Exploring the ancient dark was unnerving no matter how many times Rollo and the Roto clan descended on airship. When they chased down prey everyone acted quickly, for as soon as the targets fell the hunters had to pick them and run from bigger predators, the leviathans. Bigger hunters with faster legs and sharper fangs would always smell fresh kills. Luckily this time the Roto clan ran away with the day’s game.
Rollo was a silent hunter. The only sound that came from him when he struck was a muttered prayer. At least that’s what Shiloh thought it was as he approached his companion to help him carry the animal back to the safe haven of their camp. When the machine man asked him about it the boy smiled kindly.
“I thank them.” Rollo answered him softly. "We will live to see another season because of them."
Shiloh sometimes heard the clansmen speak behind his companion’s back. What he did was unnecessary they said. It was ridiculous. When Thea overheard she simply patted Rollo's back and threw some friendly banter at the men. Meanwhile Rollo and Thea's father walked past, lost in somber thoughts. Regardless the young man prayed and after several days of hunting Shiloh realized he was muttering Rollo’s words too after each kill. For the android it was the right thing to do and the mockery of others meant little to him. He knew Rollo felt the same way and for an instant warmth tingled in his fingers as he touched a beast Rollo had taken down.
“I will thank them as well.” Shiloh said when the young man caught him.
That day he saw Thea approach Rollo. She patted his back admiring the small and precise wound Rollo’s weapon had pierced on the eyes of the creature to win them today’s supper. With curiosity the machine man walked towards them.
“Nice catch, brother.” Thea said fondly.
“Thanks.” Rollo lowered his gaze, focusing on wiping the blood on his hands with a rag. “Wanna do the honors? I call dibs on the intestines.”
“Those slimy innards? Go ahead, I’ll pass every time.” She chuckled. He simply shrugged and smiled. Shiloh realized he knew how to lighten the mood when his sister was around him, away from the gaze of their father. Around him Thea was just as kind as her sibling. Often the clan left them be, content in watching their kindness from afar.
“You’re pretty good at hunting.” Thea retorted as she began skinning the creature.
“If I have to.” He conceded, tilting his head.
“That’s what mother used to say, do you remember?”
“Yeah… She also said that about cooking.”
"Hah!" Thea snorted. "Yes, I recall that..."
When Shiloh walked towards them his presence seemed to silence Thea’s next words. The android hesitated for a moment, greeted them and helped her bleed out the meat. Rollo would later salt and spice it. Everyone seemed to enjoy when it was the young man’s turn to cook and the machine man couldn’t help but wonder about food, spices and flavors. He had the impression that on his previous life he had enjoyed watching that activity. Ignoring the déjà vu sensation he asked Rollo about the process. Afterwards the young man gladly taught him how to grill and boil richly flavored roots to pour over the meat. Thea watched his brother fondly and occasionally shot thoughtful glances at Shiloh.
Shiloh had learned to pray, scavenge and cook from Rollo. It was mundane, even boring for some of the clansmen and yet it brought a sense of peace the android had not known before. He thanked the young man for letting him join in like another member of the Roto, like another human. Rollo had smiled with sadness then and explained that the clan needed the rations for war.
“We both can pretend this is normal everyday life. No war to fight.” Rollo said. “Perhaps one day it will be true.”
Every night near the fire once all their chores were finished Rollo helped Shiloh get rid of the rust that covered his body where he could not reach or see. The young man was working on the nerves behind the android’s neck when he muttered a curse. Suddenly Shiloh felt a pleasant chill descend from his neck as Rollo exclaimed happily.
“This was stuck on a metal junction.” He said, throwing a piece of shrapnel towards the camp fire and then polishing his tender metal skin. Shiloh shuddered at the sensation.
“Last night I dreamt you fixed me.” The android said after his friend was done with repairs. He stretched his arms, immediately feeling the improvement. Rollo cleaned flakes of rust from his fingers and imitated him.
“Well... I’ve been doing just that this past days. We just need to tweak your outer core. Then I’ll take care of your inner mechanisms, see what can be done. Oh, um. You also need clothes.” Rollo handed Shiloh his tattered robe, “Been meaning to do that. I can go look for some now, if you want.” but Shiloh held his shoulder before he could dart away.
“Don’t worry... You’ve done enough for me today already. Rest.” Shiloh assured him. Rollo paused and nodded, sitting obediently by his side. “You seem tired. Are you alright?”
“We’ll be returning to The Rising Planes on two days. And then…” The young man answered with a sigh.
"...And then the Roto will continue to pursue their war.” Shiloh finished for him.
Rollo exhaled and nodded, looking back at the machine man with a strange expression. Shiloh thought he saw a glint of pain there and something that stilled his entire body. Compassion. Rollo had also taught him about compassion.
“I will not leave the clan.” The machine man said, suddenly understanding the situation.
“Of course. After all I still need to fix your-”
“That doesn’t matter.” Shiloh lied, although it mattered to him for other reasons. He wanted Rollo to touch him, he even thought about scraping his body on purpose. It was a selfish thought, but he embraced it realizing that it came from his very core and not any previous programming. “I stay because I choose to, not because I am helpless. You happen to be a reasonable man. I’ve learned much about this world from you. And… If I can hunt, cook and even protect you as a form of retribution I will gladly do so.”
“Shiloh...” The young man murmured and the pain was back in his eyes. “Are you sure? If you stay then you will probably kill again, but this time they will be human beings.”
His circuits tensed, but if it meant protecting him... For Rollo's sake he would do it, Shiloh realized. Only for him.
“I don’t want you to kill for a clan you just met and for a cause that is...” Rollo looked around, lowering his voice. “This is not your fight, Shiloh. You can still leave. Nobody has to know-”
“Why did you fix me?” The android interrupted.
“What?” Rollo paused, unsure. He was quiet for a moment. “Well… My father wanted me to, but for me it was a challenge. I did it because I was curious, because seeing you made me wonder if I could help out. I… I wanted to.” The young man chuckled. “You’re a wonder to me. To everyone, really. And I believe you deserve a second chance in... Um, living.”
“I want to help you too.” Shiloh said, placing his hand on Rollo's warm back.
“But my clan’s goal is…”
“That’s not your goal.”
Rollo looked at the android for a long time, nodded in defeat and bent his back suddenly feeling too exhausted to move. Shiloh stared at his small frame and wrapped an arm around the young man’s shoulders. He wanted to touch him more, reassure him like he had seen Thea do. To the android's surprise Rollo leaned on him and closed his tired brown eyes. He realized he needed to feel the young man’s callused fingers on his so he took one of Rollo's nimble hands, trying to ignore the electric tingle in his own guts. Did he have friends like Rollo before the ancient dark? It felt new and unreal...
“Come on, let's go get some rest.” Rollo said, touching the android's chest.
"...Together?" Shiloh dared ask and it was worth it if only to watch the soft red tint in Rollo's face, the curious gleam in his eyes and feel his fingers tangle deeper in his tattered robes.
"Yeah." Rollo confessed. "If you want."
I want it. He thought again and again.
"Of course." Shiloh answered no longer caring if he couldn't remember anything but this moment.