“Humans, humans, humans! I feel like that’s all you care about lately,” Crow grumbled.
“I told you I wanted to find other people,” Seto shot back.
“I know, and most of the time I’m totally on board, but it’s been too much lately,” Crow tried to explain. He was clearly frustrated and he’d voiced his frustrations before. He and Seto had been traveling together for months, with no sign of other humans. Rather than make Seto focus on the here and now, not finding other humans had only made Seto more determined.
“You don’t understand…” Seto whispered. It was true, finding other humans was not one of Crow’s priorities. Seto was thankful that Crow had been as accommodating as he was. Yes, they had been searching fruitlessly for months, but Seto wondered if it was sort of Crow’s fault. Before, alone, Seto had pressed forward, pushing himself each day, and well into each night. Crow insisted Seto get plenty of rest, stopping their progress to make camp at the slightest hint of sunset. With Crow, just a kiss could turn into something that would distract them for an hour. When they talked, Seto noticed that he walked slower. He had never been happier in his whole life, but Seto still needed to find other humans. He had to…
“No, I don’t understand.” Crow’s voice was dark.
The defeat in Crow’s voice scared Seto. “Hey, don’t be like that. I need to find other people, to tell them that the Glass Cage is gone, that they don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
“Then go find a radio or something,” Crow muttered.
“It’s not just that…” Seto whispered. How could he explain it to Crow, his greatest fear? How could he explain that part of the reason he wanted to find other humans was for Crow’s sake? Someday Seto would die like the old man had, and Crow would be alone. If it wasn’t just the two of them, if there were other people around, Crow would have someone.
“Don’t even bother saying it,” Crow sighed. He turned around and looked over his shoulder. “I need to go, Seto. I’ll see you…”
“No, wait! Crow!” Seto shouted, but it was too late. Crow was gone.
Crow was gone.
Crow was gone.
Seto couldn’t process what had just happened. How had such a simple argument turned out this way? Seto sat down on his sleeping bag and looked around their camp. The fire was burning low, and the remnants of Seto’s breakfast sat beside the ashes. Seto’s bags lay beside him, on his side of the sleeping bag. On Crow’s side, there were no bags, just Crow’s jacket.
If Crow left his jacket, that meant he was coming back, right?
Still, the fear that Crow wouldn’t come back settled in the pit of Seto’s stomach. He wanted to chase after Crow, but there was no point. Crow was so fast, he could easily be a mile away by now. He wanted to apologize, to tell Crow what he had really been thinking. Seto cursed himself for being so stupid. Crow couldn’t read minds. Crow couldn’t have known that part of the purpose of looking for other people was for his sake.
Seto steeled himself. Crow would be back. He had to come back. He’d left his jacket, after all. Seto tried to convince himself, but the ache in his stomach wouldn’t subside. Not knowing what else to do, Seto reached for Crow’s jacket, and held it close. Maybe if Crow were human, the jacket would have smelled like him. Instead it just smelled like dust and campfire smoke.
Crow carried all sorts of shiny things on his belt and around his neck, but his jacket was largely unadorned. That was why Seto was surprised to find a hard object amongst the soft fabric. He unfolded the jacket to find a book tucked into a pocket in the lining, carefully wrapped in plastic. It wasn’t a large book, but Seto was still surprised. Crow didn’t usually keep the books he read. He memorized them and then tossed them aside.
Curious, Seto unwrapped the book. “Prototype H005348: Operation and Documentation.” This book did not look like something Crow would read. Crow liked adventures and scary stories. This looked like something technical. Seto opened the book, and suddenly realized why Crow kept it so close. It was a manual… for Crow. It was filled with schematics and instructions for how to maintain a robot like Crow. Even though the robot pictured lacked hair or defined features, Seto could tell it was much more advanced than the dolls he had fought back at the dam. It was obviously male, unlike the dolls. It also had an artificial skin that didn’t reveal any joints or mechanics.
Flipping to the front of the book, Seto began to read the forward:
“H005348 is the pinnacle of technology. Though mechanically, H005348 merely appears to be the next iteration of the androids known as dolls, it is much more than that. In conjunction with the Glass Cage project, we have designed H005348 to function not as a computer-programmed robot, but as a surrogate body, driven by human thought…”
After that, the text reached levels of dryness and technical jargon that Seto couldn’t handle. Sighing, Seto flopped down onto his sleeping bag. His movement shook the book, and caused a folded piece of paper to fall out. Surprised, Seto unfolded it, and found a handwritten note, dated one day after the Glass Cage had first been activated. Intrigued, Seto read:
“So many people have not understood my true goal in saving my son by placing his soul inside one of the robotic prototypes. They have condemned me as selfish, for not letting his soul pass on. They have condemned me as depraved, for giving a mechanical body such ability of sensation and pleasure. They just didn't understand. My son, though his body was dying, was so full of life. He wanted to see everything, to know everything. He wasn't a voiceless babe, but a young man, a young man who begged me to let him experience just a little bit more of his own humanity. He wanted to be able to go out into the world, meet someone, and fall in love. Is it wrong then, that I wanted to make his artificial body as human as possible? So that he could physically feel what a human feels? And for the critics afraid I have doomed my son to a robotic purgatory, I have not. We discussed this, he and I. His robotic body has only 80 years from the moment it was built. 80 years to live, to find love, and then to die. He is not immortal, he has a finite lifespan like any of us do, before his soul is released to whatever awaits us all beyond. I will never apologize to anyone for giving my son more time.
“What I must apologize for is my part in the Glass Cage project. I didn’t have a hand in creating the project, the technology, but I did use it. I used it to move my son’s soul from his dying body to his new, artificial one. I should have seen the danger, when they began their talk of employing the Glass Cage on a large scale. I should have done something to stop them. Instead, I came here to celebrate the activation of the Glass Cage project with the other scientists, my colleagues. I put too much faith in their lofty hopes of an understanding world. Now I fear nothing will be left of the world at all. Now all I can do is try to get home, and try to find my son. I pray that I open my eyes each morning, and I pray that he can still find the happiness he deserves.”
Seto's hands shook as he finished reading. Crow was so much more than a robot Seto felt was human enough to have a soul. Crow was a human. He was strong and fast and resilient in ways that Seto never could be, but he was human.
Seto looked up from the note to see Crow standing before him, arms crossed.
"I'm gone for half a day and you start going through my stuff?"
Seto dropped the note and ran to him. "Crow! I'm sorry, Crow," Seto sobbed into his chest.
"Geez, we have one lover's spat and you get like this?" Crow laughed, stroking Seto's hair.
"You're not mad?"
Crow shrugged. "Yeah, I was mad, but I also love you. You're too cute for me to stay mad for long."
"We don't have to find other people if you don't want to..."
"No, it's something you've always wanted, and I agreed to it before. I'm the one who changed my mind, not you. Just..." Crow turned his head, unable to meet Seto's eyes. "Just promise you won't love them more than me."
Seto embraced Crow as tightly as he could and lifted his head to give Crow a soft kiss. "Never."
They stood like that for a long time, before Seto backed away to retrieve the note. "Have you read this?"
Crow scratched his head. "I don't think so. What is it, anyway?"
"I found it with the book in your jacket. I think your father wrote it," Seto explained, handing the note to Crow. "Just read it, okay?"
As Crow began to read, Seto could tell by watching his eyes follow the lines of text that Crow was reading at his usual break-neck pace. But as Crow continued, he slowed, taking in each word.
"Fifty nine point five four," Crow muttered.
"What?" Seto didn't understand what that number meant.
"That's how many years you have to stay alive, Seto... For me."
"I'll be over 70 years old!" Seto realized.
Crow grinned. "Don't worry, I'll keep you safe." He pulled Seto into a tight embrace.
“I- I’ll do my best… But Crow…” Seto explained, unable to meet Crow’s eyes. “That was part of why I wanted to find other people, so you wouldn’t be alone if something happened to me.”
Crow sighed. “You worry too much. Besides, I don’t want anyone else. I love you, so you’re stuck with me.”
Seto took solace in the confident tone of Crow’s voice. “I love you too.” Seto kissed Crow softly. “Why don’t we just keep traveling at our own pace? We’ll get to see lots of interesting things, and if we find people or not, we’ll have each other.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Crow agreed.
“And Crow?” Seto asked.
“You were always human to me.”