”No. I’m not agreeing to your suggestion”, Racter stated with an emphasis. Koschei whirred his chainsaws like a furious cat showing its claws.
“Why not? You are a rigger. Surely, you two would have plenty in common”, I insisted. Racter gave me a venomous look.
“My friend, I would’ve expected better of you. With your logic, homo sapiens wichtusare should all be alike due to their shared condition!” he said and waved his hand.
“It’s a different thing! Being a rigger isn’t a state; it’s an interest”, I pointed out.
“Perhaps, but you’d still be doing a great generalization of a wide group of individuals”, he said. “I’ll save our time by being straightforward. I know Reliable Matthew, and being around him would bore me to tears. Thus, no.”
“Oh, Racter, I would’ve preferred this discussion to end with your voluntary cooperation; however, you do not leave me much choice! Not that I left you such either, though”, I said and took a recorder from my pocket. I pushed play, and Racter’s voice repeated:
“… I know Reliable Matthew, and being around him would bore me to tears. Thus, no.”
Racter seemed puzzled.
“Hmm, I see that you have recorded our discussion. Would you tell me what that has to do with anything, however?”
“Well, you might not be aware, but Reliable Matthew and Ten-Armed Ambrose are basically close friends. Or, Ambrose has taken the job of looking after Matthew, at least. Either way, I doubt that Ambrose would appreciate your words about Matthew – if you catch my drift”, I replied.
Koschei made a long and painfully loud screech against the metallic floor. Racter seemed cold and calm, smoking a cigarette as usual.
“… You do realize that I could destroy the evidence, right?” he asked.
“I considered that possibility. So, I made sure that you wouldn’t be able to do that. This recorder is connected to the Matrix, you see. Thus, you wouldn’t be able to destroy the data simply by eliminating the device”, I told him. “By the way, I appreciate that you planned on destroying just the recorder and not me. I was prepared for that, too.”
Racter stared long at me without blinking.
“You are stirring mixed thoughts within me, my friend. On one hand, I would like to dispose of your body. On the other hand, this twist restored my respect for you as a scheme maker”, he said finally. “Very well. Let’s say that I’ll try keeping company to Reliable Matthew – sometimes. I’d like to bring your attention to one potential issue, though: Do you honestly believe that you can force individuals to be friends with each other? Would such relationship be genuine at all?”
“Says the person who calls me his friend without feeling anything. You have learned to express gestures of friendship and fake them; how would this task be any different to you?”
“Difference? – you are a useful asset, worth investing in. Reliable Matthew – most likely not.”
I had always thought how odd bright-colored balloons looked like in the rain.
Reliable Matthew was standing there, in his usual suit, drenched to the bone but still smiling.
“Why, hello, you stunning folk”, he greeted in an over-the-top cheerfulness. I heard how Racter gave out a heavy breath at that: his way of cursing.
“Are you looking for new models or parts, by any chance? Well, you are in luck! The selections widened this morning…”
“… Actually, we came to just hang around. Haven’t seen you in a while, and thought to pay you a visit”, I explained. “Here’s Racter, by the way. Happened to be walking with him around town.”
Matthew’s eyes turned to look at Racter’s direction. Matthew showed signs of nervousness almost constantly, but I could see that Racter’s presence increased that level a bit; even more so when the salesman noticed Koschei.
Matthew licked his upper lip.
He also twitched when Racter offered his hand.
“We have met in the past – quite a long time ago, though. A proper introduction could be in order. I’m the rigger of the team”, Racter said. Surprisingly, he managed to keep his normal facial expression even though he didn’t enjoy this scenario.
After a moment of hesitation, Matthew shook hands with him.
“Reliable Matthew. You most likely know my job…” his voice trailed. “Are you really here to talk, or are you here on… Business?”
“I’m no rigger, so I do not naturally have anything to buy. What about you, Racter?” I asked.
“Currently, I have everything I need”, he said and gave me a minor glare.
Matthew considered our answers; then, he seemed to relax.
“Ah, okay – that is completely fine. It’s always great to spend time with nice people, after all”, he said, now with a happier tone. “That is – um – a beautiful drone, by the way. Haven’t seen the model anywhere… Custom-made?”
“I built him, yes”, Racter replied. “He is a long-lasting project of mine… Basically, almost every part of him has changed throughout the time, one iteration after another.”
“Fascinating”, Matthew said, looking at Koschei with shyness but also curiosity. I could hear that he was genuine with his statement – usually, his words felt empty, lacking the positive feelings which they should’ve had. “… It would be wonderful to observe him closer, but he doesn’t seem… Too agreeable to that. I’d like to keep my fingers intact.”
“That would be for the best. Hopefully you do not mind – he can get quite agitated with new faces. Nothing personal”, Racter said. After that, there was an awkward silence. Matthew took a pack of cigarettes with slightly trembling hands.
“Would anyone like to have a smoke, perhaps?” he offered, and so we all ended up smoking in the rain. After some light but forced discussion, we parted our ways.
The meeting wasn’t anything special, but it was a start; and that is usually the case with beginnings.
I had planned to ensure that Racter wouldn’t slip away from his promise by taking him to meet Matthew later. However, much to my surprise, I noticed Racter standing with Matthew while I was doing business in town. I didn’t interrupt their discussion, but I could conclude that they were discussing the drones that were on sale.
That same sight happened every now and then after that.
One day I saw them playing dart. Koschei and a Doberman drone were competing against each other. As I had suspected, Koschei was winning. It’s worth mentioning that the Doberman drone didn’t have bad results either. There were some spectators who had stopped to watch. Matthew managed to sell the Doberman drone later that day.
I witnessed how Racter entered Matthew’s home at some point. I passed by the place and peeked through the window one evening, to notice that the drones inside had been fixed.
To be sincere, I was baffled. It had been my plan to get Reliable Matthew some more company, but Racter had exceeded my expectations.
I did join into some conversations after the initial meeting as well. I met both separately, and sometimes, we spent time together, most often by smoking and discussing varying topics.
There was one time that was different, though. A human and an orc approached Matthew, and the sight of them made him pale and nervous.
“Our money, Matthew”, the orc said.
“I’m sorry – I don’t have it yet. But tomorrow, I’ll make sure–“ Matthew stammered but was cut by the human mashing a drone with a baseball bat.
“Enough!” the orc snapped. “Tomorrow is tomorrow. We want what is ours today, not tomorrow.”
I was about to interfere, but Racter was quicker at that:
“I’m sure that Reliable Matthew is aware how our concept of time works. You, on the other hand, seem to lack knowledge on proper social etiquette… We were having a discussion”, he commented. The human and the orc turned their attention to him.
“You do not want to poke your nose into something that is none of your business”, the orc warned. Racter sighed.
“It seems like I already have. I’m sure that you, in turn, wouldn’t want my drone poking your nose, hmm?” he asked and Koschei showed his sharp blades, creeping closer to the hostile duo.
“Fucking riggers”, the orc hissed. He and the human henchman turned and left. I noted that Matthew was trembling and sweating.
“Who were those?” I asked.
“They are, ah – friends. Nice friends. That is just their sense of humor, ha ha… ” Matthew said, unable to speak the truth even when it was obvious.
When I saw Matthew afterwards, he had a black circle around his right eye. His posture seemed painful: most likely due to injuries underneath his shirt.
“Oh, good evening, beautiful! How has the day treated you?” he asked with a smile.
“Did they do this to you?” I asked without answering his question. Matthew’s eyes looked elsewhere, frightened.
“This? I tried to switch on a broken drone, which unfortunately went rampant. Don’t worry, beautiful, this will heal in time.”
“… You know that you can be honest with me. Was it really a broken drone?” I asked.
“Why, yes, it was a drone. Trust me, yes?”
I knew that there was no way to make him confess it. His pain was always hidden behind a façade, and I wondered whether anything could shatter that.
I was resting on the sofa one night, enjoying a cup of soykaf with Is0bel. Racter entered the ship, followed by Koschei. He had a plastic bag in his hand. After a moment, I could sniff a peculiar smell coming from his direction.
“… What’s in your bag, Racter?” I couldn’t help asking.
“Just some groceries, my friend. Ingredients for a dinner…” he said, and I could swear that he found the explanation funny. There was more to this than what he said.
He went downstairs and closed the door.
“He creeps me out”, Is0bel stated. “I know that some missions might require certain expertise, but please: if it is possible, do not put me in a team with him or Gaichu.”
“I can’t promise that, but I’ll try to take your wish into consideration when planning team-ups”, I said.
“Okay… Eh, I should probably fix one bug before retiring for the night”, she sighed and went upstairs, leaving me alone with the unbearable sensation of curiosity. Subconsciously, I knew that some stones were better left unturned; but I had an unbeatable desire to know.
Thus, I opened the door downstairs quietly and snuck in.
I shouldn’t have done that.
I saw Racter and Gaichu, in the middle of apparently cooking. Koschei and Gaichu were slicing bloody meat on a desk; Racter, in turn, was preparing vegetables.
It didn’t take much for me to understand what kind of meat they were handling. The realization made my insides churn, but I managed to keep everything in.
“Well, my curious friend!” Racter spoke to me once he found out that I was present. He seemed to be in a good mood. “As you can see, Gaichu kindly promised to widen my culinary experiences. Would you perhaps like to join in?”
“I highly doubt that”, Gaichu commented in my place. “Most humans wouldn’t willingly want to try this out; something which I do understand and respect.”
“No, I indeed do not want to. I’ll… Need to go outside”, I said and hurried back upstairs. After that, I puked into the trash bin.
I checked up on Reliable Matthew every now and then. I was concerned of his safety, so it was a relief to see that his injuries healed in peace. His place hadn’t been sabotaged either.
“… Have your friends visited you lately? That orc and the human, I mean”, I had to ask.
“Oh, I haven’t seen them in some time, now that you mention it. That’s how life is around here, eh? People coming and going like the flow of water…” he replied. “It can be sad to say goodbyes, but there will always be new and marvelous connections to make.”
For some reason, that triggered a certain gut feeling within me. I had to make sure whether my hunch was correct, though.
So, when I met Racter, I inquired the source of his earlier dinner.
“Yes, you are correct. I crossed paths with those two… Figured that I could clean the world out of them and satisfy Koschei’s need for some bloodletting. Besides, I could slice fine flesh out of their bodies for the dinner”, he told me. “The dinner was an interesting experience, by the way. I might prefer normal food, but it was worth trying out.”
“… It’s strange to hear you talk about it like that. You participated in cannibalism”, I said.
“Ah, moralizing once more, my friend? You should consider this: my actions potentially saved Matthew’s life”, he replied. “Considering that you seem to care about him, you should be more grateful.”
“… What about you? What is your relationship with him, in the end?”
“You are puzzling me. You were the one who commanded me to play friends with him. I have done that. What is it that you want me to do?”
“I wanted you to just chat with him. Most people seem to consider him someone to avoid, a hopeless case. But, if you ask me, that opinion is based on a vicious cycle: lonely people are quite often seen as outcasts, unwanted, strange. My plan was to break the cycle by getting at least one person besides me accompanying him”, I said. “You have poured more effort into him than I would’ve ever asked. Why?”
“Why, you ask? Well, I admit that my time with Reliable Matthew could’ve been a lot more dissatisfying. There have been some adequately interesting topics, here and there. He happens to know information regarding certain individuals, some being his clients, some his dealers, some creditors… And some his bullies, of course. Some of that knowledge is rather useful. I do need to offer him something to drink to get him talk, though”, Racter explained. “There is also one more reason. You should know that already, as that is the same thing that started this all. It is quite handy to help someone Ambrose cares about.”
His explanation made me almost laugh in disbelief. I was, of course, aware that his line of thinking was different from the norm. However, I couldn’t fight off the odd feeling that his words made.
“Racter… You really didn’t bluff about your way of living. You do realize that a normal person would be hurt to be described like a tool of some sort”, I commented. He considered my words for a moment, then replied:
“I have warned you that my logic may work like this. We could argue that all living beings use each other, in one form or another. Let’s say that being with Reliable Matthew filled me with sensations of bonding: happiness, emotional caring… Wouldn’t I be using Matthew as a way to trigger those emotions? Focusing on motivations instead of results tends to cause all sorts of tricky questions, wouldn’t you agree? – therefore, I recommend concentrating on the outcomes. That’s what my therapist used to say, too, back in the day.”
I couldn’t help sighing.
“You are posing a question that philosophers have wondered for a long time. I won’t insist that I’d know the truth, but I do think that motivations matter, to some degree – at least if we consider the continuity of good actions. If someone acts because they expect to gain something in return, there is no guarantee that they will continue such behavior in the future, too… Just take away the rewards and watch what ensues. It is true that emotional bonds can give people positive vibes – but deep connections stand even when there are no prizes, even when there might be losses. That is when you can truly trust in the other person.”
“Sometimes, it may be practical that individuals take care of each other through problematic times – as long as there is something greater to benefit in the long run. Otherwise, there is no point in suffering together when at least one party could lead a satisfying life – it would be a waste of good resources”, he said. “Or, are you promoting self-sacrifice, my friend?”
“No – I’m not. I realize that it’s hard to articulate my concerns, and it may be that we won’t ever find complete agreement about this. Therefore, I’ll just say this: Do not hurt Reliable Matthew. Don’t let him create a too close bond with you – keep a certain distance. That will help if you decide to stop playing someday.”
“Mm, as I do not hold power over the feelings of other persons, I can’t naturally guarantee that. I can try, though, if that helps you sleep at nights”, he replied.
I thanked him and left. After that, I stood next to the ship and smoked a cigarette in the rain, contemplating how uncontrollable human minds indeed were.