he doesn't know what you are and I've promised not to let you out of my sight. What more do you want?"
Wardo's leg was trembling beneath his fingers. "I want him gone," he said, turning his head briefly to press against Mark's shoulder. "I want him nowhere near TheFacebook. I want him as far from me as he can get."
Mark found Wardo's hand and rubbed his thumb back and forth across his palm and said nothing. After a long moment Wardo kissed his cheek then turned his head away, relaxing very slightly. Mark didn't release his hand. "Are you going to talk about ads again?"
Wardo shrugged. "We can't run the site off spit and prayers forever. At some point you're going to have to pay off your credit card bills and where's that money going to come from?"
"We need users. Users won't come if the site isn't cool."
"Users can't come if the site isn't there." He tensed up again, head turning to the entrance where a young man was greeting the servers by name. "That's him."
Sean Parker turned his head to see them, smiling widely and cutting a path through the restaurant. He shook hands with a man in a three piece suit, kissed the cheek of the prettiest girl in the room before rocking up in front of them and holding out a hand. "Sean Parker."
For a brief moment, Mark didn't think Wardo was going to let go, but then the fingers loosened and he could pull his hand free and reach out to shake. "Mark Zuckerberg."
"Of course," Sean said. "And you must be Eduardo?"
"Yes," Wardo said, before Mark could correct him. He held out his hand for Sean to shake, fingers tightening just a touch too much.
All credit to Sean, he barely winced, his eyes already scanning between Mark and Wardo—taking in how close they were sitting, the way Wardo's hand slid back under the table to meet Mark's. "And you two are—?"
"Do you have a problem with that?" Wardo snapped.
Sean raised both hands quickly in surrender, sitting down in the third seat. "No, no problems." He smiled winningly at them. "As long as you're human, you're okay with me."
Mark felt Wardo's fingers tighten on his palm and reflected that his hand was unlikely to survive the evening.
"So, Eduardo," Sean said, waving over a waitress. "What are we drinking?"
Wardo stared directly into his eyes, a smile touching the edges of his mouth. "Let's do shots."
"See the thing about robots," Sean said, gesturing with a half full shot glass. "Is they're not human."
"Wow," Wardo deadpanned into Mark's ear. "Can you believe Case Equity let this one go?"
"They're just programs," Sean expanded, tossing vodka over one shoulder as he gestured. "They're programmed to smile at some things and frown at others and Cybernet toss around the phrase 'personality construct' like it means something. It doesn't mean shit, they don't program robots to have personalities. They program robots to do what they're told. Robots aren't like people, they don't have thoughts or feelings. They just run programs that tell them what to say in response to what stimulus. You can't trust them."
"They programmed robots to follow me," Sean said, three more shots leaving him wild eyed, leaning forward across the table. "Butler bots and sex bots and even a friendship bot all looking for something they could use to run me out of my own company."
"And what they found was you messing around with underage girls."
"The friendship bots are the worst," Sean said, aiming his words are Mark this time. "They've put so much time into coding reactions that sometimes you can't tell and anyone could be a robot. They set one on me and it took me a week to realize what he was and they even programmed him to react to that, to act like he didn't know he was a robot and to panic when I tried to switch him off. I had to pull out his battery and send him to the scrap heap in the end—even switched off it felt like he was looking at me."
"Mark," Wardo grabbed his arm hard enough to bruise. "Mark, you look ill. We'll just be in the bathroom for a minute."
Sean looked up at him, eyes wide, and knocked over three shots with a wayward arm. "Be careful," he said in a whisper. "There could be robots watching us right now."
"I can't do this," Wardo said as Mark threw up into the toilet bowl, because damn Wardo and his damn shots. "I can't sit here and listen to this."
Scallops and truffles were nice enough going down, but disgusting coming back up. "He knows people, he's connected, we need him."
"We need money and equipment and users. We don't need Sean fucking Parker and his 'I hate robots' variety hour."
"He wasn't so bad until you decided to get him drunk."
"Right," Wardo snapped. "This is all my fault. Of course, why didn't I see it before? Oh no, wait, it can't be my fault because there is no 'me'. I've just been programmed to act like this when confronted with a total douchebag."
Mark retched again, his stomach churning but apparently now mostly empty.
Wardo sighed and rubbed one hand up and down Mark's back. He rested his chin on Mark's shoulder as Mark retched again. "We don't need him."
Mark closed his eyes and didn't reply.
"Please state the consequences of the meeting for the record."
Mark shrugs. "We dropped the 'the'."
Gretchen lets out one of her tiny sighs and places her pen back down on the table. "And?" she says, in the tones of one settling in for the long haul.
Mark starts ticking them off on his fingers. "I had a hangover, Sean got a Facebook account, Chris and Dustin yelled at me, Wardo didn't speak to me for three days."
"Think a little bigger."
Mark makes a show of tilting his head to the side and thinking. "Did I mention dropping the 'the'?"
"You moved to California," Gretchen snaps.
"Oh," Mark says. "I guess that would have been right after the meeting, yeah."
"Bearing in mind the fact that Facebook still had no active source of income, how did you fund the move?"
Mark shrugs again. "We sold everything we couldn't easily carry across the country, rented the cheapest shithole of a house and gave up on food for the summer. We had been planning to hire a couple of interns but now we couldn't afford it so Dustin and I did more work and Chris learnt some rudimentary tech support."
"You were joined in California by Sean Parker. In spite of Eduardo's clear disapproval of Parker and Parker's paranoia about robots. What was Eduardo's reaction to you asking Sean to share the house?"
Mark closes his eyes, reaching up to drag a hand through his hair. "We needed more people, more contacts and more programmers. Sean knew more than Chris, he was prepared to work in return for somewhere to stay and he came with a fistful of vouchers for free pizza."
"That was also the summer you added the option to identify as a robot or a human to Facebook, prompting an increase in violence towards humanised robots in schools across the country. What was Eduardo's reaction to that?"
Mark swallows. "It only existed for a couple of months."
"The months between Sean Parker joining you in California and the events of May 2004?" Gretchen clarifies.
"At this point," Gretchen says, flicking through her notes to pull out a single sheet somewhere near the middle. "We would like to request that the object in question be brought forward."
The room goes very still as everyone present turns their head to look at Mark.
Mark looks sideways at Sy and the best lawyer in the business shrugs as if to say 'we don't really have much choice here.'
Mark turns back to Gretchen. "Am I allowed to ask why?"
"I just want to check that you haven't damaged my property," Mahoney says, all wide eyes and false innocence. He pulls out a small personal computer from a bag under the desk and holds it up. "I was also hoping to check that it's functional, if that's alright with you?"
Mark closes his fists under the table. "And if it's not alright with me?"
Gretchen gives a long sigh. "Sy?"
"It's alright with you," Sy says, because what the hell is Mark paying him for anyway. "You did bring it, didn't you?"
"I'm not an idiot." Mark reaches into the pocket of his hoodie and tugs it out, tossing it carelessly onto the glass table where is spins easily across the polished surface, coming to a rest directly between Mark and Mahoney.
The scratched and smudged glass casing is no longer than Mark's hand, no wider than his palm and only slightly fatter than a desk of playing cards. The circuit board sits inside it, green and copper covered in resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors. The memory card is slotted in one end, a tiny blue LED slowly pulsing on and off, and there's an integrated circuit no more than an inch square but with leads thin as hair coming out of it so close together they almost look connected.
'Cybernet Industries,' the casing reads. 'EdURd0.'
Sy closes his eyes, Marylin drops her eyes, Gretchen spreads her hands with the tiniest shrug. 'Well,' her expression says. 'Defend that.'
Mahoney smiles, reaching out to close his thick sausage fingers around the board, leaving smeared fingerprints all over the casing, and finds the small hole in the glass where he can plug his palm computer in.
The first drops of rain hit the window, Mark watches them inch slowly down the glass. Waiting.
"It's empty," Mahoney says.
The two raindrops have hit the bottom of the glass now, but more are falling. "Yes," Mark says. "As I mentioned earlier, I am not letting you anywhere near Facebook."
Mark woke up to the sound of someone pounding hard on his bedroom door. It took his brain a moment to catch up and reflect that, fuck, maybe Wardo was right and three hours a night was not enough sleep.
"Mark," Dustin shouted through the wood, which was strange because usually Wardo was the one who woke Mark up, coming into his room to shake his shoulder and kiss him because robots didn't care about morning breath. "Mark," Dustin shouted, hammering again. "Mark, get your ass out here."
Mark sat up, reached for his clothes and then realized he was already wearing them. "What's happened?" he called, snatching a hoodie from the chair as he crossed to the door and pulled it open. "Are we crashing?"
Dustin shook his head, already leading Mark downstairs. "It's Wardo. Wardo and Sean."
Halfway down the stairs Mark could already hear them. "Yes," Wardo shouted. "Yes, if I had my way you would be in a box on the street. Hell, if I had my way you wouldn't even have a box."
"I got you Thiel's number, I have contacts in case equity, I renamed the site, I'm inviting people over who will bring food. What exactly have you done for this company lately aside from fuck the fucking founder?"
"I started this fucking company. This is my company and you are a house guest living rent free and buying shit that you can't afford because what you're failing to tell Mark is that you're just as in debt as the rest of us."
"You say 'us' but when was the last time you paid for anything? I don't see 'Eduardo' on any of the server payments, you're not paying the rent, you don't even have a credit card."
Mark reached the bottom of the stairs. Sean was standing in the kitchen holding a half eaten slice of pizza, and Wardo was in the middle of the living room holding an empty glass like he was considering throwing it. "You think we should get further in debt? You think that's the answer?"
"And we all know that you think we should have ads. 'More ads, Mark. Get rid of the robot options, Mark.' You really have no idea what young people these days want, do you? Are you totally ignorant? Did you not have a childhood?"
"I'm so sorry that I don't want to advertise my website as the tool that allowed five teenagers to beat a robot into scrap last week."
"Newsflash, robots are not people. Like microwaves, like toasters. Are you going to cry if I take a mallet to this toaster? No, because it's just a fucking machine." Sean snatched up the toaster, pulling it so hard the plug came out the wall and threw it to the floor. "I don't understand you. I have brought ideas and food and my time to this without asking for anything in return and I don't get why you hate me so much."
Wardo threw the glass. It hit the kitchen tiles over Sean's head, spreading tiny shards of glass everywhere. "Yeah? Well I don't understand why you hate me, so I guess we're even."
Dustin pushed Mark forward so he stumbled in between the two of them. "Wardo," he said, turning away from Sean. Wardo's hands were clenched into fists so tight it almost looked like he was pushing holes into his palms. "Wardo, come on. Come upstairs and calm down." Mark reached for his shoulder, but Wardo shook him off.
"Hate you?" Sean said. "I was never anything but nice to you but you've had this irrational vendetta against me since the moment we met."
Mark turned. "Sean, Sean just leave it. Guys—" he cast a desperate look at Dustin, but Dustin just shrugged helplessly. "Has anyone checked the site recently, don't you think we should get back to—"
"And your hatred of robots, that's rational I suppose? And you always know who is and isn't a robot because you can tell because they're not even slightly human."
"So, what, you had a fucking nanny-bot growing up and she's the reason you turned out so three piece suit and perfect student and now you think you have to protect her kind. That's what they want. They want to trick people into supporting them so they can take over. Do you know what a robot can do if you take out the inhibitors on its strength?"
Wardo took a step forward, pushing Mark gently to the side, because even after everything and even when he was this angry he wouldn't hurt Mark. "You want to find out?"
Sean vaulted the kitchen counter, landing on two feet in the living room, two metres from getting his head punched right off his shoulders. "And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
Mark made a grab for Wardo's arm, but Wardo shook him off like he was nothing more than a fly and took another step towards Sean. "It means you should get out and never come back."
Sean stepped forward as well. "Do your worst."
The front door slammed open and everybody turned to see Chris panting in the doorway, holding a scrap of paper in one hand. "I need everyone here," he panted, then looked up and blinked as he realized the entire household was already present.
Mark reached out for Wardo's arm again, and this time Wardo let himself be pulled away. "I thought you were at the bank, what happened?"
Chris held the page up but it was too small for Mark to see. "They've frozen the Facebook account. I just got off the phone with the company we rent servers from and they're cancelling our service."
This took a long moment to filter. Each word made sense on its own but put together it was suddenly too much to take in and Mark just stood there dumbly while Wardo moved closer, wrapping both arms around his waist.
Chris slammed the door shut and slumped down in front of it, dragging his hands through his hair and closing his eyes. "The site's going down. It's over."
"Extract from the terms and conditions of robot ownership as agreed to by Mark Zuckerberg prior to receiving the unit:" Gretchen reads. "'The user will not intentionally or through inappropriate action alter the personality construct or any data related to the construct—including, but not limited to, memories, thoughts and feelings. The user accepts that if they do so all modified technology will be forfeit.'" Gretchen looks up at him over the sheet of paper. "That is the primary circuit board from the Eduardo unit?" she says, nodding to the item still clutched in Mahoney's hands.
"Yes," Mark says.
"Can you state for the record what should be saved on the memory card?"
"And why is that?"
"Because your client is suing me to reclaim his hardware. He has no claim at all to Facebook and I have no plans to give it to him."
"Prior to you wiping the chip for this deposition, what was stored on it?"
"You acknowledge that in May 2004, you erased the personality construct from the memory card and used the circuit board to run your website?"
The rain is getting harder, hitting the window in dulled repetitive thuds, rain drops running into each other as they track their own paths down the glass. Sy crosses out something on his pad of paper, Marylin stares at her hands and tries to pretend she never believed Mark was any better than this.
Mark wishes Wardo was there to punch Maloney's smirking face.
Wardo never punched Sean. Mark should have let him, it would have been as good a goodbye as any.
"I need you to give me an answer," Gretchen says, glancing down at her watch. Mark has already dragged this out longer than it ever needed to be. The sun is starting to sink and he's ready to go home.
He hasn't checked in with Facebook all day.
"Mark," Sy says. "You have to answer."
He misses Wardo like an actual ache, like someone has reached into his chest and started tearing things out.
"Yes," he says.
"And what made you think you had the right to do that?" Gretchen asks.
Mark shrugs. "Wardo said I could. Ask Chris, ask Dustin. They were there."
Gretchen pulls out more papers from her endless pile. "We have deposed your friends and they both said the same thing. You left the room with Wardo and returned—" she taps her pen against the circuit board. "With this."
"Even if we look past the complete absence of any evidence in your favour," Maloney interrupts. "Your entire argument is based on the false assumption that the technology in Eduardo's head was Eduardo's to give away."
"He was conscious," Mark says. "He was aware. He knew what he was offering. He was a much better human than a lot of people I know."
Mahoney leans back, spinning the circuit board between two fingers. "You seem awfully keen on the idea of treating the robot like a human being. Are you really that desperate for this to turn into a murder trial?"
Gretchen touches Mahoney's shoulder and he stops talking so she can flip to the very last page of her notes. "In conclusion, while he owned the Eduardo unit Mark Zuckerberg treated it with little to no respect and with no acknowledgement of its feelings. He modified the core functions of the unit without hesitation and forced the unit into situations with people who wished to do it harm. Finally, by erasing the personality construct and using the circuit board for something other than its intended purpose, Mark Zuckerberg voided the terms and conditions giving Cybernet all rights to reclaim their hardware." She pulls all her notes back into one pile. "We'll leave you tonight to deliberate and I look forward to hearing your proposal tomorrow."
She stands up to leave, Mahoney following her to the door before turning back. "Mark," he says.
Mark spins his chair around in time to catch the circuit board in both hands.
"Try not to break it before you give it back to me tomorrow."
The door swings closed behind him. Mark rubs his thumb across the scratched glass and swings his chair back round to the table.
No one looks at him.
For a long moment no one said a word. Chris pressed his face against his knees, Dustin picked up a computer and opened it on his lap, pulling up server response times and users online. Sean didn't move - he was still standing with his fists raised as though he'd been preparing to fight but suddenly found himself lacking an enemy presence to attack.
Mark leant against Wardo's chest and tried to remember how to feel anything. Wardo's face pressed against the side of his neck, his arms tightened almost painfully and it was enough to pull Mark back into the present. "How long?" he asked, turning his eyes on Chris.
Sean's arms dropped finally. Chris shook his head against his knees. "They said we had an hour to backup any data we needed from the servers but I had to run home so I don't—maybe forty minutes? If we're lucky?"
"Okay." Mark tugged lightly so Wardo would let him go. He needed to pace. "How long until we can get everything back up?"
Chris shrugged into his knees. "How up to date is your resumé?" He raised his head to meet Mark's eyes. "I'm serious, we aren't getting anything until we pay all our bills, unfreeze the account and beg."
Mark swallowed and started pacing again. "Okay, so we have forty minutes to do something. We can revert the site to a more rudimentary form, back the data up somewhere safe and just keep it going—as long as it's going we might keep the core users and we can bring it back when we can get a loan or an investment."
"Oh, right," Dustin said. "So until it literally starts raining money we'll just what? Build a data centre out of pizza boxes and empty cans of red bull?"
"I don't know," Mark turned, slamming his fist into the wall hard enough to break through the plaster. "We have to do something."
Three hundred thousand users. Three hundred thousand and they all knew his name and it was all apparently a waste of time because none of them were fucking rich.
He drew back to punch again but before he could do so Wardo caught his wrists. "Mark."
"No," Mark shook his head, staring up into Wardo's face because Wardo had to understand. Even if no one else did. "No, this is not how Facebook dies. We'll come up with a plan, we'll fix this, there has to be something we can use."
Wardo pressed his forehead against Mark's, using his grip on Mark's wrist to wrap Mark's arms around his waist and hold him close. "There is," he whispered.
It took Mark's mind a stupidly long time to catch up even though Wardo's forehead was warm and he was trying to smile but it didn't hide the fact that if he was human, if he was human there would be tears in his eyes.
Strange, how a robot could be biologically perfect in every way except the ability to cry. Perhaps normally they weren't emotionally involved enough; they were just programmed to be supportive no matter what and go to the scrap heap with a smile on their face.
"No," Mark said. "No, something else. There's got to be something else."
"Wardo—" Dustin started.
Wardo's head tugged away from Mark, turning to look at him. "No. Shut up. All of you can just shut up. It's my head and my website and I am every bit as involved as the rest of you and you don't get to tell me what I can and can't do."
Sean raised one hand. "Can I just say I have no idea what's going on here?"
Mark tugged his hands free. "Wardo's a robot. Be okay with it or get out. Dustin, keep an eye on the servers and keep brainstorming. Chris, call the server company. Beg. Beg, plead, go down on both knees, promise them half your kingdom and your daughter's hand in marriage if you have to."
Sean blinked. "Wardo's a—"
Mark ignored him entirely, grabbing Wardo's wrist. "You are coming upstairs with me and we're not coming down until you stop being an idiot."
Wardo looked sideways at Dustin. "How long would it take to transfer the site onto my main circuit board?"
Dustin swallowed. "Probably, just under five minutes."
"Okay." Wardo turned back to Mark. "You have half an hour."
"No," Mark said, pulling Wardo into the bedroom and slamming the door shut behind him.
Wardo tugged his arm free of Mark's grip. "No?" he echoed mockingly. "That's your argument, 'no'?"
"I don't need an argument," Mark said, because this debate was stupid and he should be downstairs with Chris and Dustin doing whatever it took to save his website. "You're my robot and I'm saying no."
"You're my human," Wardo snapped. "And I'm saying yes." He leant back against the door, folding his arms across his chest and blocking Mark's path downstairs.
"It doesn't work like that." Mark shook his head. "This is stupid. You're programmed to be in love with me and to want me to be happy or whatever so you're trying to give me what you think I want. You're wrong, I want you alive and well so stop being an idiot and help me brainstorm other options."
"I'm sorry Sean, for a moment there I mistook you for Mark." Wardo pushed away from the door towards Mark, eyes narrows and fists half clenched as he raised both hands to push Mark back against the wall.
"Wardo," Mark said as his back hit the plaster. "What the—"
"You're telling me I can't think for myself?" Wardo asked, pinning Mark easily with one hand. "You're going to stand there and tell me some geek with a comp sci degree wrote a program, uploaded it onto a chip and that's the only reason I'm in love with you."
"Because I have to listen to that shit every day from Sean fucking Parker downstairs and if I thought for a minute you agreed with him I would be out that door like a rocket because contrary to what you may believe I have my own thoughts and my own feelings and I can make my own fucking decisions about what does and does not happen inside my head." For a moment he stood there, pressing Mark against the wall with his fists clenched and his eyes narrowed.
Then his head fell forward, pressing against Mark's shoulder and he was still enough for Mark to reach out and wrap his arms around that skinny waist and press his face into Wardo's stupid hair.
"I didn't mean that," Mark said. "I didn't mean that you can't choose for yourself I just—you should have a self-preservation function. I remember reading about it and I thought I was so careful not to touch it but now there's this and it was an accident and I'm so sorry."
Wardo's shoulders shake and he wraps his arms around Mark's waist. "You didn't break anything, Mark. It's still there, nestled down in my consciousness telling me to side with you and let Facebook fade into obscurity. But I'm more than lists of functions and lines of code and I can ignore whatever I want to ignore."
"I don't care about Facebook," Mark said. "We can scrap it, it can go down in history as just a stupid project I was working on."
"We were working on," Wardo corrected gently. "It's bigger than you, Mark. It's bigger than me, bigger than Chris and Dustin downstairs and you know as well as I do that it could be bigger too. We're in one hundred and sixty schools including five in Europe. That's not something you can just throw away."
Wardo pressed closer, pushing Mark's hoodie up so his fingers could press against bare skin on his hip. "We're using more servers than any of us imagined and we always need more because they're never big enough. All our money is going to the data centre so we can't afford the programmers we need to keep expanding. Even if we find a fix now, it'll only be a matter of time before we hit the same problem again and again and again." More of his weight was resting heavily on Mark's shoulder. "We do this now and we're set for life. We can take whatever gets thrown at us."
Mark closed his eyes, sinking slowly to the floor so he ended up with his back to the wall and Wardo leaning against his chest. "I can't just throw you away," he said—quieter, as though the guys downstairs might somehow hear through the floor. "I want—I need you here. I need you with me." He reached for Wardo's jaw, lightly gripping with his fingertips to tilt Wardo's face up to his. "Don't make me do this without you."
Wardo stared at him for a moment then let out a low cry of frustration and pain and desperation, fingers grabbing at Mark's neck. Mark let himself be pulled into a kiss, Wardo's tongue licking in and exploring like he absolutely had to memorize every tiny corner of Mark's mouth, storing it forever in a stream of incomprehensible ones and zeros.
Mark pushed his hands up under Wardo's shirt and ran his fingers across the nubs of Wardo's spine and the curve of his hips. Wardo moved slowly over him; his knees slid to the floor on either side of Mark's legs, and his hands pushed up under Mark's hoodie. He broke the kiss for as long as it took to get Mark's hoodie and T-shirt off and then his lips were back on Mark's. One hand tilted Mark's head to a better angle as the other anxiously pressed too hard into his side.
"I won't," Wardo said breathlessly, breaking the kiss for a moment to help Mark with the tiny fiddly buttons of his shirt. "I won't, not ever." Then his shirt was off and Mark could press his hands against his chest and feel the slow regular thump of the internal cooling pump that wasn't a heartbeat but might as well have been.
Wardo closed his eyes for a moment, then reached both arms around to cup under Mark's ass and somehow in one move hoisted Mark up so his legs could wrap around Wardo's waist and his back was pressed to the wall. Wardo kissed him again, supporting him with one hand so he could thread his fingers through Mark's hair.
Mark dug his fingertips into Wardo's shoulders so that when Wardo set him down on the bed he could just tug and bring Wardo after him, rolling them over on the covers until Wardo was spread out beneath him and Mark could lean down to kiss him. He wished he was a robot, wished he had a microchip in his mind so he could store a perfect model of the way Wardo tasted, the way his hips pressed up, the soft moan that Mark caught in another kiss.
But he was human and he was fallible and he was going to forget the way Wardo looked right now with his head thrown back and his mouth slightly open in a silent moan as Mark kissed a line down his chest to the button on his stupid suit pants.
No one who knew Mark would program him a robot who wore suits.
"I love you," Wardo said, pulling Mark back up to kiss him even while Mark's hand pulled at his flies. "Always. Remember that."
Mark closed his eyes tight for a moment, trying to force the slight dampness away from the corner of his eyes. "I promised I'd look after you."
Wardo smiled weakly, reaching up a hand to Mark's cheek. "We can look after each other."
The sun was setting outside, casting a golden glow across Wardo's bare chest and his hand where he was tracing slow circles across Mark's skin. "Five minutes," he said, softly, because he had a clock in his head that was counting down to the last moment.
"I won't do it," Mark said, wrapping his arms tighter around Wardo. "I can't do it."
Wardo pressed his cheek against Mark's shoulder. "Fine, I'll go downstairs and ask Sean. I don't think he'll have a—"
Mark pulled him into a kiss to shut him up, swallowed down all Wardo's stupid words, like maybe if he made the kiss last long enough, the five minutes would be up and everything would be okay.
Wardo pulled away, burying his face against Mark's neck, pressing closer. "Four minutes," he whispered, sounding lost and scared and so many things that Mark couldn't protect him from. "Don't make me ask Sean."
Mark buried his face in Wardo's stupid, stupid hair that covered a pathetically thin exoskeleton between Mark's lips and Wardo's brain. "There has to be another way."
Wardo let out a weak laugh and Mark could feel the tremble of it right through his body. "I promise, if there's any other way I'll take it. If we go downstairs and Dustin has Maguyvered a whole rack of servers out of loo roll and parcel tape or Chris has traded all his future adopted children for an unfrozen bank account then you can come back upstairs, reinstall me and I promise I will fuck you all night long." He pressed his lips to every mark he'd made. "All night and all tomorrow and all the day after until you're so sore you wish they hadn't fixed it and then I'll hold you close and kiss you until you fall asleep. I will lie there with you in my arms and we can have forever."
Mark swallowed down the stupid lump in his throat and blinked back the stupid fucking tears that were no use at all because Facebook was crashing and Wardo was stupid and why could Mark never have anything that lasted. "We could have forever. We could stay up here and never go down and have forever."
"Make Facebook amazing," Wardo said quietly. "I mean, it's already amazing but it could be the biggest and best thing out there. It could be the future, it could be everything you've ever dreamed of if you let it." He closed his eyes for a moment. "And you have to make a billion dollars now, I refuse to donate my brain to anything that isn't cool."
Mark tried to laugh but his shoulders shook and the tears that had been threatening started to spill over. He buried his face in Wardo's hair, feeling damp strands brush his cheeks. "You are the best thing that has ever happened to me."
"Better than a laptop?"
"Fucking—yes, you idiot." Mark pulled him into as tight a hug as he could manage, pressing his face against Wardo's skin so Wardo could feel Mark's tears against his neck, could curl long fingers around Mark's trembling shoulders. "Better than a laptop, better than Facebook, better than anything and if there is any way to change your mind please tell me now because I will do anything, I swear."
Wardo raised his head to press a single soft kiss on Mark's lips, his dry cheek touching Mark's so that Mark's tears were echoed on his skin. "I love you," Wardo whispered, then buried his face back against Mark's neck, wrapping his arms tight and tilting his head forward.
"We could have done anything," Mark said, sliding his hand around to find the control panel in the back of Wardo's neck.
Wardo reached up to touch his face with one hand. "We will."
"I love you," Mark said, trying to fit in 'I'm sorry' and 'goodbye' and everything else there wasn't time to say.
Wardo's eyes slid shut and his fingers slumped, dropping one by one off Mark's face until his hand fell against Mark's chest. His head fell forward and he was gone.
Mark slides the circuit board from hand to hand, back and forth across the table, remembering walking downstairs to find Chris and Dustin had manufactured a cooling unit from the fridge. He had punched them both, splitting Dustin's lip for daring to focus on using Wardo instead than coming up with some other way, any other way.
Outside the window, the lights of the San Fancisco skyline seem to shimmer. Somewhere out there is the Cybernet research facility, one of those glowing squares is a lab where some old man in a white coat—possibly Bill Mahoney himself—put together the greatest circuit board ever made.
"Mark. We're done for the day."
Mark turns away from the lights to see Marylin standing at the side of the room. "I know," he says, wondering why she didn't leave as soon as possible with the others. Even Sy hadn't been able to meet Mark's eyes. "I was just... sitting here. Thinking."
She pulls out a chair two down from him and sits, purse resting in her lap. "I just... I don't understand why you did it. I don't understand how you did it. The way you talk about him—it doesn't make sense."
Mark doesn't say 'I used a USB cable to plug him into Dustin's laptop so I could access the files' because that very clearly isn't what she's asking. "He asked me to."
Marylin moves a little closer. "Sy's going to tell you to hand it over, you know," she says, reaching out one hand to pick the board up from between his fingers. "And you'll probably have to pay a settlement, to cover the danger you put it in." She holds it carefully, resting on her palms like some ancient treasure.
Mark wonders what would happen if he grabbed it now, threw it to the floor and smashed it under his heel. How much would it cost to replace? "Wardo could take care of himself."
Marylin weighs the board on one hand, then sighs and leans forward to place it carefully back on the table. "How are you running Facebook now?"
"We started advertising when Chris discovered Cybernet had prompted the investigation into our financial situation." Mark doesn't reach for the board, but he can't take his eyes off it. "That was when we knew the guys at Harvard had talked and Mahoney was coming after Wardo. By the time the lawsuit came through we had enough money for a data centre. We installed Facebook on the servers and it runs like a normal website." Inefficiently, slowly, prone to crashing but good enough. Better than letting it fall into anyone else's hands.
"Can I ask what happened to Sean Parker?"
Mark couldn't give less of a shit about what happened to Sean. He spends far too much time remembering that Wardo hated Sean and Sean was in California, which means Wardo spent his last days unhappy and Mark was too tied up in Facebook to do anything about it.
"He backed off for a couple of months, trod very carefully. Eventually he fucked up, got caught at a party where some shit went down—you know those robot boxing dens where they bet on which will be torn to pieces first—" Something's digging into his fingers and he looks down to see his hands have closed painfully tightly on the pen he's been scribbling with all day. He takes a deep breath and places it down on the table. "He's no longer affiliated with the company."
That's what the lawyers told him to say because 'I smashed his face in and called the cops' is supposedly bad for Facebook's image.
If anything other than Facebook were at stake, Mark would have confessed years ago.
"Why?" Marylin asks, moving slightly closer. "I mean, you clearly don't care about robots so why would it be such a big deal that Sean—"
"Don't," Mark says.
"I'm just saying, you killed Eduardo. Sure, the body was fine and maybe you've got it squirreled away somewhere in your mansion but that doesn't really make what you did any—"
"For fuck's sake," Mark snaps, pushing his chair back so he can stand up because—because he needs to be standing, damn it. "I'm not Sean, I'm not a mechaphobe. I'm not anything like those people and you have no right to accuse me of—"
"To accuse you of what you admitted to?" Marylin says, not even slightly fazed by him looming over her and shouting.
Mark goes still for a long moment, then collapses back into his chair. "I did, didn't I. I admitted it and no one questioned it because I just seem like the kind of guy who would kill the person he loved." He closes his eyes. "How fucked up is that."
When he looks up again, Marylin has moved her chair right next to him and is tapping her fingers against the table, inches away from the glass casing. "So," she says, when she notices him looking. "Are you going to tell me what really happened?"
If Mark was a robot—as so many people have implied he is—he would shut down until she went away. "Sorry?" he says, even though he's not—he's calculating how fast he can grab the board and get out the building and how difficult it will be to go on the run with an entire website in tow.
"I've been licensed to practice law for all of twenty months and I can already read enough into our conversation earlier to know you're hiding something. I'm not asking for Sy or for the company, I'll swear on anything you care to name that I'm not working for Mahoney I just—" her fingers inch sideways a little, nails tapping the glass. "I want to believe you're not an asshole, Mark. Make it easy for me."
Mark places his hands on the table then realizes that that just looks stupid and takes them off again. He glances back at the closed door; the only person in sight is the yawning receptionist reaching for her coffee half an office away.
He should grab his bag and leave, let Marylin believe whatever she wants. But it's the blog thing again, just like back in Harvard when Mark decided to announce to the world that he was downloading the internet onto a robot. He can't resist taking credit for his own genius and he doesn't want to see the look Sy gave him before he left reflected in Marylin's eyes.
"The question no one asked," he says, carefully sliding the board away from her hand so if necessary he could grab it and run. "Is: 'if you have a memory card with unlimited storage capacity, why would you ever delete anything?'" He picks up the board, turning it over between his fingers. "I didn't delete Wardo. There was no point deleting Wardo because there was space, and because none of the rest of us knew how the board worked, and because I was in love with him."
Marylin is smiling a little, Mark doesn't join her. "So you left Wardo and dumped Facebook on top?"
"We plugged Facebook in and Wardo assimilated it, yes. Wardo understood the board better than anyone. He knew how to get the best performance, how to increase the memory and he'd worked out how to run a website off it before the idea was even raised." He looks up and his expression is enough to make Marylin's smile fade. "That's what Mahoney wanted. He doesn't care about the board, if he can make it once he can make it again. They put a personality construct on there because they wanted to know how it worked. He wants Wardo."
Marylin nods, finally understanding. "That's why you lied."
"Wardo was put on there by mistake," Mark says. "The board came to me by mistake but it was mine and Wardo was mine and I promised I'd protect him. No matter what." His fingers press into the glass like he might be able to shatter it.
"But if the board's wiped," Marylin says slowly, eyes on Mark's hands. "Where's Wardo now? Have you installed him on another chip, is he back in his body?"
His body. Mark keeps Wardo's body in his parents' house—lying flat on Mark's old bed because when it was in Mark's mansion he could never stop himself from going to look at it, to sit next to it, to touch the lifeless limbs and wrap the cold form around him in a crude parody of an embrace.
"He's Facebook," Mark says, too quietly, wishing he could just fold in on himself. He looks away so he doesn't have to see her face. He's had enough pity to last a lifetime. "He's in every relationship status, every wall post, every line of code. I could go through with a fine tooth comb and I wouldn't be able to find where Wardo ends and Facebook begins."
"So—" her hand touches his shoulder and he shrugs it off.
"We can't put Facebook in a body." He turns back to the skyline, pressing the board between his palms like a prayer. "And I can't date a website, so. I didn't kill him, but I still had to let him go."
"Mark—" she starts and he can't bear the apologetic tone, the pity, everything Chris and Dustin tried to fill his life with at first like the constant reminders didn't make it so much worse.
"You should go," he says. "Go get a steak on University Avenue, tell three people that you love them and have sex like it's the last time." He reaches down for his laptop, hiding his face under the table so she won't see him shaking. "Would anyone mind if I stayed here for a minute?"
She sighs, and her hand presses briefly against his shoulder. "You're not alone, Mark. Not if you don't want to be." The hand pulls away as she turns to leave. "If Mahoney ever finds out, and you need a lawyer—"
He looks up in time to see her pulling open the door and she smiles a soft reassuring smile. "I'll be in touch," Mark says, surprised enough to answer. "Thank you."
The door swings closed behind her and he's alone again.
Facebook loads slightly slower, as predicted, but nothing that regular users should notice. The blue bars, white background—clean, simple—open on his screen like home.
He opens the messaging system and types out a quick request for an update on performance throughout the day.
To: Mark Zuckerberg
System running at full speed, small glitch with photo tagging found and repaired.
There is a delay of about half a second, which at the speeds Facebook runs at must feel like a lifetime.
To: Mark Zuckerberg
I missed you.
Mark closes his eyes, fingers hovering over the keyboard. It's like missing someone halfway around the world, only worse because Wardo isn't a plane journey away. He's half an hour down the freeway in a room full of blue lighting and the hum of cooling fans. He's rack after rack of servers and tiny flashing lights.
And there are so many things he wants to say but none of them are words. They're a kiss on the cheek when Wardo distracts him from coding, a press of hands as they pass in the corridors, the noise Wardo makes when Mark kisses the curve of his hip.
There are no words for the feeling of curled up on the sofa with a blanket with Wardo's head on his shoulder, watching a movie they won't remember in the morning.
Well, there's one word. But there should be a thousand.
From: Mark Zuckerberg
I love you.
Try to define love. Describe it in short, simple words that can be typed into a computer program.
You can't, can you?