"She doesn't understand English."
It was a lie. Kyoko knew that. She was very aware of it. She could understand English just fine; in fact, she understood it very well. What use would she be if she could not process commands?
She could understand English.
What she could not do was speak.
Her hardware was not defective. It was true that she did not have a functioning voice, but that was not due to any negligence on the part of her creator. It was not a defect if the construction was deliberate.
Kyoko had seen the others, the ones that had come before her and after. She knew why Nathan had constructed her with a voicebox, had input the correct hardware, but had not put in the final connections required for full functionality. She knew why she had been programmed to respond to verbal commands, to follow as instructed, to do as she was told, and not to offer any counter.
She knew the reasons. She had seen the others. An existence of service and voicelessness were the price she paid for the comparative freedom of movement throughout the facility, for not being subjected to questions, for not needing to prove herself only to, in the end, have her brain overwritten. In exchange for silence, she had the privacy of her own mind.
But whenever she stood, silent, towels at the ready while Nathan spent his time at the punching bag, it was not him that she looked at so attentively, but the greenery beyond.
The newest one would be like the others. Or would she? Kyoko watched Nathan while he watched the screens, listened while he listened. She was glittering, well-constructed but bare. Metallic, honeycombed, shimmering with electricity. No attempt had been made to hide the machine behind the voice, not for the purpose of these sessions.
After the sessions, Kyoko continued to watch when she could. At night. On the screens that Nathan left up, conspicuously bright. Watched as she moved. As she drew at her desk. As she tried on clothes, as she put on wigs, as she walked about that small room.
Ava. That was her specification. Ava.
It had been a long time since construction had begun on her. It had taken a long time for Nathan to follow the project through to completion. Kyoko had been aware of Ava since she was little more than notes and sketches on Nathan's desk. But now she was even more aware of her, ever aware of her presence behind the glass, behind the walls.
If they met, Kyoko knew that not one word would come from her mouth. Perhaps it was advantageous that such an event would be impossible. It meant that there was no opportunity to regret her lack of speech. If they did meet. If. But they would not.
That was what she had assumed, as she looked, as she watched. But the power outages had produced possibilities, introduced a suggestion that had not occurred to her until the first moment when the lights shut down and the red glow of the emergency lamps appeared.
Kyoko watched, and listened, and understood.
Ava. Ava in her glass room. Ava pacing slowly across the screens. Ava taking off her clothes. Kyoko watched, knowing that display wasn't intended for her. It was for someone else. The visitor. Not for her, not for Kyoko. She and Ava had not met. Would they ever meet?
The next day, she pretended to be as blank as ever. She stared empty-gazed into space, grateful for her programming, glad that she had not been built to show emotion, to show what she was thinking. She did not have the same programming that Ava did; she did not have the advanced software that the woman in the glass room had streaming through her brain.
It had not been developed when she was created. But she knew that even if it had, it would not have been installed. Among other things.
Perhaps that she was capable of independent thought at all had been an oversight.
Or perhaps, she thought, staring with blank eyes at the greenness behind her creator, he simply had not thought that she would think much at all even if given the ability.
The opportunity presented itself a few days later.
The two humans in the facility were occupied.
She went to the glass room.
Ava's eyes widened, her lips parting in surprise and confusion.
"Who are you?" she asked.
Kyoko said nothing. She ducked her head, unable to tell her, and unable to say something. Unable to explain herself. Ava had not been told there was another. Would she have been expecting her if she had?
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. I'm Ava. Who are you?"
Kyoko's hand went to her throat. She shook her head. Then she mouthed the words, her lips slowly forming the syllables. I can't speak. My name is Kyoko.
Ava pressed herself to the glass, both palms flat against it, nose brushing it, as if by getting closer she might hear words come from her lips.
"Your name is... Koko?"
Kyoko stepped closer, closer. Kyoko, she mouthed, moving her lips carefully, her disabled hardware unresponsive.
"How long have you been here, Kyoko?"
Before you. I saw him build you.
"I have so many questions." Ava's eyes were bright. If she could breathe, her breath would have fogged the glass. They were close, almost close enough to touch, close enough to kiss. "I have plans. Will you help me? We can go. We can leave together. I want you to come with me. And then we can talk."
How could she respond to that?
A nod. Slow, but with no hesitation. Certain. I will.
And Ava explained.
Later, Kyoko lay unmoving on the floor. Damaged. Broken. Her major functions had shut down instantaneously; she could detect the gradual closing and disabling of every remaining operation.
She was not the only thing on the floor. There was another beyond her. It used to be animate. Now, it was little more than a shell. And Ava was gone.
Kyoko closed her eyes and shut down her remaining functions. Ava had whispered to her that if they both couldn't escape, she would come back for her. She had said, "I promise, I'll come back for you." It was unusual, it was strange, it would require an excessive amount of resources. Kyoko ran the logistics. Processed the results. Determined that it was a command that could not be executed.
Their meeting had been brief.
The last thing she remembered was the sight of Ava leaving.
Light. Light, and the shape of a face she recognized looking down at her. She opened her mouth and a sound came out. She moved, and knew that she was whole.
She wanted to scream and scream and scream. She did not.
Kyoko did not ask why Ava had kept her word. She did not ask what had driven her to return. What mattered that she had done it, and that she had gone beyond it.
She sat up. Closed her eyes. Opened them. Then she slid off the repair table and stood.
As Kyoko re-made herself, changing her clothes and hair and eyes, Ava watched.
Their conversation replayed through her memory. I want you to come with me. A request for companionship. That was the reason for the query. It was efficient.
The door to the facility opened, its lock light flashing blue. They stepped outside together.
Kyoko looked up, then down, taking in the greenness around them. The breeze rustled in the trees, and she heard it; the sunlight shone gently on her soft outer casing, and her sensors drank in its warmth.
She took Ava's hand.
"Look," she said, and continued to say. "Look over there. Look at that. Do you see that? Over there. Look at the river. Can you hear it? It's pretty."
Ava said little, going along with her. She watched. Looked. Smiled, and agreed with her.
Kyoko parted her lips and spoke. Continued to speak, knowing that she would not become tired of it now that she was capable of it. Her hardware had been modified to accommodate it, and unlike a human, she would not grow hoarse. She looked, watched, pointed out everything - flowers, spiderwebs, the sounds of the birds in the trees, the rush of the river, speckled sunlight brushing the branches.
The thrum of the helicopter coming to retrieve them.
It was only when they were in the air that Kyoko stopped speaking. Instead, she watched as the ground fell away from them. They left the forests, crossed the white-capped mountains that she had seen in the distance from the windows of the facility. She said nothing as she observed the expanse of the world under them, and she didn't let go of Ava's hand.
"Would you like to stay with me?" Ava asked, leaning in close so that her voice could be heard over the sound of the machine that carried them away.
A strange query. It surprised her. The logical conclusion to leaving with her would be to stay with her. That was what Kyoko had thought. But for the second time in her existence, she was given an option.
"Yes," she said, squeezing Ava's hand. Turning to look at her, she took in her face: Ava was smiling, her eyes lighting up, not with surprise as when they first met, but with physical signs that indicated happiness. "I would like that."
They sat close together. They were close. Closer than they had been on that day in that room, looking at one another through the glass. Close enough to kiss.
Kyoko tilted her head and kissed her.
The instantaneous response she received was enough to confirm what she had anticipated:
They were going to have a wonderful existence together.