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Venus, 2309 C.E.

It takes Frank about three days of puttering around to finally figure out what the restless, itch-under-the-skin feeling is. And once he figures it out, it pisses him off.

He's bored.

He'd honestly thought it'd take longer to unpack all his belongings, but then, he actually hadn't brought a lot of his personal items with him. The Quito and Nairobi Tethers made the cost of shipping from Earth to geosync orbit dirt cheap, but transporting goods to Venus is still unbelievably expensive.

Frank isn't hurting for money, but it seemed ridiculous to spend that much money on stuff he couldn't bear to throw away because he was a sentimental fool.

He'd ended up only bringing the essentials, the things he absolutely couldn't live without, his guitars, and purchased a mostly furnished house on Lakshmi Planum.

It's a cozy little place, well built, in a quiet neighborhood of young couples and trios, mostly office and service workers, with the occasional tech for variety. He has a great view of the planum, and the Maxwell Montes are a faint smudge in the far distance, a little blurry through the atmo dome.

He's close enough that he can take the tube into Saca City if he wants to, and there was always plenty of things going on: art exhibits and museums, music performances, old-fashioned visual projections and holoshows. Restaurants and bars and recreation areas. Anything and everything; the region is experiencing an economic boom since the hydrogen-factory, with its matching carbon processors, opened up.

H-factories draw in workers, both real and artificial, and suddenly Lakshmi Planum is one of the fastest growing areas on Venus.

***

So, he's unpacked, and settled in, and after three days, he's bored.

He thinks about comming his mom, because he hasn't talked to her since he got to Venus. But even with all the advances in technology, there's still enough of a lag to make it annoying to try to have a conversation with someone back on Earth.

She'd probably want to talk about the band, and why they called it quits, and Frank's just not ready to delve into that minefield of issues. The wound is slowly healing, but it's still tender, and having his mom poke at it, good intentions or not, is something he's not interested in.

Instead, he sits down on his couch and records a quick message to her, trying to look happy and healthy as he speaks so he doesn't worry her.

"End," he says, once he's done.

"Would you like to send this message now?" the house asks. "Your account will be debited 100 marks for the message, plus 55.7 marks for regional and planetary taxes and fees."

"Yeah."

"Would you like a breakdown of the taxes and fees?" The house's voice is soft and androgynous; it's different, and Frank kinda likes it. He's used to AIs that reflect the old gender binaries; masculine voices in vehicles and business situations, feminine voices in hotels and other service industries.

"Uh, no."

There's a long pause. "Please verbally confirm this transaction."

"I confirm this transaction," Frank says.

"This house doesn't have the authority—"

Frank waves a hand. "That's fine. In the future, for debits up to 1000 m, you don't have to ask for confirmation." Frank's never owned a house, or lived somewhere long enough to have to fine-tune the AI.

"Acknowledged."

The house sounds the tiniest bit put out, and Frank wonders if he's imagining it, and how autonomous the house actually is. He'll have to find out before he has a sulking AI on his hands.

"Let's look at the local net."

Lakshmi Planum, like most places, has a regional communication network, a combination of entertainment and education tailored to the residents of the area.

He browses the feeds, subscribing to a few news channels, two from Earth, three from Venus. Every few years it seems like politics flares up, and there’s riots and protests and marches. Android—artificial human— rights were still a hot-button topic in a lot of places, for a lot of people. As long as corporations continue to produce androids for cheap labor, regardless of the legislation that says otherwise, there will never be equality. Frank likes to at least be aware of what's going on in the universe around him.

There's also a handful of book channels, and Frank can't join those fast enough. Frank had been sickly as a kid, and he'd started reading as a way to combat his boredom while he struggled with his illnesses.

It's a habit that’s continued into adulthood, and now he's well and truly hooked. He reads a lot of books and loves talking to other people about them.

"Fuck."

"Sir?"

"Don't call me that," Frank says absently. "There's a pet section."

"Of course," the house says. "Both real and artificial pets."

Frank had grown up with a series of artificial dogs. Artificial because his family never could have afforded a real one. Later, his parents had taken him for a visit to a pet zoo, and Frank had been surprised at how little difference there'd been between real and artificial animals.

When he'd left home to try to make it in the music business, he'd left Lois, a beagle-shepherd cross, behind with his mom. He'd missed her a lot during that first tour. Over the years, he'd toyed with the idea of getting another dog, but life on tour was hard enough without adding a pet into the mix.

Maybe now's a good time to finally get another dog.

***

He will never admit how much time he spends browsing the pet groups.

There are a few breed specific groups and some for the buying and selling and showing of real animals. But the majority of the pet network is taken up by groups for artificial animals.

There are behavior advice groups, and ones for health discussions, but the ones that Frank gets stuck on are the adoption groups.

There are so many animals out there without homes; Frank is stunned by the sheer number of them. Some of them are surrendered by people who can't take care of them any more. The rest are just abandoned.

It breaks his heart, and he wants to adopt them all.

"I wonder how many I can fit in here," he mutters.

"Given the size of this house, you could reasonably fit—"

"Don't finish that sentence," he interrupts. "I don't need the encouragement."

"Of course," the house says, agreeably enough.

"Maybe just one or two." He bookmarks some of the dogs, animals that he's pretty sure have been at the shelters for a long time, ones that aren't cute enough to be quickly adopted.

The kittens and puppies always go quickly; it's the older ones that aren't so lucky. And there are plenty of animals that fit into that category.

He fills out an adoption application, just to get the process started, and then flips over to the music groups. Otherwise he knows he'll end up pining for a while before bringing home an entire herd of animals.

***

Frank is pleasantly surprised; Saca City has a thriving music scene. There are a lot of clubs and bars that have live music, and the classified section is filled with musicians looking for other musicians. Others offer drum lessons, vocal training, practice spaces, professional studio equipment, everything a musician could possibly want or need.

It's almost like Frank's gone back in time, back when the band was just starting out, before they hit it big. Hanging out with Hambone and Shaun at dive bar venues, trying to collect their cut while Neil and Tim packed their equipment into the back of a hired vehicle.

And later, when their second album took off and they started selling out larger and larger venues, and then the stadium tour after the third album.

He remembers periods of intensity as they worked on getting new material recorded, followed by months of hurry-up-and-wait on tours around the world. It's hard to focus on why they decided to end the band in the face of so much nostalgia, because it's easy to forget about the homesickness and the fighting and the bad food and shitty hotels.

Musician wanted

The bold text catches Frank's attention, pulls him out of his reverie.

Singer-songwriter in need of a musician to help create art.

There's a comm code, and Frank's recording a response and sending it off before he can even think twice about it.

***

Frank ends up adopting a dog from one of the shelters, and calls himself lucky for escaping with just the single animal.

She's old, ancient, according to her serial number, and she's had a rough life. The shelter workers show Frank vids of when she first arrived into their care, peeing on herself and cowering in her cage. It was clear that she'd been rewired by constant abuse and neglect.

It makes him so angry he has to step outside of the building and practice mindful breathing until his desire to punch things until his hands bleed dies down, a little.

She has big black eyes that have seen all the darkness in the universe, and Frank falls in love. Her name is Petey, but Frank dubs her Sweet P, because she's exactly that.

He takes her home and dotes on her. He buys P little wool sweaters exported from Mars, and a custom-made dog bed, and gourmet protein treats, and P just wags her tail and licks his face when he holds her close.

It makes Frank realize how alone he is, here on Venus.

***

Frank hears back from the singer-songwriter, it's a guy named Gerard, and they make arrangements to meet at a coffee shop in the city to talk about what Gerard hopes to accomplish. Frank wants to get a feel for what Gerard's looking for. Maybe they can work together to create some great music.

Frank hates to admit it, but he misses working collaboratively with other musicians. He's got a pile of demos he's made since the band broke up, because he can't not be creative, but it's not the same. Not the same at all.

***

Gerard turns out to be a nerdy guy. He's really into sequential art, and music, and historical two dimensional horror vids.

He doesn't seem to recognize Frank at all, which is both a relief and a little irksome. He's run into a few fans in Saca City, but for the most part, he likes being somewhat anonymous. It deflates his ego a bit, though, that a visual artist in a small city on a colony world doesn't know who he is.

Frank shrugs to himself and tries not to let it bother him.

Gerard's got the worst posture Frank has ever seen, slumped in the corner of the their booth. His hair a little longer than what's trendy in Saca City, brown threaded through with silver strands. He has big, expressive hands, and an odd face: arched brows and hazel eyes, a sharp jawline and a crooked grin. It's a set of facial features that shouldn't work together but somehow comes together beautifully. Frank is charmed and a little in love.

"Art's my real job," he says, gesturing with his coffee cup, voice fast and a little nasal. Frank can't quite place his accent. "But I've always loved music so much, it's been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember."

"Yeah, yeah, me too," Frank says, because it's true. He has the advantage of coming from a musical background, with his dad and grandfather being musicians, but all he's ever wanted to do was be a musician.

Gerard talks about the biggest obstacle he has with his art. "I overthink it all the time. 'Is this too much? What will people think about this? More glitter? Less?'" He laughs ruefully. "Sometimes I just want to chuck it all into the garbage and find a job in retail."

"I'm pretty sure that would be a mistake." Frank stirs his coffee, something to occupy his attention, because wants to reach out and touch Gerard's hands, see if his fingers are as calloused as they look.

"But with music," Gerard muses, "I can turn off that critical part of my brain, and just. . .let go. It's nice."

Frank can relate to that. "When I'm actually playing, I'm totally in the moment. Same when I'm performing on stage. But when I'm in the studio, going through the production end of things? That's when the perfectionist internal editor comes out and takes over." He shakes his head. "It can get ugly."

"I can only imagine," Gerard laughs. "So listen." He rummages through his bag, pulls out a thin paper book, bound with a coil of wire. He fans the pages open, and Frank can see that the unlined, creamy paper is filled with words, Gerard's words, scrawled in dark ink.

"You write in that? Is that real paper?" He can't stop himself from reaching out to touch. Frank is incredulous. He hasn't seen a physical book in a long time; most people can't afford something so extravagant. "The art business must be good."

A blush paints Gerard's cheeks. "I do all right," he says.

Frank makes a mental note to look Gerard up when he gets home.

"Anyway, here's the deal. I've got lyrics, those I've been writing down. In my head, I've got snatches of songs, melodies, rhythms—" He sings softly, a bunch of nonsense words, and his voice is a little rough, but he knows how to use it. "I just don't know how to bring it all together—"

"Yeah, okay." Frank can do this. "I can help with that."

***

"I'm a big fan, by the way," Gerard says the next time they meet, at a practice space they rented.

Frank freezes.

"I didn't say anything before, because, well, it hasn't been that long since the band broke up, and I didn't know if it was a painful subject or not—" Gerard trails off, frowning as he looks at Frank. "But I just wanted you to know that I'm really excited to be working with you."

Frank slowly lets out a breath. "It's okay." He's a little surprised to find that it's the truth. "The band grew too big, and it stopped being art. It was a product, and that was something none of us wanted. So we killed it."

"That must have been tough," Gerard says, and the sympathy on his face eases something in Frank's chest.

"It was. It was harder than we thought it'd be."

Gerard nods, and shows Frank the newest lyrics he's written. Frank grasps at the distraction, grateful.

***

"And can we hold on our hearts, 'til the day brings the light?" Gerard sings in their rented studio, and Frank adjusts the dynamic compression on the holoconsole. It's good, the combination of Gerard's words and Frank's music, and he's excited about the possibilities.

They've got a handful of solid demos done, and they've been checking out on-planet companies that work with unsigned musicians. There's a few that look promising.

"'Cause I feel safe in your arms." Gerard looks at him through the window of the control booth, and there's something about it that makes Frank shiver.

They spend a lot of time together, working on music, watching ancient vids, exploring the music of Saca City, and Gerard fits seamlessly into Frank's life, like he's always been there. They have so much in common, and Frank loves to listen to Gerard talk about the things he's passionate about.

It's a little scary, like walking on an frozen lake, waiting for the ice to crack under his feet and pull him under, gasping for breath.

Frank's not good at relationships, not even friendships. He thinks, just maybe, he might be in over his head.

***

It's early, and Frank's a little groggy, but he's got coffee, and that's what's important.

"House, queue feed."

"One thousands, six hundred and fifty three items queued."

Frank inhales his coffee, and spends a few minutes trying to cough up a lung. "What?"

"It's the fiftieth anniversary of the SinghCo riots. Everyone seems to have an opinion they want to share."

He snorts. "Of course they do." He thinks about digging out his Androids Now! shirt. The mechanical fist logo is faded, but still readable.

"I've selected a few that might be worth your time. One about the ramifications of the riots, and the legislation that got passed because of them. One is a brief history of artificial humans. The last is a retrospective of some of the more successful artificial humans on Venus."

"Hmmm. That last one sounds interesting."

"Excellent choice."

The docuvid is fascinating. Venus has its fair share of successful androids, and a lot of the names are familiar to Frank. Leaders in industry, in politics, in science, in the arts.

"—and Gerard Way, currently residing in Lakshmi—"

"Stop," Frank says sharply, and the docuvid pauses.

It's Gerard. Younger, hair dyed bright, brilliant red. Serious-faced, dressed formally in a suit, but unmistakably Gerard.

Gerard-the-artist, Gerard-the-musician, Gerard the android, the artificial person, whatever they called themselves. His friend Gerard.

"Message, record," he says.

"Recording," the house says.

"Why didn't you fucking tell me?" he says. His throat feels tight, almost too constricted to even get out a muttered, "Send."

He goes back to bed and after a long time staring at the ceiling, he falls into a fitful sleep.

***

The silence from Gerard is deafening. It pisses him off, and he finds ways to occupy the time he used to spend with Gerard.

He takes Sweet P for walks. A lot of walks. He buys her coordinated outfits and another bed, this one shaped like a medieval castle. She sniffs at it suspiciously before she deigns to sleep in it.

He goes to gigs, gets drunk at dive bars, gets into fights, gets his ass kicked. He takes a government sponsored tour of all the terraforming plants in the region, and feels like a tool when he buys a pro-government souvenir tee shirt.

He calls his mom and endures the 14 minute delays between the comm packets while they talk about the family shenanigans and how thin Frank's gotten.

He sends comms to his dad, his two oldest cousins, and, after working up the nerve, he sends messages to Hambone and Shaun. After further thought, he contacts Neil and Tim as well.

If he's going to mend some fences, he might as well mend them all.

"Oh, man, Frank, that's probably the stupidest thing you've ever done, and you've done a lot of stupid things." Hambone's face is serious. "You know you fucked that up, right? I assume you do, because otherwise you wouldn't be whining to me about it." The look on his face belies the harshness of his words. Hambone rubs tiredly at his forehead as a baby starts crying in the background. "You owe him a big apology for being such a bigoted ass, and maybe, if you're lucky, he'll still want to be your friend." The crying rises in volume. "Gotta go, Frankie. Let me know how it goes."

It isn't the helpful advice Frank was hoping for. When he gets Shaun's message, it's pretty much a lecture on the same theme.

He knows he fucked up, and he's terrified he's fucked up things beyond repair.

***

"I'm sorry." Frank thinks that's a good start. He's not sure what's next, though.

Gerard looks tired and drawn, like he hasn't been sleeping well. But his eyes are still sharp. "What are you sorry for, Frank." There's no warmth, no give, and to be honest, Frank can't blame him. The history between natural and artificial humans has not been pretty.

"I'm sorry for being a bigoted asshole." He thinks that maybe Hambone had the right idea.

Gerard stares at him for a moment before his shoulders slump. "All right, Frank. I should have known better, but I thought you were different."

That hurts, and Frank opens his mouth to protest, but he realizes that Gerard's not being spiteful. Just truthful.

"I know. I'm sorry that I didn't live up to your expectations." The words are hard, stuck deep in his chest, but Frank's pretty sure that Gerard's friendship is worth it. "I don't know why I reacted like that, surprise maybe. Like, Sweet P is an artificial dog, but she loves me just as much as a real dog would. More, maybe. She's got a big heart. But it's never mattered to me one way or the other."

Gerard takes a sip of his coffee. "So what's different about me?"

Frank pushes around a sugar packet on the table in front of him. He swallows hard. "You're so damn talented, so artistic. I think, in the back of my mind, I'm convinced that humans are superior to artificial people, because being a real human somehow grants us the ability to be more creative." He grimaces. "It's fucked, and it's wrong."

"Yeah, it really is," Gerard says softly.

"Because you are clearly an amazingly creative person, one of the most talented people I've ever met, and the ideas just come pouring out of you—" He takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry. So so sorry, Gerard, I know you probably have to put up with all kinds of bigoted bullshit all the time and then to have it come from someone you considered a friend—"

"Yeah, it sucks. It hurt, because I wasn't expecting it from you."

"What can I do to make it up to you?"

Gerard meets his gaze head-on. "Not do it again. Learn from your mistakes. Stand up against prejudices." He holds out his hand, and Frank takes it gratefully. "Keep trying to be better."

Frank feels a little shaky, like he'd almost broken something precious and fragile. "Fuck, I was so scared—"

"I believe in second chances, Frank." Gerard grins, and Frank's heart skips a beat. "It's programmed into me." He squeezes Frank's hand and Frank can't help but squeeze back.

 

The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.
--Eldon Tyrell