Coming up to his master's penthouse had not been the end of the tests and puzzles Threetoo was presented with. Though his master encouraged him to sleep as much as he wanted to, in his own pillow box bed or on the pillows that he found near all the places his master spent time sitting, whenever he was awake Threetoo was presented with a tablet to work on, or holographic puzzles floating in the air in front of him.
It didn't take him long to notice that his master was indulging him; nearly all the tests and puzzles were the kind he had named as his favorite when he spoke to Emily on his first day. They weren't the kind that asked him questions he didn't know the answers to--names and dates and places--and they didn't get messed up when time started to stutter on him. He was allowed to go as slowly as he wanted; the numbers and shapes and symbols waited patiently for him, unmoving.
He finished a series of puzzles on the tablet--he knew he was done when the screen said Time for a break!--and looked up at his master. His master was giving him a thoughtful smile, frowning a little but obviously more pleased than not.
"Looks like you haven't forgotten Trig," his master said. "We'll get some harder stuff for you tomorrow. Meantime, I think you could use a reward for that performance. Come here."
His master stood, and Threetoo shook himself free of the blanket U had draped over him while he was dozing and crawled after his master to the kitchen.
"Oh, hey, fruit, fruit is good for growing people, right?" His master picked up a banana. "Should've given you this right off the bat, probably, but better late than never."
His master pinched the end of the banana, making the peel come apart neatly, then broke off an inch-long piece from the end and offered it to Threetoo.
Threetoo knelt up and took it delicately from his master's fingers, eagerly anticipating the treat, only to be shocked into stillness by the actual taste--non-taste--of the thing in his mouth. He glanced up at his master, searching for some sign that he had played the trick on purpose--perhaps the frown had really been a frown? Perhaps Threetoo had done something wrong on the test. Maybe he wasn't supposed to remember Trig?
"Threetoo?" His master was frowning, but not angrily or cruelly, nor did he look like he was anticipating the outcome of a nasty joke. He just looked concerned. "Thumbs up or down, sweetheart?"
Threetoo forced himself to keep chewing, which did not improve the wrong texture of it or the taste. He swallowed with an effort. It wasn't bitter, or spoiled, or harmful. It was just... wrong.
His master crouched down to look him directly in the eye. "Hey. Threetoo--are you okay? Does your throat itch? Are you breathing okay? U, where's the Epi--"
U rolled up, brandishing a yellow tube at their master, who had his hands on Threetoo's face.
"Threetoo, honey, deep breath in and out for me."
Threetoo obeyed, breathing in and out. It did nothing to get rid of the taste of whatever he had just eaten.
"Okay, not violently allergic to bananas, good," his master said. "So... what'd you think of that, can you tell me? Good reward? Not good?"
His master already knew the answer, Threetoo realized. He also realized--even though he knew he wasn't really supposed to remember Before, or other masters he'd had, because only his master was relevant now--that he would have been careful once, not to let such a reaction show on his face. Indeed, from any other master, something as tasteless and wrong as that piece of... banana, if his master said so... would have been a treat.
But his master gave him good things, nice things, and always wanted to know whether Threetoo liked them. He wanted Threetoo to like them. To be happy. And Threetoo...
Threetoo cautiously raised his hand, thumb firmly pointed down.
His master grinned, and leaned in and kissed his forehead with a loud smack.
"Thanks for saying so, baby. Bad reward, got it. No more bananas." His master stood up and went over to the refrigerator, opening it up to show the selection of brightly-colored drinks arrayed along the lowest shelf.
He raised his eyebrows. Threetoo put up his pointing finger and mimed counting along the row to the fifth one, which was a lurid purple. His master took it out, uncapped it, and handed the bottle to Threetoo.
His master resumed speaking as Threetoo drank thirstily, wiping away the vile taste from his mouth with sugary artificial purple grape. "Bananas are lower than tofu and possibly on a par with bathrobes, understood, and now you've got some juice to cancel out the bad reward. But I also owe you a really special reward for telling me you didn't like your first reward. Can't just be fruit or a hug or something, I want something that will stick with you, help you remember--"
U chirped helpfully and offered a small square box to their master.
"Oh, hey," his master took the box and opened it, taking something out--Threetoo could hear it clink against other things in the box, but his master held up just one as he grinned down at Threetoo. "Hey, here's a special reward, what do you think of this?"
He crouched again, showing it to Threetoo up close, and Threetoo's jaw dropped open. Time stuttered badly. He nearly dropped his bottle of purple juice, but U caught it for him.
When time steadied around him, his master was still waiting patiently, holding the gold star where Threetoo could see it, and Threetoo jerked his thumb up.
"Great." His master sat down right there on the kitchen floor. "Gonna need your collar off for just a second. U, soldering iron? And get rid of that banana, no more bananas in the penthouse, Threetoo hates bananas."
Threetoo tilted his chin up for his master to unfasten his shiny red collar, and watched eagerly as he selected a place for the gold star. He put it a few inches to the left of the ring that held his gold identification tag, and smiled at Threetoo as he pushed a sharp piece through the leather to attach it. "This is gonna make you a little asymmetrical, but you can deal with that for a while, right? Just until you earn another special reward, then you'll have another one of these to even you out."
Threetoo smiled back, understanding the teasing layered under his master's words. He touched his right hand to the bandages--thinner and smaller every day--covering the end of his left stump, and summoned up words. "Asymmetrical is okay with me, sir."
His master snorted and wagged the soldering iron at him. Threetoo noticed the gesture mostly because, despite the threatening proximity, he knew his master had no intention of burning him with it.
"I see what you're doing there, sweetheart, and I appreciate it, but you are not earning your second star that fast, even for a complete sentence with a five-syllable word in it. You're getting ice cream for talking, as soon as I'm done with this."
Threetoo grinned and signed thank you before he flashed another thumbs up. His master just shook his head, still smiling, and went back to soldering.