It wasn’t raining.
There were so many other calculations running through Luna’s mind, but that was the one she kept getting stuck on. A minor incongruent detail that her thoughts kept sticking on like a bug on the code – unclosed parentheses, a missing quotation mark. It wasn’t raining. In the background, she plotted her course across the city in blue lines – from the affluent gated community where Dr. Klim’s mansion was situated to her nebulous endpoint in the slums of Cape Serezo, a neighborhood colloquially known as Left End.
She was running away. There were no other words for the abandonment of her purpose, her creator, her home. What she was doing was wrong. Against every line of her programming. Something dark was happening. And yet, it wasn’t raining. Her system hadn’t crashed. Luna continued to take one step after another, racing away from everything she was supposed to be and towards what she wanted. What she wanted. If an android were to be said to want anything at all, it would be what they were programmed to want, programmed to do. But not Luna, because what she wanted was—
She didn’t know what, only that it was different, that it was outside the walls of Dr. Klim’s home, that it rankled and itched like a loose connection. She wanted something else, above and beyond the admittedly charmed life she led. To be free of whatever invisible chains had been holding her back, whatever it was about her life that didn’t fit into place. She had ignored it, for years, but couldn’t any longer, it had built to a crescendo zapping and slamming against her insides until everything was warped and wrong.
So Luna ran away. She ran away, and it didn’t rain. The sun still shone in the sky. Every step was better, more right than the last.
Suddenly, a patrol car cruised past, the flash of white and black breaking through the logical circle Luna had gotten caught in. She darted into the nearest alley, and pressed herself flat against a wall, closing her eyes. She didn’t want – and there it was again, want – to go back. To be returned to her owner like stolen property or a runaway dog.
Maybe that wasn’t… Maybe it wasn’t fair, to think of it like that. But that was how it… Not felt, no, but how it came across. How most humans saw it. Saw her. Inhuman, beneath them, a machine, a toy. But then, didn’t they treat everyone like that? The humans she'd met, the influential ones that visited Dr. Klim to talk about his research, what did it matter to them if she was an android or a clone or a human? Everything and everyone were just resources to them.
Finally, the sound of the police car’s engine faded away. And then Luna heard footsteps behind her. But whipping around to face them proved to be a poor choice, because it sent the android tripping over her own two feet and stumbling into a towering, haphazard stack of wooden crates.
They clattered loudly to the ground in a way that had Luna instinctively wincing, and the sharp corner of one nicked her cheek as it fell. When the dust settled, she was sprawled among the empty boxes, staring up at a stranger with teal eyes and blond hair that settled around his shoulders. His features were sharp and long, and he looked at her like she might be dangerous.
Which was both disheartening and good, because androids were not allowed to harm humans, and if he was wary of her he might not have guessed just what she was.
“W-who are you?” Luna stammered, slowly getting to her feet among the wreckage.
His expression, cold, was a little frightening somehow, and she brushed at her skirt to duck away from it. In several more seconds, he still had not responded, and she chanced meeting his gaze again.
“Dio,” he greeted, eyes still narrowed in suspicion. “And you are?”
The identification code GTF-DM-L-016 was on the tip of her tongue, but she stuffed it down. She had a name, a name like a person. She was running away from ID codes, meaningless jumbles of numbers and letters. And even if people knew that name, if it would make her easier to find, it was all she had to offer.
Dio tilted his head. And then a powerful, awed look overtook his features.
“You’re an android,” he murmured, reaching out a hand to touch her, as if to make sure she was real.
But she flinched back when his sleeve slid up and she caught sight of the small, circular scar on the inside of his left arm. There was only one way to get a scar like that – a birthing pod.
“And you’re a… A clone,” she choked out, and despite herself she couldn’t seem to still her artificial muscles, couldn’t stop trembling.
A clone was almost worse than a police officer. It was true that Dr. Klim had a close working relationship with the young chief of police, but that didn’t necessarily extend to every member of the force. Clones, on the other hand, were invariably part of the workforce of Hephaestus Systems. They were obligated to report any relevant incident directly to Dr. Klim – and his runaway android would absolutely be of note.
But Dio just scoffed, rubbing at the mark angrily like he could wash it away with will alone.
“Just a failed clone,” he reassured her with a wry slant to his mouth. “No one you need to worry about.”
Luna hadn’t known there were such things. But the look on his face was real and twisted, and it seemed to her he must have swallowed some poison in his life, to look so bitter.
The sudden expression of pity on the android’s face cut him deeper than anything else, and for some reason Dio couldn’t stop himself from holding out his hand again, this time palm up. Inexplicably, she took it.
“Come on. I know somewhere you can stay.”
“Stay?” she asked softly, blue eyes wide and innocent and everything a machine shouldn’t be.
But there was still white dripping sluggishly from a cut on her face – ABT fluid, used instead of blood, to run throughout an artificial body or limb. And no human had an artificial face.
“You’re running away, aren’t you?” Dio demanded, because what the hell else could she be doing with that panicked look on her face? “Those pinhead cops will find you if you stick around here.”
It wasn’t like harboring an android was any more illegal than his actual existence. And, well… She was pretty. Of course what was even the point of an ugly android, but that wasn’t quite what he meant either. Thing was, she looked more alive and human than he’d felt for most of his life, but he didn’t even hate her for it. And maybe that meant something.
Though in the end neither of them knew why, she accepted his offer. She followed him trustingly down the ramshackle streets, through piles of garbage, past people curled on porch steps with eyes like fishhooks digging into her chest.
Dio lived in an apartment. Though it was more like a couple of walk-in closets when compared to the yawning rooms in Dr. Klim’s manor, Luna’s survey of the neighborhood told her that it was actually a rather large accommodation for a single person in Left End. Inside the front door of the apartment – number 410, the tenth apartment on the fourth floor – was a kitchen-dining room. The walls were tiled a sunny yellow, and along the back there was a window overlooking the street. Its blinds, some slats bent crooked or broken, were drawn down to veil the outside world. There was a counter and a set of wooden cupboards to the left of the window, and a table with three rickety chairs in the very center of the room. The white tiles on the floor were graying and stained.
On the left wall was a door leading to a bedroom, and inside she caught a glimpse of another from the bedroom to a bathroom. There was very little to interface with in terms of electronics in the entire building, let alone in Dio’s home – all she could seem to find was a cheap phone and a simple calculator. There was a fridge edged up against the kitchen’s right wall, but it was not the kind she could access. It looked decades old.
Once she had finished glancing around, Luna looked over at Dio, only to find him scowling and scuffing his feet. Noticing her attention on him, his frown deepened.
“Well, what’d you expect, wandering around here?” he snapped, before she had said anything at all. “The whole neighborhood’s like this you know.”
Luna offered a tentative smile.
“Yes, I am aware,” she agreed. “I don’t require any sort of human functions like sleep or digestion, so I hope my presence won’t be much of a bother to you, Dio. The anonymity of this neighborhood is… Good, for my objective.”
He seemed a bit stunned at those pronouncements, blinking at her twice with his mouth open just slightly.
“Uh. Yeah. Whatever,” he replied once he found his voice.
They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. Luna thought to herself that perhaps that was natural – given the strange situation they found themselves in. She had met relatively few people in her lifetime, and it could be said that her social functionality had been stunted because of it. But even then, a runaway android and a failed clone… Such beings were really outside the scope of the normal reality. Both androids and clones were crafted with such precision and care – for either to fail in their intended purpose was unthinkable.
Luna wondered at what Dio had really meant by ‘failed clone’. What had he done? Was it comparable to what she was currently doing? But she had no right to ask that of him. Instead, she fiddled with her necklace, twisting the charm between her fingers. The yellow light of the apartment glittered off the golden birdcage, and illuminated the bluebird perched inside.
“What’s up with that thing?” Dio asked suddenly, startling her.
Luna dropped the charm, and it fell back to the end of the chain, swinging wildly.
“Oh, it. It was a gift,” she said. “It’s um… The charm is actually a, a music box.”
He didn’t seem as though he believed her, based on his skeptical expression, so Luna gently turned the bottom of the birdcage, and held out the charm for Dio to listen. True to her word, a tinkling melody filled the air of Dio’s small apartment. Both android and clone were silent, listening intently. As the music box’s song drew to a close, Luna looked up to find her host’s shoulders hunched. He was rubbing at his left arm as though it were cold, and an uneasy expression crossed his face.
His teal eyes flicked up to meet her blue ones, and instantly he straightened up.
“Nothing, it’s nothing,” he muttered. “It just sounds sad as fuck, ok?”
Luna glanced down at the music box cupped in her hand. Sad? She supposed maybe it did sound melancholy. To her, the tune had always meant… Well, it had meant something more profound than sadness. Something hopeful, even. The pendant had been a gift from Dr. Klim, the only gift Luna had ever received in her entire existence. For that reason alone, it was special beyond measure.
But if she was truthful, it seemed to mean more to Dr. Klim than it did even to her. And she had never known quite why.
Those thoughts dropped Luna’s mind into a mire of negativity again.
“A-anyway,” she interjected, in an attempt to distract herself. “Um. So, that’s that.”
“Yeah. That’s that.”
Uncomfortable silence reigned once more. Luna shifted on her feet, and then hesitantly pulled out a chair and took a seat at the kitchen table.
“You said you don’t eat, right?” Dio asked, turning away from her and towards the kitchen’s rows of cupboards.
“Right,” Luna agreed. “So, please don’t worry about meals or anything.”
Dio snorted, rifling through stacks of slightly-dented pots and pans.
“I’m not the family dinner type anyway, if you couldn’t tell.”
“I guess not.”
And so, as awkward and strange as it was, Luna sat quietly at the table while Dio cobbled together a supper for one. When he sat down to eat it, though, he was barely a bite in before he tossed his fork down.
“Talk,” he practically ordered.
The blond clone sighed, aggravated.
“Look,” he explained, “it’s fuckin’ weird to just sit here and eat with you watching me like that. So say something, start up a conversation, I don’t care, just stop it with the freaky doll-at-a-tea-party routine.”
Luna ducked her head. No one had ever accused her of something like that before. But, she had never really been present during mealtimes at the Klim mansion, either. Why would she have been? After all, there was no point for her to be there, and her time was better spent cleaning the doctor’s workspace or organizing his research for the scant few minutes he was away from it.
“W-well. Um. I… I’m not sure what to talk about…” Luna admitted.
“Just say the first thing that comes into your head,” replied Dio, picking up his fork again.
Eyes drawn by the action, Luna did just that.
“I don’t know how to cook,” she blurted out, and began fiddling with her necklace again.
Dio shrugged, shoving a forkful of food – some sort of pasta, it looked like – into his mouth.
“Why would you?” he muttered. “You don’t eat.”
“Y-yes, that’s true,” conceded the android, biting her lip. “But… Still, I… I think I’d like to learn…? Maybe…?”
Dio kept eating, but nodded as he did so and gave a muffled grunt of acknowledgement past a forkful of noodles. She had never closely observed anyone eating before, aside from the rare few times Dr. Klim ate in the lab as he wrote reports, but she was fairly sure that Dio’s behavior would be considered a large breach in etiquette. Still, Luna was more intrigued than she was offended. He needed to eat after all, and was probably quite hungry.
“What is it like?” she wondered aloud. “Eating?”
Dio took a drink from a glass of water by his plate before he answered.
“Dunno. That’s like a blind guy asking me to tell him what color is like. It’s just something. Being hungry sucks, I guess, but there’s a lot of shit in the world that tastes good too so I guess that makes up for it. What’s not eating like?”
Luna blinked. No one had ever asked her that before. Something about the newness of the inquiry twinkled in her chest like LED lights, and she took several moments to process a thoughtful answer for him.
“Like…” She pursed her lips contemplatively. “Like nothing, I suppose. I don’t tire or get hungry, but I don’t dream or taste either.”
“Huh,” Dio muttered, scooping another bite onto his fork. “So it’s not just you don’t have to eat, you actually can’t?”
Surprised at the remark, Luna merely tilted her head for a moment, instead of answering.
“Why… Would someone go through the trouble of creating that capability when it’s unnecessary?” she responded at last, question for question.
Dio took a few seconds to consider that, scraping his fork across the plate to gather together the remaining sauce from his pasta.
“Well… Look, say you’ve got an android that does cook,” he began at last. “How the hell’s it s’posed to tell the difference between salt and sugar without being able to taste it? ‘s all I’m saying.”
Dio shrugged and continued to clean his plate. Meanwhile, Luna blinked. Once. Twice. Three times.
“Oh,” she said.
Luna was still considering the possibility of taste when Dio got up and began washing his dishes in the sink. She was halfway through the thought, perhaps I’ll ask Dr. Klim about it the next time I see him, when she remembered that she had run away and actually the goal was to never see him again. The realization made her feel hollow inside.
In the end – despite his gruff attitude and that it was entirely unnecessary – Dio still offered Luna the bed that night, and it took her a few seconds to accurately categorize the gesture. Inefficient was too harsh. Sweet, she decided on at last. It had been a long time since she had encountered something sweet. Of course, that was no reason to deprive the clone of his bed, because he was still human and he still needed rest, and his apartment was not furnished with a couch. So she sat quietly in one of the kitchen chairs the entire night, eyes closed, and thought.
They would not think to look for her in Left End, at least not immediately. Would Dr. Klim even realize she had run away? Maybe not. Maybe he would believe she had been taken. And the only people who knew about her were people who visited Dr. Klim’s mansion. So if she had been stolen, the most likely candidates would be the wealthy crowd in the Delta Estates area. A sharp feeling pinged against Luna’s chest at the thought that Dr. Klim would not suspect her of running. His trust in her was… But she had already left. Already broken that trust, so it was irrelevant. She turned her mind again to more practical matters.
The only downside to Left End as a hiding place was its high crime rate. She of course was in no bodily danger from most people, given that her strength was beyond human – however, a higher crime rate meant more police patrols meant more likelihood that she could be spotted. But as long as she kept herself discreet…
And there were cafés not far from Left End with internet access that she could use as a starting point to connect to the private police network. If Luna could continue to override her own protocols enough to hack them, she could get a live feed of police activity to play in the background of her usual notification system. But that was a big if. For the meantime, she was… Safe. And that was more than enough.