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Programmed Sequences

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Later, when asked about it, Lucas couldn't say what exactly it was that made him stop. The rain was pouring, howling from the sky and cutting off Meridiana roofs in heavy sheets; it was the sort of evening to keep your umbrella up and head down which was exactly what Lucas had been doing, head tucked so low against his shoulders that it was nearly buried in his heavy coat. But something did make him stop. A feeling, maybe. Fate. Or perhaps, from the very corner of his eye, he just happened to notices a patch of black on black, something lying too dark and still on such a rainy night.

So Lucas did stop, and he turned to look.

Something was lying in the alley. Not a stray cat, like he initially considered, it was too big. From here, it almost looked more like someone had dumped a rolled up rug among the trash heaps. Wouldn't he feel foolish then, if that was the case. But as it was, curiosity – concern – was too acute and Lucas couldn't help himself. He moved into the alley to investigate.

The realization that it was a body hit him hard – a thin, spindly sort of body, dressed all in black and slumped across the alley's filthy street. Tossing his umbrella aside, Lucas reached out and heaved the body up, calling out to it – to her, he realized, once he'd dragged it into something resembling a sitting position, slumped against his side. She lay against him so limply, head slumped against her chest while water cascaded off her dark hair, that Lucas feared the worst.

“Hey now, come on, you're okay, it's going to be okay,” Lucas mumbled, as he pressed his fingers against her neck, trying to find a pulse point. He was a biology teacher, he should be able to do that much.

It ended up not being necessary though, because the woman's eyes flickered open then, and she weakly lolled her head to the side, to stare blearily up at Lucas. Lucas's breath caught.

The eyes were the window to the soul, that was what people said, wasn't it?

Lucas was a biology professor though, his knowledge in languages was passing at best. And yet it made him wonder if that expression was one that existed before the creation of Cybers, or if it was one that came after. Because no matter how well made a Cyber was, no matter how much organics was used, you could always tell a Cyber by the eyes. It was a little unsettling. It wasn't so much a colour, as the strange way they glinted, like the sheen off a computer screen, cold, flat, and inhuman.

Of course, Lucas had seen Cybers around. You got them wandering about the city, doing chores and tasks for their owners, but he had never really had any reason to be up close to one before. He'd even had people – his mother, for one – suggest that he might benefit from getting himself a cheap, older model, or even a used one. To help him, the eternal bachelor, balance his work and his household chores, or act as an assistant for his writing. And Lucas had to admit, he could see the benefits of having one. It'd be nice to have a robot that you could simply order to go out during the day to pick up groceries and start supper, so that once he got home from handling a classroom full of unruly students he could simply relax and have a warm meal. He had always managed to find an excuse not to though – his apartment was small, he didn't make all that much money on a teacher's salary, even if he could afford one could he afford the maintenance would be too much, he was used to living alone by now, one thing after another after another. Honestly, Cybers just gave him the creeps a bit. He knew they were just machines with artificial organic components graphed on, he knew that, but still... they looked human. They even acted humans, the more upscale models.

This one looked human enough that even after seeing the eyes, Lucas was still thinking of it as hurt and needs help instead of treating it like what it probably was: a broken old electronic device that someone had inconsiderately tossed into the alley instead of taking it to the dump.

It blinked up at him, and Lucas felt like scum for even thinking it. God help him.

“Are... are you alright?” he tried. “Are you... lost? Can I take you back to your owner, or...?” He wasn't even really sure how to word his questions in a way that would make the most sense to a machine. Weren't they supposed to have... specific commands they responded to, or something?

The Cyber in his arms must have understood though, because its expression changed. It changed in the strangest ways. Its eyes widened and its chest seemed to expand, as if it were taking a frenzied breath. And then it tried to stand.

Lucas could hear the whine of strained electronics as it tried to balance.

“You don't need to get up! You don't need to... to show me where you live, or anything, that wasn't what I meant” he said, trying futilely to guess what was running through this thing's synthetic brain. “If you tell me where you belong, I'll take you there myself...”

No!

It was the strangest sounding voice – synthetic, electronic, painfully so. It had a shriek to it, like metal grinding together wrong, that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end and had him wanting to clamp his hands over his ears. More than anything though, it sounded distressed.

The Cyber kept moving away from him, farther into the alley, but Lucas could see it was struggling. Its legs weren't moving right, and it had one hand clamped around its side, like a human would do if she was injured and in pain. Could a robot feel pain? Lucas felt that the answer must be no, but he suddenly realized that he really wasn't sure.

“It's okay, I just want to help,” he insisted, inching closer to it with his arms wide, like it was a scared cat. He was completely wet through by now, hair plastered to his head without his umbrella, and pants soaked from where he had knelt on the ground. And all this for a broken machine. But he couldn't leave now.

Maybe he had gotten through to it, because it seemed to take a moment to consider this, and then it stilled. Lucas inched closer.

-

Adrian stood still. She had no choice.

Well, she did, but she had already considered her options. Escaping had left her exhausted and injured, and she had had no opportunity or resources to get repairs done. No matter how much Sustenance she stole, she knew more was leaking out all the time. She was at the end of her strength. For a moment... she'd thought perhaps its really had been the end. When she'd collapsed. The rain had felt so heavy, so cutting against her skin – her inner core had long since given up directing its power to keeping her warm – that she'd finally just... stopped. Her legs had seized and she had dropped. In one final, desperate attempt to maintain functionality, her system had put itself into idle mode. She hadn't really expected to wake up. She'd thought she would, more than likely, simply stay in that state, until her even her critical functions didn't have the power to keep operating, and she would simply shut down completely. A Cyber could, after all, die. Their mechanical parts might be able to be redistributed, but without sufficient oxygen the organic parts of their make-up would simply break apart. This included her brain, the organic computer in her head that made her that little bit more than a standard operating system, the part of her people paid so so much money to own and have serve them. Once that shut down, there would be no her left anymore.

Maybe that would be for the best. She had no where to go. Nothing to do. No one to be. She would never go back, though, never. Death would be better. If you could call a machine going nonfucntional “death”, that is. Most people didn't. Maybe it wasn't death at all. Maybe she didn't even really exist beyond a set just a preprogrammed thought patterns, and shutting down wouldn't matter.

Then she had been woken. Her system was designed to respond to humans requesting her assistance, and so with great pains she was thrown once more into consciousness, to find herself... somewhat warmer. A human had been holding her, a broad back sheltering her from the worst of the rain, while a warm hand had felt around her neck. She had stared at him. She didn't know what to make of this man but... at the time it had felt like hope. It felt like a chance. One she hadn't had a moment ago. If he could just...

And then he spoke.

He was going to take her back.

Never.

She tried to tell him as much, but she wasn't even sure if he could understand her – her voice was garbled, it must have been damaged during her flight through the jungle, or maybe it was one of many nonessential systems that wasn't being supplied by her limited power. Either way, he kept approaching, and she realized she'd have to make a choice.

Cybers had never been designed to chose, not really, not beyond the limited necessity of choices to carry out basic, everyday tasks. But she hadn't been designed to be like other Cybers, and that was something both she and her creator suffered for.

The choice was thus: she didn't have much strength. If she ran, used up her little remaining energy, and he caught her, it was all over. He would be able to capture her and bring her back easily. So she had to get rid of him first.

It felt bad, she wanted this man to be kind and she couldn't shake that thought from her head, but... she had to live. She had to get away. At the very least, she needed to die in peace and she would never get that from Von Reichter. He would no better now, what little sequence in her programming had gone wrong and let her become this, and he would fix it. He would ensure she was never this ever again. So she steeled herself and stood still, waiting.

Von Reichter's other creations would know to be wary, if she had stood to wait for them like this. The man thought nothing of it. Did he think she was some sort of simple cleaning droid? Or that she was broken enough to not be a threat? Or maybe he just thought her regulator was still in place, she thought smugly. That was long gone, the first thing she had gotten rid of, mutilating herself in order to force it from her body. And let's see how the humans like it when she wasn't being controlled in docile compliance.

The second the man put a hand on her, she struck. It took more effort than it should, but it was still easy. Her hand struck like a snake and even though his wrist was wide she was able to grab it easily. A single flick of her strong body sent him flying. He crashed against the alley's wall hard, and slumped down into a stack of trash. He was shouting at her, clearly not entirely unconscious, but he was disoriented and stuck among the trash and all he could do was flail. Now was her chance.

You can tell him he'll never have me,” she spat at the man, and then turned and ran.

Her body barely had the energy for it, but she made it to the end of the alley and leapt up and over the back wall, disappearing into the night. The will to live thrummed through her synthetic veins once more.

-

Lucas lay in the trash. What the fuck had just happened?