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Closed Doors and Outstretched Hands

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August 6th, 2034-

Before the android attendant could even greet them, Tanya had already picked it out from across the small store. White walls all too bright, with blinking signs and prices strung up all over the place. She couldn't contain her grimace, but no android would ever comment on it—they simply lacked the protocol to realize and acknowledge any humans' disdain for them. Tanya's one saving grace, perhaps, and even better that she could find a pile of plastic in the store that she even remotely thought was acceptable.

"That one," she said, in a huff. Vincent looked at her with his own version of the grimace. Husband of twelve years, and she still only gave him the sweetest of smiles in return. One that looked too fake for him not to have realized, though for their time together, it would've been safe to assume he'd heard some genuine expression. Still, he did not mention otherwise.

"An excellent choice, Ma'am," the android was steadfast in the wake of her rudeness and led the two across the floor over to the particular model she had selected.

Androids weren't new in any sense of the word, but this was a relatively new model. It had only been released at the beginning of the year and was rumored to do everything and anything that needed to be done within the house. While it was a risk as much as it was a step outside her comfort zone, Tanya had come to accept that things just weren't going her way anymore. Things had been picking up with her job. New cases on her desk every day to pour through, more paperwork on top of them. She worked long hours, and long hours meant she wasn't home to help around. In the summer, it wasn't so much of an issue, because Vincent was there. Perks of a professor job, she had always told him, even if it meant he had to clean and cook lunch every now and again. But, summer was coming to an abrupt close within the week, which meant there would be a conflict of interests.

"Now," the android began by leading them across the showroom floor. "The PL600 is relatively new, but it's state of the art when it comes to domestic ability. It has several customizable features, as well, to suit your needs perfectly."

Which sounded fine. Tanya didn't care half as much as she didn't know, but she knew Vincent didn't have an opinion one way or the other. He was more of a bystander for the whole ordeal; there to break open the wallet in the name of childcare, or some sad iteration thereof. With school starting, he'd be busy at the University, just as busy as Tanya. That left their ten-year-old alone, and full time, live in nannies were a rare commodity these days. An android would be cheaper in the long run, regardless of the horror stories Tanya had busied herself with. So, she had carefully, in the moments they'd been in the store, picked out a model flashing, bragging about its home care ability. And, to boot—

"This particular model does come in several variations, two of them female, if you would prefer. Many couples, such as yourselves, are looking for an android to care for their children, and the female model is better suited—"

"I like this one just fine," and she did, because it was male. Because the horror stories she browsed before bed often contained men who were completely enraptured by their female androids. Tabloids and gossip sites being the main source of these articles was of no concern. She wanted the male one. "Besides, there's plenty of housework to be done. You did mention customizations? Just make it good with kids."

The android nodded, "Understood, the necessary modifications can be made." It was just a slight tweak of programming, after all. "It will take but a moment, and you'll be able to take it home today."

Tanya waved her hand dismissively, but the smile on her face was at least something genuine as she padded off to glance around the store. Vincent watched her go for a moment, before turning back to watch from the sidelines. This was a risk, in part, because they'd never had an android before. Much more so because they hadn't the slightest clue how they worked. But, watching it was something fascinating, and Vincent couldn't help but think Mikaela might enjoy the constant companion when she got used to it. He had to hand it to Tanya, as well, even if he didn't want to—the android had been his idea—but she'd picked a nice model. It had a friendly, soft sort of look. Mikaela wasn't easily spooked, per se, but she didn't make friends easily. Her taking a liking to the android was crucial.

"We can always bring it back, if it doesn't work out," Tanya had reappeared at his side within seconds, and he almost jumped at her arrival. She was prim, proper, as she always had been. Everything was purely business, with her dark hair all tightly wound up in a bun on her head, her piercing blue eyes and plum lips. He looked a little disheveled next to her, in an old suit jacket and worn out chucks.

"Sure, but promise to give it a little longer than a day?" he nudged her. She laughed, free and loose, and gave him a firm nod.

"Longer than a day. A week…." She glanced at him, his eyebrows upturned and mouth trembling with the need to smile, "from the first day of school? Just to make sure it can really do everything."

He agreed with that, a slight laugh on the tip of his tongue. Her amicability was one of her better traits, just how easily she could fall back into line and laugh like there was nothing wrong. Like they weren't just about to hand their only daughter into the hands of a machine, a fact they were both painfully trying to ignore. Easier to just brush it aside and never address it than it was to think about the morality of the situation. Besides, some of their closest friends had already gotten androids. They were just going to have the newest and most advanced model.

"Would you like to give it a name?" the android was back.

"No," Vincent interrupted before Tanya could get a word in. "I think our daughter would like to name it."

They followed the android the few feet back to the model, listening idly by as it explained the particulars of the PL600. Everyday chores, childcare, cooking, it could do everything. For the moment, absolutely everything they needed. The perfect caretaker in their absence, but most of the details the android rattled off were just extra and minute. The rambling session ended with a small booklet being handed to them—just a simple startup manual, where the sales android specifically pointed out how to go about setting the name. The naming wasn't required but would make day to day tasks and communications simpler. Otherwise, its name was a long series of numbers, a serial number, and that wouldn't be pleasant to rattle off.

"If there is anything else you have questions about, you will be able to request information from it," the android finished.

"Handy," Vincent hummed, flipping through the book. Convenient for a machine to be so self-aware that it didn't need instructions.

Still, after a few more words of advice, they were walking out the front door with a very quiet android. It kept its head down for the most part, eyes wandering every so often just to take in the surroundings. Neither Tanya nor Vincent had taken even a second to really speak to it either, so its silence wasn't so much out of the ordinary. Not so much since they'd confined it to the back seat of the car, kept a name from it. Without any real purpose given to it, it was left feeling rather lost. Its eyes had only just opened, and it had been met with just as much silence as it was giving, watching the city roll by out the door with its fingers twirled together in its lap.

Vincent watched it from the rear-view mirror, just a glance. It sat perfectly still; it was pale and hadn't spoken a word—doll like in the most curious ways. He hadn't even heard what it sounded like, which was the strangest thing about the situation. To sit there and wonder what something so human even sounded like, it wasn't a feeling he had when meeting a stranger for the first time. It was leaned up against the window, forehead almost pressing against the glass, and just watching with idle interest at the passing scenery. The downtown city buildings, the lights, the displays, the people walking by. Other androids, even, standing in the temporary shelter or walking side by side with their masters. It all faded away into the noise in the background, behind them, as they hit the neighborhood.

The houses stood tall, modern in design, and there were few of them. Yards, gated fences, and porches. Houses that were not quite large, but modest enough that they set a scene for the well off. Each so well-groomed and put together, oiled gates and swept porches. Uniform, and they were the third house on the street with a pleasantly tall lamp just outside the stone fence, embedded in the corner sidewalk. It still had that old-fashioned look to it, but the light was slightly blue and entirely electronic.

Just before the garage, and the driveway, was one larger electronic gate. It opened automatically, then the garage door, and they were inside and parked. Vincent stepped out first, held out his hand for Tanya to take. He stayed long enough to offer his hand to the PL600 too, who was looking all but a little lost in the new environment. But, Tanya took his hand away before the android even realized what it was for, and it stepped out of the car on its own. It followed inside, head still down and lips still sealed, until it entered the house. The door shut behind them, and the kitchen it entered was rather lively. Rather ornate, and soon it realized that the rest of the house matched the same style. The furniture was expensive, all wooden floors, and state of the art electronics installed. Then, the living room.

"Go ahead and sit down," Vincent instructed, and the PL600 followed without question. It sat on the couch, the edge of the cushions, stiff and straight with its hands gripping at its knees.

"I'll go and fetch her," Tanya dismissed herself without another word, and waved her fingers as she disappeared up the stairs.

"You'll be in charge of household chores," Vincent continued, "but more important, with taking care of our daughter. You'll meet her in a moment—her name is Mikaela."

The PL600 nodded, but still did not speak. It just sat there, deathly still, and waited for the sounding footsteps again on the stairs. Two sets, this time, and one obviously of padded, socked feet. The contrast to Tanya's heels was something impressive against the floors. They entered the living room not a split second later, holding hands, and the PL600 had a moment to take it in. The little girl, short with chubby cheeks, had long hair pulled into a braid along the side of her neck, dipped down over her shoulder. The tie was a big, blue flower, and it matched her wide eyes perfectly. Wide, fearful eyes. Its immediate response would have been to go to her, and ask her what was wrong, only it was obvious. It was the problem, something new, maybe even terrifying for a young girl. So, it sat there and only blinked.

"Mikaela," Tanya started, and she even knelt down, "this is going to be your new friend! So, you won't feel lonely when Daddy and I have work." Her voice was soft, gentle, a complete turn over from the way she spoke at the CyberLife store. Her hand was so delicately and comfortingly placed on Mikaela's shoulder, the smile on her face, light.

Mikaela muttered something in return, something that had Tanya laughing lightly into her fingertips and well-manicured nails.

"Yes, this was the surprise we talked about earlier. Won't it be nice to have company while we're gone?"

There was the faintest of nods, and Mikaela even deigned a look over at the PL600. It smiled at her, an automated response, as though it would lighten the mood. Make it seem less opposing, and certainly friendlier. If it really was to fulfill the role of 'friend' to this girl, as well as caretaker.

"Would you like to name it? We left it to you, little bug," Vincent was absolutely beaming at her. With three smiling faces, surely, she would feel comfortable eventually. Enough that she even let go of Tanya's hand to take a few steps closer.

When the android didn't move, she felt a little braver, so she took a few more steps. It sat there, perfectly still, with the gentlest of smiles on its face. It didn't reach for her, and kept it's breathing to a minimum. Unassuming, hopefully, and though it took a few minutes, she finally did approach the android. Her blue eyes, its blue eyes; they stared at each other for a long moment before Mikaela cleared her throat and reached out. She patted the android's hand, and it flinched slightly under her sudden touch. She didn't seem to notice, and instead smiled.

"I'm Mikaela," she said.

The android didn't respond, and instead passed a glance towards Vincent and Tanya, who were looking ever so pleased with themselves at Mikaela's sudden interest in the new machine.

"PL600, register name," Vincent picked it up straight from the manual, and the android looked back down to Mikaela.

She leaned up on her tiptoes to whisper.

"My name is Simon," it answered.

Mikaela gave a sheepish smile, but she backed away immediately on quick toes and was dashing back upstairs before anyone had realized what she was doing. Simon sat there with its head cocked to the side, watching in curiosity as she departed, almost a sad look on the other side of its eyes. But, Vincent laughing caught its attention instead, and it turned sharply to look at him. Laughing didn't seem like the optimal thing to be doing, not if something it had done had truly frightened the girl.

"She's skittish," Vincent warned. He padded over to give Simon a firm pat on the shoulder. "She'll warm up eventually, if you let her."

Simon made an affirmative noise and watched speculatively as Vincent pulled his hand back rather quickly. Tanya and Vincent made eye contact after that, and Tanya stepped forward to take a seat on the coffee table, where she crossed her legs and hands atop her knee. Her smile felt a little forced, and her eyes were dull to it. But, she leaned forward and appeared attentive nonetheless. Vincent took his own seat on the couch and started off what he called an introduction. Simon didn't bother to say anything, because a simple scan would have told it all it needed to know about the two. This seemed more comfortable, however, more human like. So, it listened closely. Made notes where it seemed reasonable to do so, so that it wouldn't forget anything too important.

When they finished, Simon was dismissed with a new list of tasks it would need to accomplish daily. Three meals a day, essentially on demand, which could sometimes mean more than three meals, actually. The three of them were not always home together, at the same time, but this did not seem too out of the ordinary. The two had talked about it like it was just an idle side fact, of little importance. It would not be important to it, then, either. Then, there was laundry. Separated by person, by color, to be done at any convenience. General cleaning of all rooms, nothing was off limits. The only stipulation it had been given was to make itself scarce, fade into the background and attempt not to be noticed. Tanya had made that very clear—she didn't want to realize she had an android in the house. It was fine with that.

It made its way upstairs after that, to begin looking about the house. The middle floor had been mostly self-explanatory. The foyer, which cut off into a hallway with doors each leading to a different area. The living room was on the left, the combination kitchen and dining room had been on the right—with the door out into the garage where they had entered. At the end of that hallway was a closed door with Vincent W. carved into the wood, and that was Vincent's office. The staircase was right there, and upstairs was lit by a dangling chandelier, and there was a large open space for Simon to meander through. Cherry wood floors, laid underneath a large and ornate blue carpet, decorated overly with roses and pansies. Just farther in, almost a straight shot from the stairs, was a door with etched flowers in the frame.

That was Mikaela's room. Her name wasn't carved into the wood like had been Vincent's on the office door, and there wasn't anything to make this assumption obvious, but Simon had a feeling. It approached cautiously, however, and knocked tentatively on the door with the back of its knuckles. Then, it took a single step back and waited. Waited, and waited a little while longer before knocking again. Only after the second knock did the doorknob jiggle, click, and the door swing open. Mikaela was standing there, dressed in cloud pajama pants and a loose black t-shirt. Different than what she had been wearing, but it certainly looked more comfortable.

"It can't be time for bed yet," Simon gave her a light smile, noticed how her face seemed to turn red at the insinuation. Then, she shook her head and stepped back just a little farther to open the door. Just a little wider.

"Shall I come in then?" it was sure to ask first, and Mikaela gave the smallest nod she could muster. Simon stepped inside the room at her agreement, and she closed the door quickly behind him. Inside was like a wonderland of blue and purple, draped from her curtains to her floral bedspread, to the carpet on the floor where she had laid out her toys and a single book.

Simon padded over to the little carpet while Mikaela retreated to the relatively clear desk. The book was open and upside down with a worn cover. Her toys consisted wildly between small toy cars and dolls. And there were little statuettes decorating the shelving units hung up all around her room; nothing quite seemed to match, but it seemed right enough. Simon took a seat on the floor and glanced it all over once more before looking to Mikaela. Inquisitive. Eager to learn. She was hunched over her desk with a red crayon in her hand, scribbling on a piece of paper.

"Do you enjoy reading, Mikaela?"

She looked at him, pursed her lips, and scribbled a little harder. When silence followed, she realized that Simon wasn't going to move on without an answer, so she shook her head in time with the crayon.

"We had…summer work," she muttered. Plopped her head into her free hand so that her back was towards Simon, and she could continue to scribble without scrutiny.

"I see," it picked up the book and looked until the bookmark, which admittedly, wasn't even half way through the pages. "And, when do you start school?"

Mikaela's shoulders stiffened, and Simon heard the crayon drop down to the desk. The answer was well enough that it would be soon, perhaps even the following day. It was a Sunday, and Mikaela seemed stressed about something. Simon was beginning to think it wasn't its fault for her unhappy behavior, and that certainly put an ease on its status. It still smiled at her, though she couldn't see, and leaned back onto its palms, digging into the carpet.

"What do you do for fun, Mikaela?"

She eyed him from the triangle her arm was making, hand still in her hair. It was almost a glare, but her lips were pouting, and her face was red. "I play," Like it was obvious, and she certainly didn't appreciate the probing. Simon hummed in response and looked back down around the floor. Its apparent disinterest prompted Mikaela to turn in her chair and look at it, folding her arms across her chest with hunched shoulders and an annoyed look on her face.

"I like to make stories. She's always the hero," she pointed to a particular doll on the ground with long brown hair, "because she looks like me."

Simon picked up the doll and held it in the air, just askew enough that it could see Mikaela beside it, "She certainly does."

Mikaela hopped down off the chair to swipe her doll from Simon's hand, to brush its hair back with her fingers, "Don't you have to clean or something?" she muttered.

"I can do many things."

"Gale has an android. She cleans."

Simon's brows furrowed as it went over that sentence in its head, "And who is Gale?"

"She's my friend," Mikaela's voice was getting quieter with each sentence, and she was retreating to the edge of her bed. Simon straightened up immediately, folded his legs, and wiped the expression off his face. All that remained of its perturbed confusion was the blinking, yellow LED on its temple. Immediately, Mikaela softened. "Monika does all the cleaning. She's nice and makes good noodles."

The LED quickly returned to blue, and Simon found itself smiling, "That certainly sounds wonderful. Do you like noodles?"

"Lasagna," though she said it sort of slurred, with the letters misplaced. Simon nodded, mostly to itself, and stored that particular piece of information away for future use. For an information gathering session, it had done rather well for itself. Mikaela still wasn't talking much, but she seemed a little friendlier. At least, her legs were kicking from her perch on her bed, and she was smiling at her little doll.

"Though, my primary order is to care for you, Mikaela," Simon told her, then, and it grabbed her attention quickly. "I am told your parents work quite a lot. They would like us to be friends."

Mikaela nodded, "Mom doesn't even think that," she pursed her lips.

"Do you believe we could be friends?" it gave her a soft smile. Her face turned red again as she stiffened up, then dropped her head to look only at the doll in her hands. After a long, heavy moment, Mikaela nodded and whispered something.

Simon pushed itself to its feet and stood there, hands folded in front of itself while it waited. The silent treatment was having the best results; Mikaela felt ignored. She didn't want to be ignored, at least not to the extent that it appeared like a lack of interest. So, when she noticed that Simon was just standing there, like it was just waiting for an order or something better to do, she huffed.

"I don't have many friends."

Which lined up with what he'd already been told of her. She was quiet, reserved, kept to herself. Had good grades, but not much else. Her teachers said she was a pleasure in class because she wasn't disruptive, but it was clear that something was lacking, something that Simon found familiar and safe without much cause to. Something, at least, that it would be able to latch onto which could make becoming friends that much easier. It was a matter of trust, so it approached several steps before stopping again.

"May I sit?" it asked.

Mikaela nodded and scooted to the side, that she might make room enough for it to sit beside her. And, it did, enough not to bounce the mattress under its weight, and it simply folded its hands up in its lap again.

"How would you feel if we finished reading your book together, this evening? There's other things I should get to today, but we could begin after dinner?"

Mikaela looked at it for a moment, her eyebrow pushed up like she was shocked at the suggestion that she do her homework, or maybe more so at the suggestion they do it together. Simon only smiled at her, and after another long minute, knew that she wasn't going to answer. Not directly, anyway, and perhaps her shock was answer enough. Instead, it stood and dusted its pants, straightened its shirt.

"Call on me if you'd like, alright? I'll be around," and it left but a gentle touch on her shoulder. It wasn't so much to be unwarranted and unwelcome, but just enough that she knew its intentions were kind. The gesture seemed to calm her, something similar to what Tanya had done earlier, and Mikaela nodded at Simon just before it ducked out the door.

After that, it was a matter of exploring the rest of the house and tidying as it went. Mikaela's room would be better left for another time, so Simon made his way through each of the rooms upstairs. There was first the bathroom, which was relatively clean, save the mess of bottles behind the frosted door and rugs that needed to be straightened. Just the next door down was an empty bedroom, with a partially made bed that dawned only one pillow, and a mess of old linens and knick-knacks all over the floor. Though it was a spare room, Simon deduced, it was most likely being used for storage, and seemed a bit of a project. Simon made a mental note to check in on its permissions later and ask what Tanya or Vincent would like done with the room. It closed the door and promptly found the real mess was within the master bedroom at the other end of the hall.

Vincent seemed to have an unholy hobby of throwing all of his clothes on the floor, while Tanya seemed to try to hit the wicker hamper but missed. Her pile was rather spread out, yet all contained to the hamper's immediately vicinity. There was a single vanity, in which there were various containers and tubes of makeup all spread out, some left open with a dried pool underneath them where it was obvious she hadn't touched it in a long while. Other things seemed well taken care of, but not put away. The mirror of the vanity was covered in photographs and small sticky notes, and though they seemed a relic, were there for a purpose.

The house was not entirely devoid of electronics, as Simon had seen from his wandering of the bottom level. It was no different in this room, where there was a digital frame on the bedside flashing between several pictures in various order. There was a pair of glasses and a notebook set aside next to it, and Simon could only infer that this was Vincent's side of the bed. The other side had a stack of novels and a few unopened letters. Simon set to tidying it all up, straightening the stacks and the letters, the makeup monstrosity on the vanity. It was a stretch, but it found no hesitation when it plucked up the dried-up bottle of nail polish and its twin dried stick of eyeliner to drop them into the trash. The stains had left their mark, but surely Tanya wouldn't be missing the product anytime soon.

After Simon made the bed, it stepped into the master bath. Somehow, it was less of a mess than the bedroom. The towels were all stashed away in the hamper, though it seemed no one had actually emptied it in over a week. Laundry would be its next objective, it decided. After cleaning up the sink, tucking the hair dryer and straightener back into the empty drawer, Simon opened the medicine cabinet. The shelves were dusty, save the spot under the singular bottle of aspirin sitting there, half empty. It dusted, scrubbed, then inspected that bathtub. For the moment, there was nothing out of place, and Simon scooped up both hampers on its way out of the master bedroom.

Downstairs, Mikaela was tucked up at the bar counter with a juice box when Simon popped in. The laundry room was off the kitchen, the door on the back wall beside the refrigerator, where Tanya was currently rummaging through the various bottles on the middle shelf in search of something. Simon stood and waited for her to finish, that it might slide by her without causing any issue. In accordance to her earlier complaint, it did not even speak. When she found what she was looking for, an unfortunate bottle of red juice, she backed away and closed the doors to the refrigerator; not without pause, so that she could give Simon the strangest look. Simon still ducked around her and worked on opening the door.

"Help him!" Mikaela whined, and Simon gave the shortest pause at her statement. It managed to work the door open seconds later, without help, and Tanya scoffed.

Later, Simon scrounged together some sort of meal for lunch, and even without much firsthand experience with what made a good meal, it could tell soup wasn't the best thing it could've served. But, the house was almost entirely empty, devoid of actual life, save the bedrooms which were abundant with mess. It made another mental note that it would have to inquire about shopping—whether that was something it would be in charge of, or Tanya and Vincent would take care of on their own. While they ate, however, Simon busied himself back in the laundry room. It wasn't until after it had folded the first load that the door opened.

"Si…mon?" it was Mikaela, and Simon stopped immediately to look at her.

"Yes, Mikaela?" it spoke as it approached her, dropped down into a swat with its elbows resting on its knees.

"There's an… I have to do this," she held out a stapled together packet of paper, "for the book…"

Which meant it needed to be less of a bedtime activity, and more of a now activity. Simon smiled at her and patted her shoulder, "Of course. Let me finish with the laundry, and I'll meet you upstairs."

She scurried off without another word, and Simon stood back up to finish its work. The laundry was folded, and the loads switched out; another one started in the washer. Simon set a timer, mentally, so that it could return right on the dot to change the loads. The shorter the time it could spend working on this particular task, the more time it could spend assisting Mikaela. And, it needed to; one glance at the calendar flashing blue on the refrigerator told it that. School was not just soon but starting the very next day. They were running out of time, and its timer was counting down from an hour already.

It hurried upstairs to find Mikaela already snug up in her bed, with the fan overhead on, and her comforter snug up under her chin. Simon gave itself the moment to smile, to take in how she was plucking at a page before she noticed and grunted at it. Then, it moved across the room, door closed, and sat at the edge of the bed.

"No, sit up here," Mikaela urged and scooted just enough again to make her point clear. Simon glanced at her for a moment, confused, but agreed with her command seconds later. It pulled itself up onto the bed and moved in close, resting back against the pillows. If Mikaela noticed, or was bothered by, the fact that it hadn't removed its shoes, she didn't mention it. Instead, she curled up into Simon's side and held the book out where they could both see it. Which was a development it had not expected so soon.

"Shall I read it to you?" it offered. There wasn't a single moment's hesitation before she was handing the book straight to it to read, her head now leaning against its torso. Simon adjusted them both, so that she could be comfortable, and its joints would not be under stress.

"Now, don't fall asleep, hm? If you do, I'll have to quiz you after each chapter," it warned.

Mikaela groaned, but she didn't protest. This had been entirely easier than Simon had projected, given her original behavior, and it found it quite enjoyed leaning there against the pillows with her and reading. She was responsive, made comments when they got to more dramatic parts. Questioned when things got confusing, or she had missed something earlier which made the newest scene less clear. When Simon had to leave for the moment to tend to the laundry, Mikaela worked on the packet, filling in the answers for the chapter they had managed to get through in the hour. Simon was always back within twenty minutes, loads switched, and clean laundry put away.

They stopped only for dinner, for which Simon was able to pull together hamburgers with the last of something edible it could find in the kitchen. It stood by the counter, hands folded in front of itself, while the family ate. Tanya had her tablet on next to her plate, where she was scrolling through a heap of text without much reading most of what it had to say. Mikaela ate in silence, while Vincent had taken his meal and retreated back to his office. Another glance at the calendar had told Simon that University classes were not due to start for another week, which meant Vincent would be busy preparing his lectures.

"I'll be along shortly," Simon told Mikaela, just before picking up her empty plate and sending her off. Tanya had not finished quite yet, and she eyed the two curiously before Simon moved back into the kitchen. There was a clanking of dishes before it returned to stand by the door.

"Getting along?" she questioned.

"I have been assisting her with her summer assignment, Tanya."

Tanya snorted, "Don't get familiar. I thought she finished that thing months ago."

"She will have it wrapped up this evening, I will ensure it."

"Her bedtime is 9:30, at the latest. Do be sure to have her tucked in by then, yes? We need to be up early for school, and I expect you will take care of her morning things. Do you need a list?"

"No, Ma'am," Simon smiled, and it was eerily similar to the forced grimace most androids wore. Tanya didn't care for it and picked up her tablet to leave. She left the rest of her food on her plate for Simon to clean up, and it did so, dutifully.

It brought the final load of laundry up with it, into Mikaela's room. The load had been entirely her clothes, and Simon made itself comfortable on the floor to fold it. Mikaela was still finishing up the packet section for chapter twelve, and they had two chapters to finish before it was off to bed.

"I'm quite impressed with you today, Mikaela. You've done quite a lot of work," Simon spoke softly as it set aside a neatly folded shirt.

Mikaela scoffed in return, "You did most of it. I hate reading."

"So, you've said," another t-shirt folded.

"Do you like reading? You do it good," Mikaela was lying flat on her stomach, on the bed, with the packet propped on top of a powered off tablet. Now, she was looking at Simon, instead of her work, with her head sideways on the comforter. Her question was meant to stall, and it left Simon sitting there thinking, yellow LED blinking.

"I'm not sure I can say just yet. If you have more books to read for school, however, I'll be glad to help."

Mikaela let out a little giggle and returned to her activity packet. Simon finished the laundry in turn, and tucked things into their appropriate drawers. By the time it was finished, Mikaela was already sitting up by the pillows again, with the book, waiting for it to rejoin her on the bed. Two more chapters, as it recalled again, and it was certain they would have plenty of time. The clock read 6:47pm, as it were, which gave them just shy of two and a half hours. Simon read to her just a touch faster than it had been, and she kept up splendidly.

When they reached the last chapter, Mikaela took to working on the activity packet as Simon read. It was the last chapter, and as far as she was concerned, it wouldn't be that important on a test or a quiz, or even another assignment like this, so it was alright if she missed something important. The ending was all that really mattered, which stood more for entertainment than it did any intellectual pursuits. Simon really couldn't help but admire her ability to work, at ten years old, and read the last chapter just a little slower, to ensure she got the most out of it. The ending was a rather simple one, just the exact phrasing shy of "happily ever after", but Mikaela enjoyed it. She'd stopped working on the packet for the few minutes it took to hear the last few pages and clapped when Simon closed the book.

"That was so good," she laughed.

"Thank you. Perhaps we can do this again sometime?"

"Yeah, only if it's homework," she rolled her eyes and flipped back onto her stomach, where she had been on her back to hear the ending. She picked her pencil back off the bedspread.

"You finish the packet, hm? I need to go around and lock things up, turn the lights off and such. I'll return to get you ready for bed," Simon told her, nothing more than a mere formality, because it was already moving towards the door while it spoke. Mikaela didn't give a direct response, just hummed lightly and scribbled a long sentence down on a thick black line.

Simon slid out of the room and closed the door quietly behind him. There was a light on in master bedroom at the end of the hall, but the door was closed. Even if Vincent was still holed away in his study, Mrs. Wilks was tucked away in the room, which meant Simon needed to stay quiet. None of the floorboards creaked, which made it an easy walk around the house. It locked the garage door, which still used a manual lock, and turned on the security system for the night. The front porch lights came on, and the rest of the lights in the house turned off. With one glance, Simon could see that the light in Vincent's study was also off, so everyone was turning in early for the evening. Its ascent of the stairs was quieter than the descent had been, and Simon did not even bother to knock on the door to Mikaela's room before it entered. Mikaela was tucking her packet into her backpack when Simon entered. She didn't so much as glance at him, just continued to try and force the paper into the open pocket.

"No, no," Simon hurried up to her, "I'll take care of this. You, into bed," it prodded.

Mikaela groaned and left the paper half hanging out of the bag, but she did as she was told. She huffed and hopped up into her bed, hard enough that the mattress dipped and squeaked. She bounced. While she scrambled under the covers, fluffed her pillows, Simon straightened out her bag in record timing. It pulled a relatively nice outfit out of her dresser as well and set it out atop her desk for the morning. The toys, it would leave for tomorrow, while she was gone. For the moment, it went to the bed, pulling the chair from the desk with it so it could sit down.

"Is there anything you need before you go to sleep?" it asked, pulling the covers up to her chin.

"Keep the fan on, okay?" she asked, pleaded, almost. Simon gave her an affirmative nod.

"If you need anything at all, Mikaela, do not hesitate to call for me. I'll be close," it waited a moment for Mikaela to make herself comfortable, then stood up and put the chair back in its place.

 

August 7th, 2034-

Simon was knocking on Mikaela's door fifteen exact seconds before her alarm clock went off, and once it started blaring, it entered without hesitation. Mikaela was tangled up in her sheets, comforter half thrown on the floor, and the remote control to her small television had fallen off her night stand. It smiled for a brief moment before hitting the off button on the alarm, listening to Mikaela groaning from the bed. She looked groggy, pained at the idea that morning had already come. The sun wasn't up, and she shouldn't be up, but school had top priority at the moment. She rolled out of bed without Simon even pushing, though it did have to shake her.

"I'm up, I'm up…" she whined; her feet hit the ground with a thud, and she stretched her arms out to their full span.

It took Simon a minute to realize what she was asking for, but it grabbed up her outfit for the day and met her on the other side of the bed. She was pliant and cooperative while it changed her out of her bed clothes, into the new ones, and then she toddled off to her own private little bathroom. Seconds later, Simon heard the faucet water running. While Mikaela busied herself with dental hygiene, Simon did a double check that her bag was put together and grabbed up her shoes to set both by the door. It waited, then, patiently, for Mikaela to emerge again. Only, she had a hairbrush in one hand and a small blue tie in the other.

"Do my hair," she muttered.

Simon took the brush, "How would you like it done?"

"Braid," and Simon nodded. "Gale is gonna be so jealous. Monika never does her hair, she says that's not her job."

Simon noted it again, the particular use of she in that sentence, "Monika?"

Mikaela nodded, not so hard that she pulled her own hair, but hard enough that the half-made braid shook in the air, "Monika cleans," she waved her hands out in front of her to really exaggerate the point. Simon almost laughed, but it came out more of a snort.

"I'm surprised your mother lets you refer to androids in such a manner," it was wrapping the hair tie around the bottom, straightening it so the little blue flower was on front.

"Mom's just like that," like that explained everything. She didn't say another word, just put her shoes on and grabbed her bag.

Simon followed her down the stairs, but while she went into the living room, it went into the kitchen. Tanya was sitting at the bar with a cup of coffee and her tablet. There was no acknowledgment between them as Simon began to prepare a small breakfast. Enough for three, though there was hardly anything in the house. Which was something it had still neglected to address.

"I was wondering if perhaps I might go shopping today," Simon looked at Tanya, "if that's alright with you, Mrs. Wilks."

She glanced up at him, eyebrow raised like the question offended her very state of being, "We usually take care of that."

"Tell him to buy cereal! Eggs are gross!" Mikaela's voice wafted in from across the hallway, and they both looked out to it. It had barely been twenty-four hours, but the way she referred to him stirred something. It was remarkable, the acceptance of children.

"Fine. Vince can set you up with the accounts," Tanya huffed. "But," she glared, "there will be no purchasing without permission. And I'll only authorize you to spend so much—"

"Of course, Mrs. Wilks," Simon smiled, flipped an egg in the pan, and went silent. Tanya couldn't muster up the words, after that, so she grunted and returned to her reading.

When time came for Tanya and Mikaela to be on their way, the car was already waiting outside in the driveway, and Simon was standing by the front door to open it for them. It gave a shallow bow, one which made Mikaela smile brightly, and pulled the handle with a bit of flair. Tanya didn't care for the theatrics, but even she had to grin with the way Mikaela seemed to be enjoying it. Perhaps an android assistant wasn't the worst idea they'd had. Mikaela was still keeping most of her enjoyment to herself, on the down low, but she was opening up slowly. If this was what twenty-four hours could do, Tanya was excited to see what a week could do. Assuming, by then, Simon had proved himself a worthy addition to the house.

"Have a fine day, Mrs. Wilks. Mikaela," Simon smiled after them.

"B-bye, Simon!" Mikaela waved. "Mom—say goodbye to him!"

Tanya let out a pained groan, but she did as she was asked—turned, and nodded her head ever slightly. It was enough, though she didn't actually open her mouth, and Simon simply waved. It closed the door once the car pulled out, the metal gate closing behind it, and slumped into the fine carved wood. The hit against the door pushed a breath out of him, and Simon brought his hands up to his chest. There was just something, a hick-up in his code, maybe, when Mikaela referred to him.

Him.

He certainly liked that sound of that. Surely there would be no problem with adapting to it, to the way she talked about him. Adapting would help, in the long run, so he told himself as he pushed off to approach Vincent about the spare bedroom situation. After that, he would go shopping.