There are three rules to Mabu’s life. One, he has to remember to wind up his mechanical heart each morning. Two, he must obey every command OtterBot gives him. And finally, he must never leave the room in which he’s spent his entire life.
It’s a simple room, with a toilet, shower, bed, closet, everything Mabu needs to survive. Three of the walls, floor, and ceiling are the same shade of white, while the other wall is made up of reflective glass. This is the wall that OtterBot uses to interface with Mabu. Sometimes, he thinks he sees shadows moving behind it, but OtterBot reassures him that it’s nothing but his imagination.
Mabu sighs and leans back into his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He’s already done his exercises and chores for the day, so it’s his free time now. “OtterBot,” he says, summoning the AI, “can you tell me what Earth was like?”
Earth is a desolate wasteland. Your kind destroyed its natural beauty and made it unable to sustain life. You are the last human alive.
It’s the same answer Mabu always gets when he asks anything about the outside world, but today Mabu wants more. “I know that,” he replies, “but what was Earth like before? When it could sustain life? In some of the books you’ve given me, they describe these beautiful ‘blue oceans’ and a ‘blue sky’, and even ‘twinkling stars at night’. But I don’t know what any of those things are.”
Sharing information about the former condition of the planet would only result in discontentedness in your current situation. You are more likely to try and leave this safe place, resulting in your demise.
“I promise I won’t try to leave, OtterBot. Can you please just tell me what this ‘sky’ is?”
It is against protocol. If you keep asking these questions, I will withhold your rations for the next thirty-six hours.
“No, you don’t have to do that! I... I’m just tired, that’s all. I won’t ask any more questions about Earth.”
Good boy, Mabu. Get some rest. The lights dim and Mabu rolls over onto his side, disappointed. Eventually, he drifts off to sleep, dreaming about what the world might have been...
A loud crash interrupts Mabu’s fitful sleep. He opens his eyes to see nothing has changed in his room, then mumbles grumpily, “OtterBot, why the hell would you do that...”
Then he hears it. A thumping noise that almost sounds like footsteps, but that’s impossible, there’s nothing else alive to be making that noise—
“Looks like this is just another one of his test rooms. Doesn’t seem like he’s in here.”
“You go ahead, Tsubomi. I’ll check this room and make sure it’s clear.” The footsteps retreat, but Mabu doesn’t dare move. His heart pounds in his chest as the voice speaks again. “Jeez, how many rooms does an evil scientist need?”
Even though Mabu is sure he’s never heard it, something about that voice seems... familiar, somehow. He pulls back his cover a bit and peeks out. A figure is poking around in his room and has just reached Mabu’s desk, where his sketchbook is lying. The intruder starts to flip through the pages and, before he can stop himself, Mabu shouts, “Hey! That’s private!”
The figure jumps back and Mabu buries himself under the covers, trembling. The footsteps slowly get closer. “You must be one of Doctor Uso’s test subjects, right?” Mabu feels a hand on his blanket and lets out a shriek, scooting away from it. He falls off the bed and immediately feels a sharp pain in his right arm. When he looks down, he sees a piece of broken glass sticking out of his forearm.
“Ah, careful! There’s a lot of broken glass over there,” the voice says.
“I noticed,” Mabu mutters back, then bites his tongue. The stranger laughs and Mabu says, “Please forgive me! I didn’t mean to talk back!”
“You must’ve been here a while,” the voice says after a moment. “You’re trained to expect punishment. How long has it been for you?”
“My entire life. OtterBot says it’s a toxic wasteland outside and that I’ll die if I go outside of this room.” Mabu pauses, then asks, “Are you a radioactive monster?”
“No, I’m not,” is the amused reply. “Are you?”
“Why would I be?! I’ve been safe in here this whole time!”
“Kid, I hate to be the one to bring your world crashing down on you, but Earth isn’t like that. Uso lied to you.”
“Don’t call me that,” Mabu says irritably. “When I was made, I already had the body of a twenty year old man. So I’m not a kid.”
“You were already twenty, huh? You must’ve had a life before all of this, then. Friends, family—“
“No!” Mabu can’t take it anymore. “I was created here, and I’ve never been anywhere else. I’ve always longed to meet other people, like they do in books, but that’s not in the cards for me. This... this is a dream, isn’t it? It has to be. I’m going to wake up, everything’s going to be normal, and I’m just going to be disappointed. You can’t fool me, I know I’ll never be able to connect with anyone...”
“Even though you want to?”
“More than anything.” Mabu looks down at his forearm, which has started to patch itself up. “I was designed not to have emotions, but I don’t think it worked. I’ve always felt like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what.”
“‘Don’t let go of your desires.’” Something stirs within Mabu when he hears those words.
“...What was that?”
“It’s something my partner told me a long time ago. You have a choice to make; you can stay in here where you know it’s safe, or you could journey into the unknown. Even if it is just as bad as you think, at least you’ll know.” Mabu stays quiet and hears a sigh. “Look, if you’re not going to come out after my motivational speech, I don’t know what else to tell you. Hey, are you listening to me?”
“Don’t let go... of your desires?” Water drips onto the hard white floor below Mabu. He pulls his blanket back so the stranger can (sort of) see him.
“Ah, why are you crying?! I didn’t mean to—“
“I— I don’t know,” Mabu whispers. The stranger attempts to approach him again, and this time Mabu lets him.
“Hey, it’ll be alright. I didn’t mean to scare you or anything, sometimes I just come off really angry, sorry about that— oh, shit! You’re bleeding!” A hand grabs Mabu’s and starts to wrap his forearm in cloth, but suddenly freezes. Mabu watches as a tanned finger traces two black circles on his pale wrist.
“I’ve had those markings ever since I can remember,” Mabu explains. “OtterBot says—“
“It can’t be,” the man says in a small voice. His other hand reaches up and touches Mabu’s face, turning it towards him, and Mabu finally catches his first glimpse of another human being.
Long blond hair falls into the other man’s startlingly green eyes, which are widened and fixed on Mabu. His lips are parted, revealing sharp teeth (are those what normal human teeth look like?) Tears well up in his eyes as he runs his thumb across Mabu’s cheekbone. “It’s you,” he breathes, barely audible.
“I— I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” Mabu stammers, pulling away from the man. “I don’t know who you are.”
The man recoils as if Mabu had slapped him, but quickly regains his composure. “Of course you don’t know who I am,” he says, smiling bitterly. “I should’ve known better.”
“I’m sorry,” Mabu says, confused. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Don’t worry. I could never stay mad at you, Mabu.”
Mabu blinks. “How did you know my name?”
The man shakes his head and says, “Never mind that. We need to get you to the hospital and make sure there’s nothing wrong with you. Will you let me take you there?”
He stands and extends his hand to Mabu. In his extended palm, Mabu can see an uncertain future, one he’s hardly dared to dream about yet hoped for his entire life. Mabu takes one last look around his room, then grabs the man’s hand, ready to face whatever the future has in store for him.