Just what kind of gift did one buy for a person who lived only to work? That was the question which had been constantly running through Oil Man’s head all day as he wandered the local malls, the babble of hundreds of other shoppers serving as background noise to his slowly rising panic. It wasn’t that he hated shopping; in fact, he came here quite often with some of his brothers to hang out and pass time on the weekends. No, the real problem was the reason he was here today.
Perhaps Oil was far less meticulous about keeping track of time than his younger twin, but one occasion that he could never let slip by without acknowledgement was the day of their activation. The rest of their family found it far easier to simply ignore Time and let him go about his business, but Oil felt differently. He loved his brother fiercely despite their constant disagreements. And regardless of how hard he was to shop for Oil was determined to find him the best possible gift. One that Time would treasure rather than simply setting it aside and forgetting it, like he had in previous years.
But what to get him? Oil had been searching on and off for weeks without even a hint of success. He had dropped dozens of hints in an attempt to drag a request out of Time, but all he had accomplished was annoying him to the point of being lectured about wasting his time. In desperation he had even slipped into Time’s room while he was out at work and had searched through all of his possessions for clues. As far as he could tell, Time simply had no interests beyond repairing things or studying the theory of time travel.
The floods of shoppers slowly began to trickle out of the mall as the afternoon wore on. Everywhere Oil looked he saw employees bringing in any signs and merchandise that had been set up outside their stores. Shutters were closing one by one over storefronts all around him. He increased his pace, struggling to ignore the growing tightness in his chest as his options began to dwindle away. Their activation day was tomorrow. He needed to find something!
Nearing panic, Oil strode straight into the next open store he came across. A cacophony of chirping assailed his audio receptors as he blindly moved past tanks and cages, taking in absolutely none of what he saw. It wasn’t until he blinked and found himself staring at a massive cage filled with birds that he realized he was in a pet store.
Would Time like a bird? Maybe he could teach it to sing on the stroke of each hour. No, on second thought, maybe not. Birds were loud and required a lot of attention. Perhaps a fish instead? Eagerly Oil turned toward the wall of tanks, only for his heart to sink again when he remembered that Time was more vulnerable to water than most of their family on account of being incomplete. He would hate having to handle it constantly to keep the tank clean.
“Hi there, can I help you?”
The unexpected voice startled Oil so badly he felt his feet almost leave the ground. He spun around, clutching his scarf over his mouth as he panted out warm air through it. The young woman who had spoken appeared completely baffled by his reaction and he was quick to lower the scarf and pull a slightly forced smile onto his face. “Heh, yeah, I guess I kinda do need some help. I’m, uh, looking for a birthday present for my lil’ bro. Problem is I’ve got no idea what to get him.”
“And you thought a pet might be a good fit?” the employee questioned, a thoughtful frown playing across her lips. “Well, let’s take a look around. Could you tell me a little about the sort of pet you might be looking for? What kind of requirements do you have?”
“Well,” Oil began as he gratefully began to follow her along the rows of cages. “He spends a lot of time workin’, so probably something that doesn’t mind being left alone for hours at a time. Something that can take care of itself while he’s out but still get attached to him when he’s home. Uh, probably something pretty quiet. He doesn’t like a lot of noise. And he’s kind of a loner, so maybe something that’ll keep him company when he doesn’t wanna be around people.”
Within moments the two were standing before a large cage lined with wooden ramps and posts. Oil gazed at the mewling balls of fluff that were already gathering close to his feet, attempting to climb the bars or reach for him with tiny paws. “Do you think a cat might be a good fit for him?” the employee enquired.
Oil crouched down to examine the kittens on the floor more closely. As he did so he felt something lightly bop him on the top of the head. Looking up, he caught the gaze of a tiny grey kitten standing on one of the wooden platforms lining the inside of the cage. Its paw was still stuck out through the bars and something in its face reminded him strongly of Time’s expression when he gave one of his famous lectures.
“… Yeah. I think it might. Can you help me get set up with everything it’s gonna need?”
When dawn broke on the twins’ activation day Oil found himself sitting on the floor of his room, dragging a piece of string for the kitten to chase. The tiny creature was adorable to watch as it wiggled its rump and pounced upon the trailing end. It seemed to be a bundle of energy, which had him slightly concerned. Maybe it would be too demanding for his brother after all. What was he going to do with it if Time refused to care for it?
The kitten rolled onto its back, clutching the string and kicking furiously with its hind paws. A moment later its target slipped out of its grasp and it was up again in pursuit. Oil allowed it to catch the string once more before finally withdrawing it with a sigh. There was no reason to delay the moment; he would only end up making himself more anxious stressing about it.
“Okay, playtime’s over. It’s about time for you to go meet your new owner. You excited, little guy?” Discarding the scrap of string onto his bed, Oil scooped up the protesting kitten and gently replaced it in its carrier. It stuck a paw out through the bars again, mewling in protest, as he fastened the door.
The noise prompted Oil to chuckle quietly to himself as he picked up the carrier. “Man, anyone would think I’m taking you back. You’ll be out of there again soon enough.”
The tiny animal quieted down as he carried it carefully out into the hallway. The building was quiet at this hour but he knew Time would be up. He was one of the few who rarely slept, deeming it a complete waste of time which could be better spent repairing objects. At the very least he ensured that nothing in the building remained broken for long.
“You stay quiet, got it? I want this to be a surprise,” Oil whispered to the kitten as they approached Time’s door. The creature blinked at him in response as he carefully deposited its carrier on the floor, carefully nudging it out of view from within. After taking a moment to adjust his scarf he drew a deep breath and rapped the spout of his weapon against the wood.
His twin’s familiar voice responded almost instantly. “Come in.”
Oil pushed the door open slowly. The room within was far tidier than his own with not a single item out of place. At the desk sat Time with his back to the door, hunched over an old laptop and hard at work with a screwdriver. He showed no sign that he had heard the door open, nor did he look to see who was there.
When no acknowledgement was forthcoming, Oil cleared his throat and spoke up first. “Hey, bro. Glad you’re up.”
“I’m always up,” Time responded without looking around. “What do you want, Oil?”
“Aw, c’mon, what kind of activation day greeting is that? You didn’t forget, did you?”
Finally Time set down his screwdriver with a sigh and turned in his seat to face Oil. “No, of course not. I didn’t expect you to remember.”
“Me? Forget the most important day of the year?” Oil’s hand flew to his chest and he faked a deeply offended look. Time raised his eyebrows in response and, sensing danger, his twin quickly decided to get to the point. “‘Course I didn’t forget. This year I got you something real special, bro.”
“Is it another pocket watch?”
“… That was a last minute thing. You’re hard to shop for and the other guys talked me into it. You like clocks!” No matter how he tried to rationalize last year’s choice of gift, he still didn’t feel any less of an idiot for forgetting his brother’s perfect sense of time or the equally accurate clock that was built directly into his chest. Clearing his throat uncomfortably, Oil retreated a step to the doorway and reached for the carrier. “This is better, I swear. You’re gonna love it.”
Time was silent, his attention upon Oil. Feeling increasingly that he would be judged heavily on his gift this year, Oil lifted the carrier into his arms and turned its door to face Time. “Happy activation day! Thought you might like a buddy who doesn’t mind bein’ left alone while you’re worki-“
“Oil.” His twin’s sharp tone cut Oil off mid-word. Far from being pleased, Time looked as though he wished he had not invited the other robot in. “I have no time to care for an animal.”
“But that’s the great part! I asked for somethin’ that can look after itself when you’re busy!”
“It’s an organic creature. It requires attention and care. I don’t even have the equipment it would need.”
“Don’t worry about that, I got it all set up in my room-”
"Then why don’t you take it back there with you?” Time’s eyes narrowed before he abruptly turned away, returning his attention to the laptop. Oil could practically feel his happiness over finding the perfect gift draining away as he stood there in the doorway, carrier in his arms. He could feel the kitten slowly shuffling around inside as it searched for a way out.
“… Bro, just give it a chance. You don’t have to do it all yourself. Just give it a few days? And if you still don’t like it I’ll take care of it instead. C’mon, Time…”
“Take it away. I’m busy.”
And that was that. Oil had no choice but to turn and leave, quietly shutting the door behind him. Left alone once again, Time let out a huff of annoyance and shook his head. “Trust Oil of all people to think of the worst possible gift.”
The kitten quickly made itself at home in Light Labs. Most of Oil’s siblings were delighted to welcome it to the family. Roll immediately set out spare water dishes in several rooms and tasked herself with changing them daily. Within a day Rush had seemingly designated himself the kitten’s personal bodyguard, following it everywhere and protecting it from any trouble it might get itself into. It quickly became common to walk into the living room only to see three or four off-duty Light bots sitting on the floor in a wide circle, rolling a ball to each other while the tiny ball of fluff chased after it.
Oil’s performance, on the other hand, was beginning to suffer. He had not spoken to Time since the morning of their activation day and his thoughts were dwelling increasingly often on whether his brother was still angry. He was aware that Time was under more strain than ever at work, having recently received an experimental upgrade and begun staying later at the Institute in order to study its effects, but the memory of the way he had snapped wouldn’t stop lurking at the forefront of Oil’s memory.
After one week of mistakenly cut wires, dropped parts, missing tools, and early dismissals from the lab while his brother and father put in extra work to fix his distracted mistakes, Oil finally managed to work up the courage to confront his twin. This silence couldn’t continue, especially since it was making him unsuitable for his job as a lab assistant. Surely Time knew he had meant well; Oil would simply have to point out that he hadn’t needed to be so harsh and request an apology.
It was close to midnight when he emerged from his room and set out determinedly for Time’s. The sound of his weapon spout rapping on the door echoed down the silent hallway, but this time there was no answer from within. Oil waited for several seconds before pushing the door open. “Time, we’ve gotta talk. I… Time?”
There was no one inside. Hesitantly Oil took a step into the room, even glancing behind the door and under the bed, but there was no sign of his brother. For a moment he had no idea what to do; Time was never out of his room at this hour. He had no friends to go out with and certainly wouldn’t be permitted to stay so late at work.
A pessimistic thought nudged at Oil’s bewildered mind. Perhaps something was wrong with his recent upgrades. At once Oil was hurrying down the hallway, a tight knot of anxiety growing within his chest. Time was fragile, regardless of how much he hated being treated as such. If something had happened to him…
A faint murmur of sound from the television reached him as he passed the living room doorway. He slowed, glancing into the room in confusion. The lights were out but the television was still on, casting a dim glow over a slender purple figure lying slumped in Doctor Light’s favourite armchair.
Oil hesitated in the doorway. Time looked as though he had fallen asleep and slid down in the chair, leaving him lying practically horizontal and seemingly in danger of sliding completely onto the floor. Something seemed out of place about him, but it took Oil a moment to notice the fluffy grey lump curled up atop Time’s chest. The warmth of his core must have prompted the kitten to decide he would make a nice bed.
As Oil watched, Time stirred and slowly lifted his drooping head to blink dazedly at the screen. His hand came up a moment later to adjust his helmet, which had been pushed to one side as he had sunk lower and lower in the chair. Oil retreated further into the shadows but didn’t leave, debating with himself whether it would be a good idea to confront his brother now. He had to know if Time was still angry.
“… Mm? Hello there…” The soft murmur came from the armchair. Thinking he had been noticed, Oil was about to step into the room when he saw Time’s hand come to rest upon the kitten’s back and slowly begin to stroke its fur. It uncurled and stretched as he began to scratch gently behind its ears. A small smile crossed Oil’s face as he watched, waiting for the moment Time would lift the kitten off so that he could stand.
Time’s free hand felt to one side in search of the remote and he switched off the television. As the darkness washed over him he shifted slightly in the chair, attempting to make himself comfortable without disturbing the kitten. Before long he had fallen still again as he slipped back into sleep mode, soothed by the crackling purrs of the tiny animal on his chest.
Oil crept back to his room in silence with a smile on his face. Maybe everything had turned out just fine after all.