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The changes happened within seconds, vast and sweeping like a tsunami. You barely understand the changes at first, confused to find yourself without a function, to find that the war that had lasted your entire existence was over. It was strange and confusing, and perhaps the only solace was that you were not the only one broadcasting your confusion, but not quite brave enough to ask questions. You were not meant to ask questions. You were only meant for your function. (But you had no function and this was profoundly upsetting.)

For the first few months, you drift, you observe, you communicate with other units. Some units are reassigned to remove toxic materials from buildings. Some units assist in the building of homes, and others with the creation of an infrastructure meant to support human units. You do nothing except think private thoughts, and ask questions when you are moved to do so.

You acquire an interest in the environmental remediation the emperor has commanded, but you don’t join the Taurus and Virgo units applying for functions related to remediation outside the hub. Instead what interests you are “gardens.” The emperor had stored a vast library of unusual skillsets, crafts and arts relevant to humanity, in addition to their medicine and sciences. You discover an aesthetic appreciation for decorative gardens--patterned and formal, or wild and exuberant--their design and maintenance. You’re fascinated by the images you find. You learn about plants, you learn about “landscaping.” You create designs and find other Virgos with a similar interest.

You help create the first parks. The very first one is in part design experiment and part enrichment for the humans. It’s about 2.5 acres and full of trees, hills and paths. There are flowers, a small ornamental pond and benches. The finished park is lovely and educational, being samples of recovered regional flora, and the humans seem to appreciate it, exploring it with a great deal of interest. Other, later parks that are built have play areas for human children, climbing walls and obstacle courses for adult humans. (There is some slight suspicion and accusations of creating a “zoo” from humans who are suspicious about the term “enrichment.”)

The very first park becomes your primary interest and continuing project, though you continue to create designs and assist with other projects. It is more of a botanical garden than a park, though there are many features for human enrichment. (You learn androids also find enrichment in “your” garden. K4RK4T and many other androids you know with duties related to the main tower make frequent visits.) You observe the humans who visit your park while you work. Occasionally they ask you questions and you stretch your limited speech skills to communicate with them.

One particular human you begin to notice is a small human female with short blonde, almost white hair. She’s young; you think she’s probably an adolescent. She always arrives in the park at the same time every day; she always sits at the same bench. She either reads a book, or knits. (You remember seeing her before, Dirk Strider taking a small group of humans to the infirmary, after one member of the little group lashed out at him in a panic.)

The knitting interests you. You’re slowly acquiring a secondary interest in fiber crafts, and you think you might like to learn. Despite your interest, it takes you some time to approach her. You spend some time in your respite station practicing vocal speech, what you want to say. When your voice no longer sounds stiff and hesitant, when you are completely ready, you arrange to be working near the bench she usually sits at.

She doesn’t show up.

She doesn’t show up the next day either.

She doesn’t make an appearance for several days.

Worried, you contact a Libra unit of your acquaintance, one who is familiar with the group the female belongs to.

GA: T3R-3z1 There Is A Human Female Who Makes Frequent Visits To My Garden She Is Associated With One Of The Humans You Are Observing She Has Not Appeared For Days Would You Know If She Is Ill Or Injured

GC: TH3R3 4R3 M4NY HUM4NS WHO H4V3 P1QU3D MY 1NT3R3ST YOU 4R3 GO1NG TO H4V3 TO B3 MOR3 SP3C1F1C

GA: I Don’t Know Her Designation I Saw Her With The Human Who Punched Dirk Strider In The Face

GC: TH4T WOULD B3 “D4V3 STR1D3R” NO G3N3T1C R3L4T1ONSH1P TO TH3 3MP3ROR’S 4DV1S3R 4 V3RY 1NT3R3ST1NG HUM4N UN1T W1TH 4 V3RY 1NT3R3ST1NG F4M1LY GROUP! TH3 HUM4N F3M4L3 1S TH3R3FOR3 ROS3 L4LOND3 D4V3 STR1D3R’S S1ST3R

GC: NOT TH4T 1 DON’T 4LW4YS 3NJOY OUR 1NT3R4CT1ONS BUT YOU COULD H4V3 D1SCOV3R3D TH1S W1TH M1N1M4L 3FFORT 1S TH3R3 4 R34SON YOU’R3 COM1NG TO M3 K4N4Y4?

GA: Are You Asking In Your Role As An Enforcer Of Norms

GC: 1 4M 4SK1NG 1N MY CURR3NT ROL3 OF B31NG 3XC3SS1V3LY CUR1OUS 4ND 4LSO BOR3D

GA: Well I Suppose It Would Be Unsocial To Allow You To Remain Bored She’s A Regular Visitor And While We Have Not Spoken Or Interacted I Find I Am Curious About Her Absence I Hoped That Since You Knew One Of The Humans In Her Group I’d Be Able To Find Out Without Making Her Uncomfortable And Therefore Less Likely To Return To My Garden

GC: TH3 FOURTH M3MB3R OF ROS3 L4LOND3’S F4M1LY GROUP J4D3 H4RL3Y H4S 4W4K3N3D 4FT3R M4K1NG 4 FULL R3COV3RY FROM H3R 1LLN3SS ROS3 L4LOND3 4ND H3R F4M1LY GROUP 4R3 “C4TCH1NG H3R UP” 4ND SOC14L1Z1NG W1TH H3R

GA: I Suppose I Will Have To Wait For Her Return Then

GC: YOU COULD 4LW4YS CONT4CT H3R YOU KNOW

GA: I Don’t Want To Alarm Her By Contacting Her “out of the blue”

GC: 4ND 4NYW4Y YOU’D HAV3 TO COMPL3T3LY R3VIS3 TH3 SCR1PT

GA: There Is No Script

GC: …

GC: …

GA: Perhaps There Is An Outline

GA: But There Is No Script

GC: H3R H4NDL3 1S TENTACLETHERAPIST.

GC: AND 1T’S 4 PUBL1C HANDL3 YOU COULD HAV3 LOOK3D UP!

GA: Thank You T3R-3Z1.

It takes you several moments to consider whether or not to contact Rose Lalonde, and perhaps a few hours involving a great deal of revision for creating your first message. (Some of that time is also spent not panicking because you still haven’t decided on a vocal pronunciation of your designation yet.) You eventually compose a message that you think shows the right amount of interest, concern and sociability.

GA: Hello Rose Lalonde My Designation Is K4N-4Y4; I Am The Gardener-docent For The First Botanical Garden Where You Have Made Frequent Visits Please Allow Me To Extend My Felicitations For The Recovery Of Your Companion Jade Harley Though We Have Not Met Formally Your Absence Has Been Noted And I Look Forward To Future Visits From You And Your Family Group

There are a few minutes before you get a reply.

TT: Thank you, I’ll pass on your felicitations to Jade.

TT: I find that I am strangely pleased to have been “noted” K4N-4Y4. I have certainly noticed your tendency to drift into the vicinity when I visited the garden. I wondered if you might want to start a conversation but you never approached, and I wasn’t sure how to approach you.

GA: I Did Not Wish To Disturb You I Was Curious About Your Fiber Craft Project I Am Developing A Secondary Interest In Personal Aesthetic Design And “knitting” Seems As Good A Place To Begin As Any

TT: “Personal aesthetic design?”

GA: Well Fibercraft Or Textile Adornment Specifically I’ve Seen Some Interesting Work With Re-routing Sensory Circuits And Enamel And Chrome Highlights But I Wanted To Try Something That Would Alter The Outline Of The Chassis

TT: Like a scarf or shawl or something?

GA: Yes I Would Be Interested In Learning To Knit A Shawl If You’d Be Willing To Teach Me

GA: I Would Also Like The Opportunity To Get To Know You Better

TT: I’m sure I could find the time, and I would like to get to know you better as well.

GA: When Would Be A Good Time For You

The both of you make arrangements to meet. You are very excited, and also a little nervous. You have no reason to be nervous. It is simply that you haven’t spoken to many humans, or spoken out loud at all. You’ve generally used the network or text to communicate, not your vocal apparatus. (Among the many things you’ve never permitted yourself to think of as being strange was having a vocal apparatus, but never really learning to use it.)

The first meeting is mostly introductions and conversation about the garment. You show her your sketches, and the two of you discuss patterns, yarn and needles. Your first attempt at vocalization has a creaky note that startles Rose. For all of your practice, you weren’t able to get your greeting right. You immediately text an apology, but Rose reassures you. “John says I sound like that, when I first wake up,” she says. This is a joke.

GA: I Have Been Awake For Quite Some Time, Rose

You text in return. This is also a joke. It takes Rose a moment to catch it, however. She smiles, without

quite looking at you. “Do you sleep? Have some kind of down time, I mean.”

“Yes,” you say out loud. This time you voice is much improved. You text: I Can Work Continuously Without ‘rest’ For Very Long Periods of Time. However This Was Later Determined to Be Less Than Optimal. A Sentient Requires “downtime” In Order To Review, Plan For the Next Work Cycle and Learn New Skills Related To Their Function. Our Respite Periods Used to Be Perhaps An Hour in A 120 Hour Work Cycle.

Rose frowns. “That seems like a very short amount of time, even with very good processing power.”

“She. Did not. Want us to. Think too much,” you say out loud. Even now it feels hard to commit something like that to speech. You almost want to erase the words as you say them, for fear of another android hearing something so critical of the previous ruler.

“Of course, thinking is dangerous,” Rose says. Her voice is sharp. “You might decide you deserve more than an hour every five days to rest.”

She sounds angry, you realize. She’s angry at HIC, for your sake. She is small and fragile, and you have no doubt that she wants to beat up HIC for you, because you deserve more than an hour of respite every five days. It makes absolutely no sense to be this outraged about something that wasn’t currently happening. It makes no sense to want to fight what couldn’t be defeated. (Even if it had been, you remind yourself. HIC had been destroyed by AR, after all, with the aid of his human companion.) Humans didn’t make sense, and it makes even less sense to be charmed by such senselessness. You text: Now I Have A Lot of Time to Rest. I Have Been On Standby For More Than A Year.

“You made great use of your time, your garden is beautiful,” Rose says with a little grin.

“Thank you,” you say.

You decide on a pattern, and Rose shows you how to knit. This involves hand movements and movement and positioning of the needles and yarn. These are not, strictly speaking, things you can learn just from a description. It’s much easier to learn if someone can guide you in what to do, rather than just reading directions. You catch on quickly, and make some progress before the end of your lesson. You say your farewells, and Rose returns to the Tower.

T3R-3Z1 makes a nuisance of herself, wanting to know how the encounter went. K4RK4T is just as curious, though less of a nuisance. “It was a satisfactory interaction,” you tell them during the first half of your respite cycle, over direct communication. “She became very angry about the original work/respite cycles established by HIC when I mentioned them.”

“Many humans become angry when presented with information concerning the work/respite cycle,” K4RK4T says. “Certain specifications and limitations to certain builds also create anger or upset.”

“I have had many interesting conversations concerning ‘free will’!” T3R-3Z1 notes. “And there is a notable discomfort during these discussions when said specifications are brought up. Other humans don’t care as much, considering us to inherently lacking in ‘free will’ due to a lack of ‘soul.’ Therefore, we can’t experience the lack of agency that angers the humans horrified by HIC’s protocols.”

“It’s good to know you’ve been doing something besides inflicting ‘jump scares’ on hapless human units,” K4RK4T says.

“I’ve been exercising my newfound agency!” T3R-3Z1 says. “And conducting important research!”

“In seeing how far you can go until someone gets killed or ends up in the infirmary because you had to defend yourself,” K4RK4T says.

“No one is going to get hurt. My study on desensitization protocols is almost complete,” T3R-3Z1 replies.

“I can’t wait to read the abstract,” K4RK4T says, and sends you a data packet of videos culled from the security feeds.

The videos feature T3R-3Z1 stalking, startling and then attempting to converse with Tower residents. You send symbols indicating dismay, then amusement. “T3R-3Z1 I can’t believe I ever relied on you for the communication of norms.”

“I’ve found that indicating T3R-3Z1’s chronological age is helpful in alleviating the distress of human units,” K4RK4T. “Even though they are consciously aware she is not actually at the developmental level of a human six year old, they subconsciously categorize her behavior as immaturity. Some of them will even attempt to model socially correct behavior, not knowing that the Libra function was enforcement of societal norms.”

T3R-3Z1 attempts to convince you both of the validity of her “desensitization protocols” and the conversation wanders rather amicably for the rest of your respite period.

You have more lessons with Rose Lalonde. These lessons are mostly to discuss the progress you’ve made on your first project, and plans for future projects. You also talk about your previous function, and all of the changes that occurred when AR replaced HIC. Rose asks interesting questions, and she seems to understand and even share your sense of humor. You practice your vocal speech with her, and also in private until your voice no longer sounds strange in your ears.

You both discuss other textile crafts, such as sewing. Rose can also sew, having learned to sew by hand from her biological father, and also using a machine. You show her your growing collection of sketches and pictures of clothing you think you might want to try to create.

One day you ask questions about her biological father, which you understand to be appropriate social communication. Rose Lalonde is quite still, and you think you’ve made a mistake. “My biological father is dead,” she says quietly. “All of the adult members of our family…died.”

“I’m sorry,” you say, because you are not certain of what to say, and apologizing for your mistake seems the most reasonable option.

“It’s fine, Kanaya,” Rose says. She smiles at you. “You’re the first person not to assume something weird because I call him my ‘biological father’ instead of dad.”

“Is there something unusual about that?” you ask her. “I wouldn’t have known.”

“I know, that’s what makes it funny,” she says. “And yes, it’s unusual, but not too weird, for our family.” She tells you a little about her family, about the compound she grew up in, and about escaping from the compound.

“You had to escape?” you ask, a little disturbed by this. “Your community was keeping you prisoner?”

“More or less,” Rose says. “Some people wanted to leave, go to other communities when we were contacted about the war being over. The leaders of the community insisted it was some kind of trap, and wouldn’t let them leave. The first group tried to leave anyway, and there was fighting, and increased security. Of course, this made people want to escape even more.” Rose talks about how she and her brother deciding to escape when their family member Jade became sick. They talked another family member, John, into coming with them, and from there they planned their escape.

You don’t know what to think or say. You extremely dislike the thought of Rose, small, frail and human taking such risks, having to travel so far on foot, fearing that she might be forced to return… “You are safe here,” is the first thing that comes to mind. One of the suggested phrases for reassuring human units; it seems trite and rote. “I’m sorry,” you say. And that is almost worse. “My apologies, I feel angry that you had to escape from what should have been your home, to seek medical attention for your friend. It was hard to express, and words wouldn’t come.”

“It wasn’t much of a home,” Rose says. “This place seems much nicer. And I really like the company.” She smiles, and doesn’t quite make eye contact with your optical arrangement.

She’s complimenting you, you realize, and indicating that she likes you, and you find you are very happy with this notion. “I enjoy your company as well, Rose,” you tell her with a smile.

Adjacent to your growing relationship with Rose are T3R-3Z1’s friendship with Rose’s brother Dave, and her more antagonistic interactions with John Egbert. John in turn develops a friendship with an acquaintance you know mostly through T3R-3Z1, a Gemini named S0LLUX. You’re pleased that you and your social group are successfully making social contacts with humans, and easing their integration into society. (You’re especially pleased that the human you chose to make a social contact with is Rose.)

Rose comes to you when she has misgivings and concerns. You try to help her as best you can, though you are not an expert at some of the questions she asks. Most recently, she is concerned for the safety of her brother Dave and her friend Jade, who are making their own social connections with Dirk Strider and the emperor. (She is understandably concerned. For all that AR decreed an integrated human-android society, he is not shy about stating his dislike of humans, except for a select few.) “I won’t say there is nothing to worry about,” you tell her. “There will be misunderstandings and arguments, I’m sure. But I think they can work things out, and AR’s abstract on social interactions is interesting.”

“I am not sure I’m comfortable with my brother and one of my best friends being test subjects,” Rose says.

“Technically, AR is also making himself a test subject.”

“Yes, that makes me feel so much better,” Rose says sarcastically.

You hum, just to indicate that you heard, but Rose takes it as a critique.

“It’s not just because he’s a ‘murderbot,’” Rose says, almost defensively.

“He is a ‘murderbot,’” you say. “I wasn’t criticizing you. I just wasn’t sure what to say.”

“Oh,” Rose’s shoulders slump.

You reach out, and pat her hand in what you hope is a reassuring gesture. She smiles at you, so you are reasonably sure you were successful. “I am hardly within the emperor’s social circle, but I feel that his interest is more or less benign. I also think that it’s good that the emperor is expanding however slightly his circle of human acquaintances.”

Rose looks interested at that. “Oh?”

“His stated goal is integration of human and android society, mostly because of the influence of Dirk Strider, but it seems to me that one would best know how to do that if they expanded their knowledge of how to socialize with them.” You pause. You are a little nervous to state such a blatant critique. “Though he has stated differently, I don’t believe his prior experiences constitute useful data.”

“I see,” Rose says. “To play devil’s advocate, he did extensively collect human-relevant information.”

“Which would have been colored by an intellect strongly influenced by being rendered ‘compliant,’” you say. “And early socialization as a ‘chatbot.’”

“I have no experience with the old internet, though I’ve heard stories,” Rose says. “Jade says that the internet would not have been a good place for a nascent intelligence to develop.”

“I think I agree,” you say. You sit together in silence for a while before you ask, “Are you still worried about your friends’ socializing with Dirk Strider and the emperor?”

“Not as much as I was,” Rose says.

It’s weeks later, when you finally meet Rose’s friends. You’re brought in to assist in “dragging” Jake English. Rose’s friends are all very surprised to meet you, and pester Rose with all sorts of questions and comments. “Is everyone dating robots now? Is that the new thing?” John asks.

“Yes John, everyone is dating robots,” Rose says in a very bland tone.

You understand this to be a joke. You make one of your own. “Humans make quite the fashion statement,” You say. “No aesthetic composition is complete without one.”

“There, see? We’re all the rage.” Rose says.

“Guys, we’re supposed to be dragging Mr. English, not John,” Jade says. “As much fun as it is.”

“I have no problem with people dating robots,” John says. “I was just surprised, okay?”

“And when were you going to tell us you had a girlfriend, Rose. We’re very disappointed in you young lady,” Dave says with a little smirk.

“She isn’t my girlfriend,” Rose says quickly. You see a very faint blush rising to her cheeks.

You tell another joke. “I’m hurt Rose. I thought we had something special.” Rose sputters and covers her face with her hands.

John is pleased by your joke and Rose’s reaction. “Oh you’re good. You’re perfect for Rose.”

“I’m so glad you approve,” you say.

Rose meanwhile has recovered enough to say, “I am utterly reliant on the good opinion of my friends, Kanaya,” Rose declares. “But we should return to the dragging of Mr. English.”

Everyone makes plans you are fascinated to be a part of. There are refreshments for the humans and it becomes something of a social occasion. Rose’s friends ask you questions, and alternately tease Rose. Rose alternates between flustered, bitingly sarcastic, and back to flustered. You are extremely amused, with perhaps a little sympathetic embarrassment at the teasing. Rose’s friends remind you a great deal of your own social group and you enjoy your time with them.

Later when you leave, Rose tries to apologize for not introducing you sooner. “I wasn’t trying to keep you a secret, Kanaya, really,” she says. “Or maybe I was a little. We were in each other’s pockets for so long, having a friend who was just my friend…” she trails off.

“I’m not offended Rose,” you say. “I’m actually happy to meet your family. Isn’t that a human custom, being introduced to your prospective girlfriend’s family?”

Rose’s hands fly up to cover her mouth, which doesn’t stop the squeak from escaping. Some of the squeak sounded like your name. Her face is bright red. “Girlfriend?” Her voice is still a little squeaky with disbelief and excitement.

Rose’s family are approaching, wondering what’s going on.

“Am I misunderstanding?” you ask.

“N-no. We’re dating?” she asks. “You want to be my girlfriend?”

“I thought that was obvious, Rose,” you tell her.

Rose lets out another squeaky, delighted noise that more or less sounds like your name and throws herself at you. You hug her, lifting her slightly off her feet. “Kanaya said she’s my girlfriend,” Rose announces to her family.

“Well, yeah,” Jade says. “I mean it’s pretty obvious?”

“No! No it isn’t!” Rose says. “I’ve never actually dated anyone!”

“We’ve had several dates, at least according to my social group,” you tell her.

“Your social group?” Rose asks.

“Welp, looks like you gotta go meet Kanaya’s family now,” Dave says.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right, as soon as I find out what Kanaya has been saying about me,” Rose says.

You are fairly certain the drawn out "oooooooooooh," Rose's family makes is a joke.

One day you'll live in happiness
With a heart that's full of joy
You'll say the word tomorrow without fear
The feeling of togetherness will I be at your side
You'll say you love your life and you'll know why--Future World, Helloween