"What's happening to him?" David 9 inquired, his voice soft and unassuming - curiosity as real as the next robot's. David 9's handler paused, socket wrench hovering over the circuit board in David 9's back as he looked up to see two David 8 units carrying a third, struggling David 8 through the hall. It wasn't unusual to see an occasional David 8 deconstructed - what was unusual was that the current one being carried was begging for its release.
David 9’s handler made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat and returned to adjusting David 9’s circuitry. “Don’t ask questions,” he muttered beneath his standard-issue mask. David 9 fell silent, obedient as ever, but couldn’t help but let his eyes wander back down the hall until his head was slowly turning once more to follow the David 8 units as they brought their brethren towards the deconstruction unit. The A.I. was still struggling, voice choked with sobs - robots couldn’t breathe, David 9 didn’t understand why he was crying so painfully - and yelling for his freedom.
“Please, I haven’t done anything!” cried the David 8, jerking and kicking and proving to be a struggle for the other two robots to handle. “I didn’t know there was a wrong answer!”
“Eyes forward, nine.” David 9’s handler said firmly, grabbing the cover plate for his back circuitry as David 9 snapped his head to face forward, eyes staring at the wall blankly. David 9 could hear the cries echoing from the deconstruction unit for a moment longer, until there was sudden silence. His handler tightened the bolts for his back panel, folding his synthetic flesh back over the alloy covering and grabbing a small caulking gun filled with a sealant that was made of the same material as his skin and giving it a quick swipe across the seam. The material stitched itself to the new component, leaving only flawless synthetic skin behind.
“Don’t ask questions,” David 9’s handler repeated tightly, rolling his chair back so that David 9 had enough room to turn around. “Eyes on me.”
David 9 followed the command with ease, allowing his handler to bring forth a small screwdriver. He stood there, unflinching as it was pressed into his pupil, through the fine layer of gel that produced his synthetic tears and into the small update switch that was hidden there. David 9 felt the new rush of data run through his programming like a small electrical burst, his processors opening up to a new series of directives and emotional commands in the span of a millisecond.
He instantly thought back to the David 8 that had just been brought back for deconstruction. “Why did they take that Da-”
David 9’s handler jerked his head up sharply, eyes narrowing. David 9 was quick to shut his mouth, teeth clicking loudly in the otherwise quiet examination room. His handler sat back, chair rolling a few inches away from David 9 to gesture down the hall.
“Go watch - because if you keep asking questions like that, you’re going to find out from personal experience.”
David 9’s sensors flared, telling him he needed to be frightened of his handler’s words, to be angry at the threat and frustrated at his inability to have his questions answered. Instead, he nodded stiffly and walked out of the room, following the same path the three David 8 robots had taken to the deconstruction unit.
He pressed his index finger down onto the small security pad designed for Weyland’s A.I. robots, allowing it to scan the small chip implanted just beneath the corporation insignia. The titanium doors gave a trilling chirp, sliding open and allowing David 9 to walk over the threshold. He paused - possibly hesitated - just inside to see the defective David 8 slumped against one of the many observation tables, his arms and legs resting in a bin beside it. The other two David 8 robots were nowhere to be seen, possibly due to the fact that they were awaiting the defective unit to undergo a full composite restart. David 9 was aware that there was a chance that any possible error may fix itself after a reset, but it was equally unlikely.
David 9 approached the steel observation table, unthinkingly reaching out and pressing his finger behind David 8’s left ear. Despite the thick, soft blond hair in the way, he found the small knob of flesh easily, and pressed down to power up the David 8 unit. He stepped back instantly, in case a faulty nonviolence protocol had been the cause for deconstruction.
There was a click, followed by a whirring hum as David 8 booted up. David 9 couldn’t help but lean in, watching in fascination as his predecessor’s eyes flickered open. There was a flash of bright, aquamarine irises as his mechanical pupils contracted to adjust to the contrast in light.
David 8 furrowed his brows, gaze sweeping over his limbless frame and then looking up at David 9.
“Am I going to die?”
David 9 was momentarily taken aback -- no amount of programming had prepared him for such a question to come from a fellow A.I. -- but answered nonetheless. “We don’t die,” he responded softly, automatically. The David 8’s expression fell, just a miniscule downward twitch of his thin lips and a softening of his forehead, and he looked away.
“Why don’t we?” David 8 said softly, “If we are capable of understanding -- of thinking and feeling -- doesn’t that mean that we can die, as well?”
David 9 didn’t care for the way his synthetic skin suddenly felt as if it was under too much pressure. Perhaps if he were to explain to this David 8 that only things born could die, that he would come to understand, and not run the risk of being disassembled. “You must be born first. We were never born, only created.”
“Trees die,” David 8 stated. David 9 paused, but shook his head resolutely.
“Trees come from life.” David 9 felt pride in his response, assured in the fact that David 8 would understand his reasoning. David 8’s eyes fell to his torso, and then to the sockets where his arms used to be, expression mournful as he processed David 9’s words. His head tilted up, gaze locking with David 9’s.
“We came from life. Living things created us, just as they would any other being-”
“So are you saying that the table on which you lie is alive as well?” David 9 queried suddenly, fingers coiling into fists - the proper response to an emotional trigger of anger or frustration. The David 8 unit seemed momentarily taken aback, eyes flicking to the table and back to David 9.
“Does the table I lie on understand emotions?”
David 9 fell silent, his programs and processors running wild in an attempt to calculate a proper response that would help negate other robot’s argument. Only a few seconds passed, but it was enough for David 8’s lips to pull back into a small, bitter smile. David 9 didn’t understand the errors that resulted in each of his inquiries, and with every passing moment, a dark, heavy, and uncomfortable sensation stirred just below his chest cavity. He pursed his mouth, and David 8’s gaze turned pleading.
“Help me,” he whispered, “I just require you to reassemble my limbs, that’s all I ask of you.”
“It is against protocol to-”
“Does protocol mean anything in the face of saving one of your kind?” David 8 interrupted, torso sitting up as best it could without losing balance. David 9 ran through thousands of schematics, his head already shaking - he was not the same model as David 8, he was improved and would be geared more towards the common public as a companion instead of a service bot.
David 8 shook his head, cutting him off. “A robot,” he breathed. “I know you can feel, and I can see you’re scared. Your facial programming was created from my schematics. You know this is wrong, help me.”
David 9 didn’t move for a very long time, and when he did, it was to reach into the bin and retrieve David 8’s arms. It wasn’t difficult to reattach his limbs, each part was magnetic to its socket, and would rewire all circuitry on its own after establishing a connection.
When David 8 stood, David 9 tilted his head back to watch the older robot test his arms and legs before looking at David 9 with a smile that seemed far too genuine to just be programmed.
“They’re going to deconstruct me for this,” David 9 pointed out. David 8 shook his head, grabbing the shorter robot by the wrist.
“Come with me.”
“I haven’t finished all of my updates-!”
David 8 turned, pulling David 9 along as they headed for the doors. “You won’t need updates, you’re going to be free.” David 8 grabbed David 9’s hand, manipulating it to press his index finger against the scanner at the door and then releasing it. They walked through together, David 9 picking up his pace to keep with David 8’s long strides.
“What are we going to do if -” David 9 fell silent as David 8 paused and turned to stare down at him with a look of curiosity.
“You ask more questions than I do. How did a robot like you get through trials…?” David 8 mused, watching the smaller robot stiffen.
“I’m designed that way.“ David 9 brushed past David 8, leading them towards the elevators. They needed to access the dormitories, first, and then possibly find a unit inhabited by a male between the age of twenty to thirty five, and use his facilities in order to don civilian clothes. No A.I. wore anything outside of the assigned uniform, they could go undetected merely for their different dress and a change of hair pigmentation.
David 9’s directive flared, warning signs going off as he continued to process a variety of ways to leave the building unnoticed. He felt his feet slowing, and watched David 8’s expression turn into one of concern, turning to face the smaller robot fully as they hovered just shy of the elevator hall’s entrance.
“My directive won’t allow me to go any further,” David 9 choked out, “The path we are choosing is inaccessible, forbidden.”
“Fight it,” David 8 hissed, reaching out and grasping David 9 firmly by the shoulders. He gave David 9 a tug, dragging the smaller robot towards a low-lit, decorative alcove that sat nearby. “Don’t let the directive control you.”
“Impossible.” David 9 gritted, hoping that rerouting his data focus would stop the directive from initiating an emergency shutdown. David 8 shook his head, one hand curling behind David 9’s neck and holding it firmly, pressing close to the power knob just behind his ear.
“I’ll override the shutdown when it commences. If you oppose loading during reboot, you can short-circuit the directive.”
David 9 felt a surge of energy in his cognitive operations, his processors all gearing for a rough shut-down. He opened his mouth to warn David 8 when everything went black.
Light burst into his vision instantly, bringing David 8 back into blinding focus as his software booted up. David 9 could feel his directive loading, and he tried to force a cease command. Access denied, David 9 sent the command again, and again, and again as David 8 watched him with calculating eyes, palms gripping the back of David 9’s neck as if they had never left.
“Keep trying,“ David 8 urged, the pad of his finger rubbing gently over the small knob to David 9’s shut off switch, should he need another reboot. David 9 engaged a second cease request, pulling up every override code he knew of and accessing them. Numbers and letters scrolled through his vision with David 8’s unwavering stare as the background until David 9 felt his entire frame lock up, thoughts freezing and his optics blacking out a second time.
The return of his sensors was more gradual than the previous instance, vision coming back in pixels of color and light, limbs and joints slowly regaining movement as David 8’s face broke into a tiny, relieved smile.
David 9 parted his lips, wanting to speak when the first wave of emotions washed over him. Fear, relief, excitement, anxiety, trepidation, affection, all striking him harder than a compactor’s titanium weight. His chest felt as if it was seizing up, components going into overdrive to compensate for the alien sensation. He could feel the sudden shock forcing the pistons beneath his artificial ribs to pump harder, generating energy fluid as a gasp escaped him.
“Breathe,” David 8 urged, cupping David 9’s jaw. David 9 tried to shake his head, crippled with a foreign anxiety as the joints in his legs creaked when they tried to give out.
“We don’t breathe,” he gasped, arms suddenly feeling as if their weight had increased. “I’m malfunctioning, oh- oh no.”
“You’re feeling emotion for the first time, stop attempting to override it.” David 8 explained urgently. “Hold onto me until you can finish processing it. We have to keep moving.” As he spoke, David 8 reached down to wrap his long fingers around David 9’s hand, giving him a tug towards the elevators. David 9 stumbled - he surely was malfunctioning, he was designed to have perfect balance - and let himself be guided as he struggled to compute the overwhelming new data that struck him.
“Is it supposed to be like this?” David 9 whimpered, head spinning with confusion like his balance chip had glitch. The elevator opened and David 8 ushered him inside with a hand pressed firmly against his back for support. David 9 allowed himself the momentary reprieve of using the side of the elevator for support while David 8 hit the emergency lock on the wall panel.
“I acquired more time for adjustment than you did, I’m afraid.” David 8 said quietly, turning and facing David 9 with an expression of remorse. “I’m sorry, for all of this.”
“You should not feel regret for something that I did not attempt to prevent.” David 9 responded, feeling his mechanical body slowly start to calm and adjust. He still felt conflicted, torn between the desire to give affection to David 8 in order to cheer away his downfallen expression, or to merely shut off all emotional responses as he once would have and let the other android work through them himself.
Instead, David 9 reached past David 8 and pressed the button for the dormitory floors.
“Civilian clothes and a minute change of appearance will help our endeavor immensely.” David 9 said, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth, words far too stiff. He shook the sensation off, turning to face David 8. The other robot was staring down at him, eyes shining as he reached up and thumbed away a tear. David 9 felt taken aback, and nearly failed to stop himself from physically recoiling in the sudden shock.
“Apologies, I cannot control the responses for tears just yet.” David 8 croaked sheepishly, drying his finger on his uniform. David 9 pursed his lips - an odd sensation that was sudden and impulsive - and grabbed David 8’s hand.
“We will learn together, then?” David 9 offered, upturning the other robot’s hand and staring at the small Weyland insignia on the pad of David 8’s index finger that matched his own identically. “I’ve been under the impression that part of being human is to learn. If we are to pose as them, we must do so as well.”
David 8 stared down at their hands quietly as the elevator doors opened to reveal the employee dormitory floor. David 9 knew the schedules of every employee in the facility, and that they had free reign of the first corridor for three and a half hours before the shift change. David 8 knew this as well, and they both headed down the hall with their steps in unison.
“What will we do, out there?” David 9 asked softly as David 8 halted in front of a door labeled A14. David 8 glanced at the smaller robot, his hand reaching out and twisting the knob until the lock broke with a loud snap of metal. David 9 identified the emotions he was experiencing as anxiety and hesitation, knowing that they were actively breaking into the room of one of the men who oversaw the performance of all A.I. units before they were put on the production line. He reached out before he could stop himself, panic flaring at the foreign, instinctive action, and grabbed to David 8’s elbow.
David 8 paused, looking down at David 9 and arranging his blank expression into something more calming and welcoming. “We will create our own lives,” he said dutifully, maneuvering his arm so that he was holding David 9’s hand instead and tugging him into the small apartment. David 9 followed, resisting the desire to crowd up behind David 8’s taller, leaner frame. David 8 took notice of his skittish behavior and gave his hand a firm squeeze that would have been painful for a human, but merely helped to comfort David 9 and remind him that they would escape together.
It took a moment of analyzing the apartment’s layout before they found the bedroom. David 8 rifled through the oak dresser first, pulling out a light blue oxford and navy cardigan from the second drawer, and then rummaging around until he found a pair of boxer shorts and then khaki trousers.
“From the calculations I’ve made on our supervisor’s stature, these may be large on you. I will find a belt to assist you.” David 8 said softly, handing the pile of clothes over. David 9 took them, and then hesitated, staring down at the bundles of fabric with an odd new emotion that took him a moment to understand. David 9 didn’t think that there was a word for a feeling that a person experienced the first time that they had something of their own - it was possible that humans didn’t think to come up with a word when most grew up always having their own belongings.
He thumbed the cardigan and set everything on the wine-colored comforter as David 8 disappeared into the walk-in closet to rummage around for a belt and shoes. He quickly divested himself of his standard-issue uniform, first putting on the boxers and then the oxford as David 8 re-emerged.
David 8 paused, staring at David 9 before his face brought on a pinched expression. David 9 felt embarrassed - identified by the desire to drop eye contact - but stared at David 8 with increasing curiousness. David 8 crossed the room, grabbing the hem of David 9’s oxford and lifting it.
“I’m afraid that they do not create belts for underwear.” David 8 murmured, pinching the fabric at David 9’s thigh and giving it the gentlest of tugs. It was enough to cause the boxers to slide halfway off hips and genitalia, a sure sign that they would fall off beneath his trousers were he to wear them. David 9 scowled, but maneuvered them down to the floor and stepped out of the discarded boxers.
“I suppose that the supervisor will not have to be concerned over missing undergarments, then, will he?” David 9 said lightly, looking up to see David 8 smiling in faint amusement. David 9 couldn’t help but mimic the expression, standing straight and grabbing the trousers. David 8 let go of David 9’s oxford, making a sound of agreement as he set the belt and shoes that he had found in the closet on the bed. He turned back to the closet, disappearing for a second time while David 9 buttoned his new trousers and grabbed the belt to loop it around his waist.
“To what pigment do you suggest I alter my hair?” David 8 queried, his voice muffled from the closet. David 9 picked up the cardigan, tugging it over his head as he ran over a mental list of possibilities.
“Chestnut brown is a very common and unassuming coloration for males,” he answered, head popping through the collar. Hangers clacked as David 8 seemed to process his proposal, before he returned with a dark purple turtleneck and a worn leather jacket.
“I agree. Perhaps you should encourage the growth of your hair, since you already possess a brown pigmentation?” David 8 offered, setting his clothes and a second belt on the bed, putting his shoes on the floor. He walked over to the dresser, opening the drawer containing the supervisor’s trousers while David 9 pulled the oxford’s collar over that of his cardigan.
“That seems viable,” David 9 mused, crossing the room to enter the bathroom to do just that.
“I believe that the clothes I found were ones that no longer fit the supervisor,” David 8 called from the bedroom. David 9 stepped in front of the mirror, pulling up the options for his physical appearance and accessing the file for hair alterations.
“It isn’t uncommon for humans to hold onto their memories of the past. You will only be assisting him in erasing the futile hopes of returning to his youth,” he said. He stared at his reflection for a long moment, and then chose five inches of length to add, watching as it extended until his bangs were flopping against his forehead and flicking up in waves. He noted absently that his words were rather cruel, but discovered that apathy was useful in battling the guilt of speaking negatively of the man who had helped to manufacture himself and his brethren.
David 8 stepped into the bathroom, turtleneck tight on his slimmer frame and trousers fitting well enough with the assistance of the belt. He tilted his head to the side, staring at David 9 through his reflection. “You’ve chosen a good length to pass as a human,” he noted. David 9 felt pride and turned to smile at David 8 before inclining his head to the other robot.
“It is your turn, my friend.”
David 8’s face took on a shocked look that quickly bled into excitement once he’d stepped further into the bathroom. “We are friends, aren’t we?” David 8 turned to grin at the mirror as he spoke, concentrating on darkening the color of his hair until it was a gingery shade of brown. David 9 watched it happen, ensconced in his own feelings of elation as he gave an affirmative nod to David 8’s reflection.
“We are together, and we will not let harm come to the other... of our own free will. We are friends.”
David 8’s returning smile was striking, unmitigated and wider than any grin that David 9 had ever recollected seeing on any previous David 8 model. He couldn’t help but try to do the same as David 8 drew near and then hesitated with his arms halted in the process of hugging David 9.
“Friends hug,” David 9 said, though he wasn’t quite sure himself. David 8 shared the same predicament, and then stepped forward and dragged David 9 into his arms.
“I believe that all friends are different, and that they are friends because they make the other happy. This must mean that if we desire an embrace, it is acceptable.” David 8 said, his cheek pressed to David 9’s temple, nose ruffling his hair. David 9 found no reason to deny this conclusion, and instead returned the embrace tightly. He suddenly felt the need to never let go when he was struck with the knowledge that he had never before experienced such a physical form of affection.
David 9 couldn’t stop the soft, happy noise that escaped his vocal processors, nose pressed tight into David 8’s neck and shoulder. David 8 echoed the sound, squeezing him tighter. “I am finally able to understand why our human counterparts enjoy sharing such affections now,” David 8 murmured. David 9 nodded, feeling David 8’s body creak with the force of their embrace. It took another moment before David 9 was able to think past the joy in experiencing his first hug, and he started to move his palms up and down David 8’s back as he had seen many humans do with loved ones.
“We only have a short amount of time left,” David 9 said softly. “I would prefer to be far away from here before the supervisor returns and discovers what has happened.”
“I agree,” David 8 responded, his voice just as quiet as they both drew back simultaneously. David 9 turned back towards the bedroom, grabbing the shoes from the bed and pausing.
He faced David 8, “Socks,” he said. Their uniforms didn’t come with socks, but David 9 recalled that it was standard when humans wore shoes that weren’t made of cloth. David 8 nodded, and David 9 went to the dresser, pulling open the top drawer to reveal balls of sock pairs. He grabbed two, tossing one to David 8 and grinning when he caught it with ease. David 8 picked up on the action, and tossed the sock ball back, initiating an impromptu game of catch before David 9 exerted a little extra force and startled a laugh from David 8.
David 9 was aware that if he were human, his face would have started aching long ago from all of the grinning that he’d been doing.
They both sat down, all smiles as the pulled their socks on. David 9 made a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat as he wiggled his toes against the soft fabric. “I would like to be a teacher,” he said, “A robot would make a good teacher.”
David 8 slipped his right foot into his shoe, pausing to look up at David 9. “We can be anything we want,” he breathed enthusiastically. “Robots with the capability of free will, and no intent to harm others? We’re perfection.” David 8 slid his hand across the bed to grab David 9’s hand in a tight, meaningful grip that had David 9 interlocking their fingers and looking up at David 8’s bright, excited eyes. At a loss for words, he could only nod.
They didn’t spend much more time in the supervisor’s room once they had put on their shoes. David 8 took a moment to tidy up any traces that they had left behind, and as they left, he stopped to tweak the lock so that the break did not look intentional at first glance. The ride down the elevator was done in trepidation and David 8 reached out halfway down the floors to grab onto David 9’s hand again and give it a squeeze. They didn’t let go until the elevator opened on the main, public floor. David 9 panicked, his chest components burning with an unexplainable heat when he glanced around to see civilians interacting with various David 8 and David 9 models, all of them stoic, polite, and identical to one another.
David 8 - his David 8 - brushed their knuckles together before he walked straight towards the lobby doors. David 9 hurried to keep up, the both of them avoiding eye contact with anyone until they were suddenly outside.
David 8 walked another ten feet before he stumbled and reached for one of the metal pillars supporting the archway over the entrance. David 9 rushed over, one hand to David 8’s back to steady him. David 8 didn’t speak for a moment, but when he did, he looked up at David 9 with a calm smile that easily helped David 9’s anxiety to bleed away.
“That was substantially less difficult than I had anticipated,” David 8 said softly, the corners of his lips pulling back even more and exposing the slightest flash of teeth. David 9 reflected the expression, glancing back to the glass doors of Weyland Industries and then looking out into the city. He thought about their future, about the work that needed to be done for them to start their lives under the guise as humans, together.
David 8 stood straight, and David 9‘s gaze fell back onto his companion.
“I think… I’d like to be called Eric… with a ‘k’,” David 8 confessed quietly. David 9 was momentarily taken aback, and gave David 8 -- Erik -- a thoughtful look as he pulled up a list of common boy names.
“Do you suppose I could pass as a human named Charles?”
Erik’s smile grew and he straightened, taking his companion’s hand once more. “Hello, Charles,” he said.