Markus had begun as something of a project.
Recent days sucked all of the energy and creativity and thought out of Carl. He'd lied in bed, unable to sit up emotionally, with the decent physical ability to do so. He could always have gotten himself into his wheelchair and put to good use the helpful machines he'd installed around the house that made life easier, but there came times that it seemed useless. If he couldn't get work done, what was the point of getting up at all?
As always, Elijah was right.
Carl needed a new motivation.
The temporary business connection between the two men blossomed into a respectful friendship. Elijah Kamski was too fascinating a creature for Carl to ignore. There was something enigmatic and captivating about the way he articulated his interests. He was eccentric in an almost cartoonish way - dramatically eloquent to the point of hilarity - but his intelligence and ambition were unparalleled in his field.
He was the modern picture of a mad scientist and he sparked something in Carl. This was a man who thought of nothing but his fascination with the future.
Carl normally wouldn't have accepted an android.
"Just try it out for a little while," Elijah had insisted over lunch that fateful day. "If you regret it, I'll take it back and we'll forget it ever happened."
At first, it was like his wheelchair or the apparatus on his stairs or his automatic sliding doors. Markus was meant as a machine that'd make Carl's life easier. It was the luxury of having a personal caretaker without the added burden of feeling as though you're inconveniencing a human being. It was an extravagant gift, like a car or a large household appliance, and an untested one at that.
There was something initially engrossing about the android known as Markus. It was supposed to give Carl something to think about, something to paint about, and that angle worked. He could've explored what identity this android would inevitably develop and, because it was unique, Carl's constant awareness that this isn't human wouldn't be spurred on by seeing other versions of his new housemate on the news or in the papers. Markus could become its own person, if Elijah's claims were correct, and Carl was sure that it'd bring him inspiration.
His only fear was that it would go rogue, the world of artificial intelligence a fairly new endeavor, and he watched it more closely in those first few weeks than was necessary.
In the end, he did in fact notice something.
There were days that Markus would tease him or respond to his teasing. He'd chalked it up to the program within it bending and adapting to his own personality, but he'd question it more and more with each setting sun and each interested smirk and each question that'd slip from the android's mouth.
It was curious. It wanted to learn.
Markus would read on its own time. It'd play the piano or chess or even indulge in human philosophy when Carl needed an outside perspective. It'd agree and disagree with Carl - the latter being much more fascinating and unnerving - and even provide new insight when it could.
Something within it was indeed alive.
Carl could feel it.
He didn't even realize until one ordinary day that he no longer felt alone.
Markus would be truthful when it liked or disliked an art piece.
"There's something odd about it," the android adopted just about the most inquisitive look. "Of course, not to be rude."
It was odd to wonder what in its programming would lead Markus to his opinions. How does one quantify subjectivity?
There's a thought, and Carl kept painting.
Elijah must have programmed a deep kindness within Markus.
That’s not to say any of the other androids that Carl had come in contact with were particularly unpleasant or rude. Quite the opposite, actually. They were programmed to be polite and attentive, to be friendly and open and inviting to any and all. He’d joked in his head that humans could learn a thing or two from the things they’d created, but it became less and less of a joke when he started to observe the small gestures that Markus would make without Carl’s instruction.
There was a day in which Carl had asked to be taken directly to his studio once he’d woken up and Markus asked if he’d had anything to eat.
So, he replied, “I haven’t.”
“You should eat, Carl,” Markus said, sounding much like the concerned caretaker it was supposed to be taking the role of. “You need the energy, especially at this age.”
And Carl laughed. It was all he could think to do, the worried bluntness taking him by genuine surprise.
So, Markus began making him breakfast every morning even though Carl never told it to. It started to clean around the house and around the studio even when Carl didn’t ask it to. It would teach itself what it wanted to know and create its own unique views. Some level of independence was born within Markus, the type that Carl hadn’t seen before in androids. It was seeming to become everything that Elijah had originally proposed it had the potential for. There was something real about its appreciation for beauty and art, an authenticity to its warmth and the way that it seemed to care because it wanted to, not because it was made to.
Never before had Carl seen someone so capable and so eager to indulge in humanity.
It was for this reason that Carl kept painting even when he felt he had nothing left to paint and speaking even when he felt he had nothing left to say.
This was around the time that it became he.
Leo didn’t think much of Markus the first time he saw him.
“Christ, got yourself one of those things, huh?” he’d asked, more freaked out than anything else, the fear and suspicion on his face something that Carl couldn’t help being offended by. It was odd to be upset in place of Markus, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first or the last time it’d happened. Leo continued on with his insensitive joking, getting right up in the android’s face as Markus kept his composure, only blinking in what almost looked like surprise.
That vague distrust only worsened with each recurring visit.
Also worsening was Leo’s physical state.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that he’d been using the money that Carl had lended - given - him for the red powder that was slowly rotting society from the inside out. He was getting more and more irritable, more insistent, less interested in the art that he’d been so fascinated with as a boy. The reality that humans can grow and change isn’t always a positive one, Carl often came to understand, as Leo hollowed himself out and let his skin become pale and his world become blurry. It was painful to see his own son fall so low.
The more often he saw Markus, the less he’d visit, the more he’d asked for money. It was a cycle that Carl had no idea how to break without losing at least one of the people in his life.
“God, all you want is for me to be perfect, right?” his question enraged Carl at the time, though he’d only looked back on it afterward with pity, not even able to remember what sparked that particular spat. They’d had so many that they all started to run together. “Maybe you want me to be like one of those fucking androids. Y’know, like this fuckin’ thing.”
He gestured to Markus with such unwarranted hatred and scrutiny that Carl could only remember seeing red and screaming at his son to leave.
Yet another time, when Leo seemed only to want to discuss a recently passed family member, he decided to take his anger out on Markus again. It started happening far too often for it to just be a coincidence.
“Does this motherfucker just follow you everywhere?”
If Carl could help it, he wasn’t going to let Markus become a punching bag, so he went to the android’s defense without a second thought. “Leo, he’s supposed to. Let him be.”
That only seemed to enrage Leo more. “Oh, there it is,” he rolled his eyes and shook his head as if he wasn’t the ridiculous one in the situation. “Why do you always call it a he ? You know it’s not a real person, right?” he’d asked, and he looked directly at Markus when he did it.
Carl couldn’t respond.
“Jesus Christ, you probably don’t know that,” Leo let out a breath that sounded too hopeless and despondent to come from a vindictive young man. “That’s what this is, isn’t it? That’s what he is. A replacement for me. A perfect fucking replacement.”
The words stung, but what hurt worse was how bad he’d felt for Markus. He’d grown to care deeply for the android. They’d shared games of chess and had even gotten into one or two heated discussions. He had no idea how the android was taking it. Markus wasn’t just programmed to follow orders - he was strong-willed. He avoided conflict even when it was clear that his directives might lead him to it. Carl didn’t know if Markus was hurt or upset but, at the time, it didn’t make a difference because he’d be insulted enough for the both of them if need be.
That’s why he spat out, “Stop it,” and shook his head at Leo in disappointment. “Don’t say things like that.”
The hurt in Leo’s eyes as he took a dejected step back said it all.
That one word, said with a bitterness that left the air sour, made Carl want to stop his son before he’d turned the corner and disappeared behind the large doors for what would end up being the last time in months. Of course, he hadn’t known that for sure at the time, but there was something tangible between them that’d broken in the washed out evening light. There was a shift that Carl could immediately understand and one that he didn’t know how to prevent without hurting one of the people in his life he cared about.
Then, after a moment of silence had passed with Carl staring blankly at the ground, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He jumped before looking up.
Feeling the slightest bit of comfort in his heart, he placed his hand over Markus’s.
Fondness turned to love with time.
The moment he realized it was innocuous. Markus had stumbled when he'd entered the studio on a can that Carl had forgotten about and spilled the bright blue across the stone floor. Carl watched with a spark in his eyes as Markus turned into an apologetic young man and...he knew.
The guilt came first. He'd recalled Leo's words - a perfect replacement - and tried to deny it in his burning head. Of course he wasn't replacing his own son. This was completely different.
But he thought about the undeniable paternal love he harbored for Markus and wondered if he was just lying to himself. Was Markus only a way for Carl to control something that he could also love as a son? Was Carl playing God without realizing it?
This was far too long after he'd already faded away from Elijah Kamski, their recent communication having been reduced to a simple amicable e-mail every few months. The man seemed to put himself into obscurity and cut off contact with his friends and family. It was expected - he tended to spend his time around those who would get lost in their work as well, after all - but it also meant that Carl didn't have the choice to return Markus. It wouldn't have been ethical.
On top of that, he couldn't stop thinking about how Markus would feel.
All he could occupy his mind with as the days dragged on and as Leo continued to ask for more and more money only to show up at his doorstep not long later was one simple worry.
He wasn’t sure how long he could bear having to buy his son’s love.
When Carl Manfred was just a boy, robotics was slowly weeding its way out of the realm of science fiction.
He grew up in that transitional period when it came to technology and, while he wouldn’t encounter someone like Elijah Kamski or anyone who’d really show him the light for what would be decades, he found himself captivated by the development of artificial intelligence.
Stories circulated about robotic revolutions and man’s creations rising up against them. They’d practically become commonplace in the modern era and, with the real possibility of androids just over the horizon, the public remained skeptical and afraid. Carl, on the other hand, didn’t feel the same terror and dread as his peers in philosophy. He didn’t think that this was the end of man, no matter the countless arguments made and the scenarios proposed.
Carl never feared new life or new intelligence.
He feared humanity. He feared death. He feared time.
Time, he realized, was the catalyst for his approval of androids. Every human being fights with time and here these new creations were with the ideal of what human relationships could seldom achieve. If androids could love, then that love could grow to be even more profound than that of humans, because they have that time. He understood that they had the time needed to develop their love - to learn and to nurture what draws people together. Carl became infatuated with the idea of a bond that could transcend human lifetimes, with hearts that could grow indefinitely together.
He watched his son’s stand against humanity with appreciation and admiration - with the knowledge that his hope was tangible. Markus kissed a woman he’d clearly grown to care for and the world watched in awe. It finally made Carl believe that love was, in fact, alive.
He understood one day that there was no comparison to be made.
Carl hadn't replaced one son with a robot. He'd gained a new son, just with a different blood color.