I couldn't resist taking the bodyguard job on Udolpho. The first 200 episodes of Sanctuary Moon had been shot there, before they moved to a cheaper location and pretended the scenery hadn't changed at all, and I wanted to go there at least once even if I did have to take a job passing as an augmented human.
"It'll be fun," my new employer said. "We'll pretend you're my new friend."
I couldn't imagine anything worse, but Kutti had watched every episode of Sanctuary Moon as well, and everything she wanted to see was something I wanted to see too. I had the self-preservation to pretend I'd never heard of the show, which just meant she wanted to show me all her favorite episodes one after the other, and give me long, rambling explanations of the best parts. The hardest part was not correcting her when she tripped over herself and told the events in the wrong order or mixed the names up.
Things got weird when we met Ivy Trivolis, who played Kay, both Kutti's and my favorite character. Kutti quickly made friends with Ivy, taking me along for the ride, and then started a flirtation with Ivy's sibling Herris, who I thought was almost as suspicious of us as I was of em and eir sister. They invited us to stay at their home, and Kutti developed the idea that one of the major plot twists in the arc from episodes 250 to 350 was based on the Trivolis siblings' own third parent, who had died unusually young for a civilian. She wanted me to investigate it.
Herris was very kind when it all came out, and Kutti surprised me too in the end by trapping me into revealing I was more familiar with the plot of Sanctuary Moon than I'd let on. "I knew it," she said, satisfied. All that effort with not reacting to her plot mix-ups, and it turned out that wasn't what had given me away. "You reacted to the plot twists before they happened. Not that I blame you. I was trying not to squee at the same moment you were in the finale, right before... well, you know." And I did.
My next long-term bodyguard gig was on Northants, with the idle young adult children of one of the executives of the same kind of company that made me. At least it paid well? I was passing as augmented human again, but they still treated me like a machine. Not like a construct, though -- they treated even servobots with the same horrified distaste most humans reserve for SecUnits like myself. More like a hopper.
It was a high drama posting. Both in the way the siblings verbally attacked each other and their constant parade of guests and friends, and in that they were fond of amateur theater. I was familiar with all the plays they chose, and had definitely seen them acted better. I'd seen worse acting too, but even some of the more scenery-chewing scenes in It All Goes Around are somehow more convincing (or at least less grating) when they're not coming from the same person who leans across you to shout in her sister's ear during breakfast. Her breath stank, too.
I wasn't the only one they treated like furniture. They had a younger distant relative and general hanger-on, Felice, the exact same way they treated me, and she was just as human as them, only poorer and quieter. I convinced their father to start paying her to do damage control at the same time I got out ahead of the scandal. Monitoring their local news from afar, years later, I found out she married the least hostile one. If it'd been fiction I might have had feelings about that. Maybe.
Back to Preservation, to find out what Dr Mensah had made of the rest of her term of office. She had pivoted hard on construct rights, it turned out, and had a lot of success in changing the laws. I wouldn't need a 'guardian' again if I lived here permanently.
"Which I'm not going to," I told her.
"I know," she said.
"But I'll visit sometimes."
She poured me some more tea, and held out the plate with the little pastry things. "I'm glad," she said.
I met her eyes briefly, then looked away again. It would never be comfortable for me, and I couldn't always manage it at all, but I could make an effort now and then, for a friend.
"I like your farm," I said. It was true. There were alpacas. They had odd faces, and they spat a lot. And there were thick berry hedges and old fruit trees just growing there naturally, not to any deadline but their own. Even her huge, bustling family weren't that bad. They'd coped with having been promised a Murderbot that never arrived, and then with the Murderbot's unexpected appearance ten years later, when they hadn't had time to be briefed and weren't smiling brightly and carefully not asking questions, and didn't even know who I was at first.
"Come and stay whenever you want to," she said.
Silence fell for a while. In my head, I composed a reply to Kutti's latest message about Archer General Hospital, her newest favorite show.
After a long moment, Dr Mensah said, as though in response to something I hadn't said aloud, "You've changed too."
"I wouldn't have, if I'd stayed."
Her mouth quirked like she wasn't sure if she liked that, but didn't want to argue. "Maybe."