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First Impressions

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It’s a warm, summer night for justice in London.

The murmur of the waiting crowd rises with excitement, an ebb and flow of anxiety and hope that Maximilien can taste despite every mechanical sensor that should prevent it it. It is static building on the back of his neck, a heightened vigilance from months of surveillance reports that raise his sensors up a dial, it is amber warnings fringing his periphery: King’s Row is not a safe place for an omnic.

“Do you remember when we met, old friend?”

Maximilien turns from the windows that overlook the crowds chanting his friend’s name.

Mondatta. Mondatta.

They have come for an icon in whom they will only find their own failings.

“When you named yourself for rockstars of the men who oppressed you?”

Mondatta hums, gentle warmth and amusement. “Before that.”

Maximilien glances to the projected still image holding his friend’s attention: Mondatta and London’s last mayor laying the foundation for a short-lived monument to omnic-human relations. A thousand possibilities calculate in his higher matrix: what could have his friend so nostalgic tonight? Why should the casualties of London’s uprising weigh against the thousand thousand they lost during the Crisis?

“Before or after ‘Tekhartha’?”

Before you left me for those idiot monks?

Finally, Mondatta’s attention is on him, the teal grid on his forehelm pulses softly. “Before.”

Ah. Before.

The most extreme of the anti-omnicists argue omnics can simulate everything from creative talent to emotion, but that none of it is ‘real’, and that is why omnics will always deserve less. As though human experience is the only standard worth merit.

The revulsion that ripples through Maximilien’s frame at the memory of ‘before’ is real enough for him. “Why do you think of that now?”

“I want to share that story with them tonight,” Mondatta offers to the window and the world beyond, chromium-coated servos gracefully extended, “I never thought there would be a need, but I see what persists in every country, our brothers and sisters--”

“Pardon--not mine,” Maximilien gently corrects him.

“I think it’s time. I think the world needs a good story.”

Maximilien is careful to keep his frame relaxed. It’s an easy command for an omnic. “They won’t like you in that story, mon ami.”

“The right story… can save the world, old friend.”

Years later, the endearment is the only truth they can still agree on. This war moulded Mondatta into an idealist and Maximilien--

“Is that why you asked to see me? You ask permission to use me in your cautionary tale?”

“There is no Mondatta without Maximilien. We were not made this compassionate--or enterprising,” Mondatta gestures from himself to Maximilien, and the monk’s heavy robes mask his steps swallowing the short distance until his hands rest cool and firm on the pressed suit of the taller omnic’s shoulders. “We decided for ourselves.”

You led the revolt when they killed my master,” Maximilien reminds him. “Do they know how many humans died under your lead?”

“They will,” Mondatta assures him, hand sliding to the delicate cords protected by Maximilien’s stiff collar, “And they will know it was your grief that stopped me. Compassion, Maximilien, that’s what will save us. Remember how kindly you offered your tools when I met you under that bridge in the country--”

Maximilien’s vocaliser spits static with the vehemence of his outburst. “Kindness did not save RM-351 when it glitched at the morning peak and Omnica overtook it. Kindness did not save the 24 people it trampled. Where was kindness when the mob moved through our town to draw and quarter us like sport? There was no kindness when Jean-Luc stood between us and the mob.”

“He was a good man,” Mondatta says gently, and Maximilien throws off the hands that cup his face as though he is a young, shaken prototype.

“The only good man. The farmer was humble. Kind. And weaker for it.”

Maximilien knows better now. He knows how to make them strong: omnic and human alike.

Mondatta watches him for a long moment, hands hanging at his sides. He sighs. Only human arrogance could require omnics affect human emotion so well. No omnic has reason to share weariness with its kin if omnic suffering is a myth. “Je suis désolé, mon coeur. Ça suffit.”

Maximilien nods, vents audibly shuddering to discharge the excess energy from his outburst. “Oué, ça suffit.”

All those years ago, Mondatta ultimately realised harm was not in his nature. Maximilien does not resent his evolution, only that Mondatta cannot move beyond the fact they swapped sides at the table.

“I will not share that story tonight.”

“Do what you wish. Even our playing field.”

The teal light washing over Mondatta’s helm flickers in apprehension. “Max, this is not a game--”

Maximilien leans in, pleased when his friend doesn’t shrink away. A shame. He thought he had taught the monk to recognise threats by now. “My way is already on course. Let’s try yours. We’ll see what power a story really has.”

A knock summons Mondatta at the door. It’s time to go.

Maximilien studies the reflection of his crimson biolights on Mondatta’s helm. The cream matte finish on the right angles of his cheek are perfectly imperfect, a blemish to ground a golden spectre.

With a mere thought, Maximilien reveals the orb of discord he summons from within himself, proffering it like a fine glass of wine. In a motion too fast for his sensors to track, Mondatta’s hand flies to the temple of Maximilien’s primary cortex, and deep purple flickers in his periphery.

Mondatta could have done so much more in Talon.

"You remember," Mondatta praises him, that husk of a voice sweetened by nostalgia.

A ridiculous sentiment. They discovered this together. "Of course, old fool."

“I wish you had come with me,” Mondatta finishes Maximilien’s thought, and leaves him with the sight of his back once more walking away.

The door clicks shut behind him. In the heavy silence, Maximilien watches the light of discord flicker and fade in his palm.

Very well then.