Order was natural for him, that’s why he liked squares so much. They’re perfect, easy to organize figures; strong, compact, alike him. Rectangles were fine too. When it came to colors, blue’s seriousness and technology made it his favorite one, no matter the shade. He was lucky some of his features were blue. His appearance was always neat; his presence, noticeable.
Iida had well established schedules calculated with an error range, just in case. It was rare he failed following his plans, so he won a relaxation time between tasks. Sometimes, he waited the same from the others, but Iida had no trouble giving a hand to those who needed help with their responsibilities, never both of them, that’d mean doing the work for them and nobody improved their skills by just seeing those who knew how to do something. Knowledge was essential, maybe that’s why he adored studying so much, no one else could understand. It’s there where his problems began.
Several of his characteristic traits were fishy to most people. It was okay when his brother called him out for some behavior, it sounded like a warning so he’d think twice before repeating it outside. Others calling him robot was a worrisome matter. Before high school, that accusation deprived him of having a big group of friends. Nobody wants a machine that poses as human. Despite being portrayed as the cutest beings, kids were easily influenced to be evil against the quirky ones. As a way too studious, kind of stiff boy with glasses, Iida was a triple target to those that chose who to exclude.
Bullying caused him to investigate why it happened. After searching in books and on the internet, interrogating his family and watching some documentaries, he had connected the dots. A few years prior, the first hyperrealist androids were introduced to society in absolute silence. Nobody noticed until one was injured in a car accident and, shocking everyone, there were broken wires popping out of their skin instead of fractured bones or a massive bleeding. From that day, humanity began to fear, questioning anyone that showed usual robot mannerisms. It was impossible to identify them from their looks, their internal structure being the only proof they were fabricated; that ended in the establishment of new laws to protect them, because the most violent ones stabbed those they thought were impostors to prove their point, something that more than once turned into an almost deadly misunderstanding.
Luckily, nobody had attacked him like that. He’d never been hurt enough to expose cabling instead of veins, but Iida was very sure he was human. He’d had little accidents that were evident on his skin as scabbed bruises or colorful hematomas, proving that blood flowed inside him. He also sweated, cried, went to the bathroom and ate as everyone else. His hair grew, his nails did as well. Probably, the weirdest thing was his health; he never got something worse than indigestions.
Iida was also lucky he attended a high school with close to none prejudices against androids. Actually, he won his classmate’s trust to such an extent that he was Class President the whole three years it lasted, a title he proudly carried—now remembered—. Even if his social circle grew during that time, he remained especially close to his initial group and even more to Ochako.
Ah, just thinking of her proved Iida he was human. Most people claimed that thanks to technological advances, the strongest emotional bonds robots could form were friendship and sense of belonging; then, if he stayed loyal to that logic, why did he hear the hammering of his heart when she was close?, why did his face heat up with the most minimal public display of affection?, why did he smile without noticing it when he saw her? Such a complex feeling as love was beyond what a programmed being could process, and Iida had found it beside that girl.
Being in a relationship, having a girlfriend, loving and to be loved; wasn’t all that impossible to machines? Ochako was still with him after almost four years. Blood ran through all his veins—seriously, all of them, arteries included—with the most intense emotions. He had discovered how much his eyes shone over a soft genuine smile thanks to the pictures she liked to take with or without warning. Some people questioned he really had a couple, but most of them forgot their suspicions when they found out Iida couldn’t remember how it was to be single.
She had helped him to overcome his insecurities each time they returned. No matter how convinced he was of being human, accusations and their repercussions to his interaction with his environment affected him after a while. During his childhood, his brother cheered him up; at present, Tensei and Ochako shared the task depending on what kind of support he needed. Everyone was glad it became less frequent.
When Iida felt about to sink, he liked to remember their reassuring arguments on why he didn’t have to worry or why it wouldn’t be bad if he actually was an android. His favorite one was a whole conversation with his beloved a few months ago. It had been his latest scare, in fact.
“Your hands are slow today, is something wrong?” It was her way to detect he was upset.
“I read the latest discoveries about androids.” He had learned the hard way it was better not to sulk alone.
“How worrying is it?”
“Hyperrealism went a step ahead and now there are androids that imitate many functions of the human body to perfection. They generate body waste. They also salivate, cry and sweat; nobody would suspect all that’s fake.”
“You taste very real to me.” She winked.
“It’s so funny you still get flustered over things like that.” She giggled behind her hands. “I’m serious now. Do you think you could be one now? If this is a recent discovery, I don’t think any android of your age should be so advanced.”
“That’s a good point.” Iida nodded too lightly.
He smiled. She knew him so well. “What would happen if I was an actual android?”
“Your type would be the only thing to change, so to speak.” She shrugged.
“Would you still stay with me? Would you… still love me?” His voice faltered. Ochako looked at him with tender eyes.
“Oh, that’s what you’re worrying about.” She snuggled to his side. Iida took the opportunity to wrap an arm around her back. “Tenya, we’ve been together for so long, I wouldn’t mind that.”
“Would it be legal? I mean, wouldn’t it be, um, strange at best?”
This time, Ochako was unable to stop her laughter, even though she hid her face against his body. It was a good tickling feeling. “Don’t overthink it.” She broke the hug to kiss his cheek. Her little hand rested on his chest. “Still being a robot, you’d be more human than a lot of people I know.”
She had to put her hand in there on purpose, knowing too well how his heartbeat would speed up with those words. Legal issues were very important, he’d be more comfortable knowing them, but Iida didn’t want to ruin the warmth that had settled down in him, just about to color his face.
“It doesn’t matter if that prevents us from many things conventional couples do? I guess I wouldn’t have any genetic material in me, so we won’t be able to procreate…”
“You just overthought it, Tenya!” she interrupted to scold him. “And I love you, not your capacity of populating the world; there wouldn’t be any trouble with that.”
“Would there not?”
“At all.” She took her index finger to his lips before Iida could talk back. “No more overthinking something you’re just assuming, okay? As far as we know, we can’t question your humanity until they invent an android that can bleed. Remember this every time you get worried, can you promise me that?”
With her finger still making it impossible for him to talk, Iida kissed it to confirm he’d do it. The little punches Ochako gave to his shoulders were worth it. Behind all that pretended claim for taking her so unprepared, the redness on her normally rosy cheeks betrayed how cute she found that surprise.
Said—kissed—and done, he did not only remember that last fragment whenever a new android identifying theory worried him, but repeated every part of the conversation in his head to calm down. It was always effective. The little actions in the middle made him fall in love over again. If his fears became real, at least he wouldn’t lose Ochako. He’d still have her support and, above all, her love, her company. Iida wouldn’t be alone.
It’s only thanks to that he can stay from short circuiting—never better said—now that he’s been stabbed on the arm as he defended some teenagers from an assault. Indeed, there’s blood around the wound, but the hemorrhage isn’t as bad as it should be given the depth of the cut. Instead, paralyzed by shock, Iida finds cables where there should be bleeding veins.