Midgar was one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world, if not the biggest. What had once been a small town in the middle of nowhere had quickly morphed into a bustling neon-green metropolis thanks to its focus on advancing its technology at the expense of everything else. Namely, its focus on robotics and artificial intelligence software.
Engineers from all over the world flocked to the city in hopes of being hired by the government’s robotics department or starting a mechanic shop of their own. That was what brought Zack Fair, a country boy with a head full of ideas but a pocket empty of cash to the city.
He wasn’t sure how he was going to do it, but he was definitely going to become the No. 1 robotics mechanic in the world.
It was that sense of enthusiasm and determination that led him to a small mechanic workshop in the more run-down section of town. It was one of the hidden gems of Midgar, run by a tough but gentle-hearted man named Angeal. Although he at first insisted that he wasn’t taking any apprentices, the next day Zack was working alongside him.
“He’s just a kid and he didn’t have anywhere else to go. Once he has somewhere else he can stay, he’ll be leaving.” Angeal had insisted to his colleagues in town. They hadn’t believed him for one second.
Four years later, an 18-year-old boy with a bright smile and scars covering his arms was still working in the shop, apprenticed to an (at first) reluctant master and living in a small makeshift apartment above the workshop. Angeal lived in a house behind his shop and when his apprentice wasn’t working late nights on one of his own projects he could usually be found there, having a home-cooked meal that Zack insisted was better than his mother’s cooking.
Angeal would always tell Zack to stop kidding around but, on the inside, it made him happy.
“Zack, make sure to actually turn all the equipment after you finish up this time.” Angeal called as he made his way towards the door. “Last night the rotary drill was running for hours by itself. You know what kind of electric bill we already have to pay, don’t you?”
Zack’s face was bathed in light as he lit the blow torch on one of his latest projects, finally pushing up his goggles to his forehead when he finished. “Aw come on Angeal, have a little faith in me, would you? I’m not staying up too late this time.”
Angeal raised a brow. “Oh? Going to the scrap yard again?”
Zack stood up, dusting some soot off of his work pants. “Yup! Thursday’s the day they always get spare parts from the big government factory in town, so that’s definitely the time to strike.” Zack did a little fistpump for emphasis and Angeal rolled his eyes with an amused smile.
“All right, Zack. Just remember to actually work on client projects in between all these extra things you’re fixing.”
“Of course! I’m totally on it!” Zack shouted with a salute then slung a duffle back over his shoulder.
Angel couldn’t stop a soft chuckle from escaping as he held the door open to let his apprentice run out. “All right. See you tomorrow, Zack”
Zack turned around, running backwards for a few steps as he waved. “See ya, Angeal!” He turned just in time to avoid running into a few pedestrians, hopping out of the way and then continuing to run down the street.
The junk yard was about a 15 minute walk, or 5 minute run in Zack’s case. It also took him right by his best friend Kunsel’s apartment, who happened to be walking out of the building’s door right as Zack ran by and called out to him.
“Hey! What’s the hurry, Zack?”
Zack stopped immediately, going up to Kunsel and jogging in place for a few seconds before finally coming to a standstill. “Hey, Kunsel! You wanna come with me to the scrap yard? There might be some good stuff there today!”
Kunsel gave him a flat look. “You’re just asking me to come so I can help you carry more stuff, aren’t you?”
“Aw come on, that’s not the only reason.” Zack grinned innocently. “Don’t you like to take the parts the guys upstairs throw out and fix ‘em up yourself?”
“That’s what you like doing, Zack. But…” Kunsel scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. “I am kinda curious about something.”
“Oh?” Zack leaned forward curiously. “What is it?”
“Well—” Kunsel straightened up, getting a more serious expression on his face that made Zack even more interested. Unlike him, Kunsel worked in one of the government robotics departments. He wasn’t involved in a lot of the high level research or development but he would somehow find out any of the latest gossip that was heading through the grapevine.
“I am kind of curious. It seemed like they were being kind of secretive about something last week, like there were more armed guards around the research department doors than usual.”
“Huh.” Zack folded his arms. “Maybe they’re working on a giant robot tank or something and don’t want people to see.”
“Maybe.” Kunsel replied thoughtfully, though it looked like he wasn’t completely focused on the conversation. Zack tilted his head curiously but Kunsel didn’t elaborate any further. “Anyway, we should probably hurry. I heard a big storm’s going to roll in tonight.”
“What?! Well come on then, jeeze! We don’t have time to stand around all day!” Zack flailed, quickly turning and heading off again, quickly followed by Kunsel.
The streets of Midgar were crowded with people, both rich and poor, as they rushed to get home from work or out to the bars and clubs that littered the slums. It wasn’t just people that filled the streets, though. Robots of all shapes and sizes, some with wheels and some hovering above the crowd, were zipping to and from their various errands delivering packages or messages between friends. There were even animal shaped ones, though those were mostly owned by children as a “first robot” type of present.
Every once in a while, Zack would spot one that looked eerily human except for two things: instead of ears, they had metal coverings that attached to a metal band that ran across the top of their head and their feet were obviously pieces of metal crafted into vaguely boot-looking shapes.
“It’s kind of creepy, isn’t it?” Kunsel muttered from behind him.
“Huh?” Zack glanced back at him. “What is?”
“The humanoid robot models.” Kunsel replied, emphasizing with a quick gesture at one with silver shoulder-length hair walking side by side with his human master, a hunched-over man with glasses and slicked back hair. “I mean…I know that was the point, but they really look too human, don’t they?”
Zack shrugged good naturedly. “I dunno about that. I think it’s pretty cool, you know? It’s just too bad you really have to be rich to afford one of ‘em.” He laughed, rubbing the back of his head. “I’m pretty sure the customers we have would have to sell off their houses about three times over to get one.”
“I guess so. The receptionists in the main office just got converted to human models and they’ve seemed pretty harmless so far.”
“Exactly! Man…” Zack glanced up at the sky, watching as dark gray clouds began to roll in. “I’d really give anything to be able to work on one of those.”
“Hey!” Kunsel walked up next to Zack, lightly tapping him on the head. “Quit daydreaming and let’s go.”
Zack quickly shook his head then grinned. “Right.”
“Man, it’s really some slim pickings today.” Zack kicked a loose gear down the hill of assorted pieces of metal, electronics and circuits. “I’m starting to feel like today’s gonna be a bust.”
“We probably should be going pretty soon anyway, Zack.” Kunsel called from a few feet away, pocketing a few of the semi-functional circuitboards he found. “It’s gonna start pouring any second.”
Zack slumped a little, letting out a dramatic sigh. “Okay, okay.” He turned and began to walk down towards the entrance. “Man, I had such a good feeling about today too. I really felt like—”
Suddenly, Zack stopped in his tracks as something in the distance caught his eye. Kunsel stopped as well, looking at Zack with a curious expression. “Like…what?” When Zack didn’t respond, Kunsel began to look a bit concerned. “Hey, what’s wrong? Zack—Hey!” Suddenly Zack was off like a shot, running over to the next pile of scrap metal and junk without another word. “Zack!” Kunsel called, quickly running over to join him just as Zack squatted down and began to dig through the pile.
“I thought I saw something in here! It kind of looked like a- Holy shit!” Zack jumped back a little, revealing a very human-looking hand sticking out of the pile of robot scrap.
“Is that a…hand?!” Kunsel looked about ready to bolt but didn’t want to leave Zack alone in a scrap heap with a possibly dead body. “That’s not, right?”
“Here, help me pull it out! Maybe it’s a part from one of those humanoid models!” Zack’s shock had done a 180 to pure excitement as he reached for the hand and began to tug. Kunsel reluctantly grabbed Zack around the waist and began to help pull. “Damn, this thing weighs a ton! Come on, Kunsel help me pull a lil more and- There we go!” With one last tug, the arm was followed by a shoulder, connected to a torso and then an entire body. Zack let go once the entire thing was out of the pile, stumbling back a little and nearly knocking Kunsel over.
The both of them stared in silence as thunder began to rumble overhead. Even as the rain slowly began to drip down, neither of them said a word about leaving.
“That’s…” Kunsel started but then just trailed off, unable to formulate any other words as he stared.
“A humanoid model…” Zack finished for him, his eyes practically shining in excitement as his grin widened even further. “Holy shit, Kunsel, just look at him!” Zack kneeled down by the robot, lifting up head a little to examine it more thoroughly.
“Him…?” Kunsel questioned, avoiding getting too close to it.
“Well, duh, he’s obviously a guy!” Zack began to look over his face, arms, neck and everywhere else. Kunsel looked worried the robot might jump up any moment but it had its’ eyes closed and didn’t react at all as Zack poked and prodded. “Man, look at him though, he’s all scratched up and dirty…How long do you think he was in here?” Zack lifted one of the robot’s ear caps off, grimacing at the mess of tangled and broken wires. “Jeeze, someone really did a number on the circuitry here…”
Kunsel crouched down next to Zack, his curiosity having gotten the better of him. “It looks like whoever it was, they were trying to break him on purpose…”
Zack took a better look at the robot. His blonde, spiky hair was surprisingly soft to the touch, as was the synthetic skin along his face. Oddly, there were two dark stripes on either side of his face that, when Zack brushed a hand along them, were cold and felt like metal. The clothes that he was wearing looked off as well, like there were parts of his outfit missing. No one would really just put a black zip-up bodysuit and gloves on a robot like this, right? Then again, Zack didn’t know anyone that would leave something this expensive so completely broken, scratched and dirty in the middle of the scrap yard.
“I knew it…” Zack looked to Kunsel with a bright smile. “I knew I had a good feeling about today.”
Kunsel blinked a few times, looking even more confused as Zack looped his arms around the robot’s waist and began to stand. “Zack, the hell are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” The wheels in Zack’s head were obviously turning as he began to look more and more enthusiastic. “I’m taking him home and fixing him!” Kunsel’s jaw dropped, speechless for a few seconds as Zack struggled to pick the robot up. “Damn, he’s heavy! Here, Kunsel, help me get him on my back at least—”
“You’re going to…what?!” Despite his shock he still moved to help Zack get the robot on his back, if for no other reason than it was beginning to really pour and the sooner they got out of this area the better. “Zack, you don’t even know where he’s from or what he was built for! What if you’re stealing? What if someone calls the cops when they see you dragging this thing around…?!”
“No one’s gonna call the cops, Kunsel. No one’s gonna be outside in this weather anyway!” Zack shifted the robot a bit, moving his hands underneath his metal legs with a grunt. “Damn, I’ve really got my work cut out for me today…” Zack began to walk as fast as possible, which ended being up not being much faster than a light stroll and getting utterly soaked as he went. Kunsel followed after him, nervously glancing around for any soldier or police officer that might suddenly pop out from behind a building. “Besides! He was on public property and it’s my right to pick him up and fix him.”
“You’re seriously crazy, you know that?”
Eventually, the robot became too heavy for Zack to carry all the way back to his shop by himself and Kunsel was goaded into helping. With the both of them each supporting one of the robot’s arms, they were somehow able to successfully half-carry and half-drag him back to Zack’s shop. The both of them looked like a pair of drowned rats by the time they finally got inside.
“Whew, made it…Okay, Kunsel, let’s set him right down here by my work station- Ah damn, be careful man!” He exclaimed as Kunsel nearly dropped him onto the floor.
“What are you worried about? He’s already broken and probably half-rusted at this point.” Kunsel muttered but still helped to set him gently next to all of Zack’s tools.
“Well yeah but I don’t want you to break him more.” Zack took one look at the robot then to his tools then clapped his hands together. “All right, here we go! One robot repair, coming right up.” Zack pulled his goggles down from his head and over his eyes then reached into his back pocket, grabbing his gloves and pulling them on.
“Zack, do you even have any idea how to fix a humanoid model?” Kunsel questioned, leaning against the wall and watching as Zack took a seat on his work bench and began to inspect the robot’s face and head.
“No idea!” Zack replied enthusiastically. “But it can’t be too different from any other model I’ve fixed, right?”
There was a long pause between them before Kunsel finally answered. “…Stay here and don’t do anything dumb. I’m gonna go do some research.” He turned and quickly ran out the door and back into the rain, knowing that despite his warning Zack was most likely going to keep going at trying to fix it. If nothing else, he hoped that he would be able to get some useful information before Zack blew himself and half of the neighborhood up.
“Pft! Who does he think I am?” Zack looked back at the robot, who still had his eyes closed and seemed as lifeless as ever. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.” Without thinking, he leaned a hand over and gently ruffled the robot’s hair. “We’ll get you fixed up in no time.”
Zack removed the robot’s ear caps again, grimacing when he was able to take a better look at the completely fried circuit boards and plugs. “Okay, maybe this will take a little longer than I thought.” After a moment he grinned determinedly, rolling up his still-soaked sleeves before reaching for his cautery tools. “Well, we’re getting this done come hell or high water! I’m always up for a challenge, that’s for sure.”
A “challenge” was probably a light way of putting it. Half of the robot’s charging plugs had to be replaced and the circuitry was such a fried mess that Zack ended up having to replace some of the wires with ones that he had acquired from his previous trips to the scrap yard.
“There…” Zack wiped the sweat from his brow and glanced towards the window, having just finished polishing the metal portions of the robot’s legs. The sun had just come up, meaning that he had stayed up all night with the robot. “Man, I really had to improvise for some of that but I think that just might work!” Zack stood up, though he was a little wobbly from sitting hunched over for hours on end, he looked just as energetic as ever.
“All right, now for the moment of truth!” Zack stretched his arms a little then reached down to plug four cords into each of the robot’s ear pieces. Each cord connected to a longer extension set, which were all plugged into every electrical outlet that Zack could find in the shop. Zack stood expectantly then frowned lightly when nothing happened. Even after about a minute the robot was as still and lifeless as ever.
“What?” Zack scratched his head, frowning in confusion. “What’s the deal? I seriously thought that would be it…” Zack crouched down again, digging around the wires and plugs in the robot’s ear pieces. “Damn, is there something I missed?” He dug his fingers further in, pausing when he felt a switch he hadn’t spotted before. “The hell…?” Without thinking, he flipped it. Within a few seconds the robot gave a jolt and the whirring and clicking of his machinery could be heard.
Zack’s eyes widened. “Woah…” The moment was interrupted as the lights began to flicker and all of the machinery began to turn on, then back off again. The whirring from the robot intensified, as did the flickering of the lights and every electrical appliance in the building.
“Oh shit…!” Zack stood up, at a loss of what to try and turn off or fix. All of the equipment began to go haywire, each tool turning up to the highest intensity. Only now did Zack start to wonder if he should have waited for Angeal to get back before starting this.
“Shit, shit, shit, Angeal’s seriously gonna kill me!” Before Zack could panic any more, the entire building went dark. After all of the electrical haywire from before the silence was definitely…eerie.
“Damn, where was that circuit breaker—Ow! Okay, maybe I should clean up my stuff more but seriously…aha!” After stumbling around in the dark for a few seconds Zack finally found it and with a switch the lights slowly began to come back on. “There we go. Well at least—” Zack froze when his gaze fell upon the previously-lifeless robot.
He was still leaning against the wall but, instead of being slumped over, was sitting up and slowly looking around.
“It worked…” Zack whispered, his hands combing through his hair. “It worked, it actually worked…?!” He suddenly began to laugh and ran over to the robot, who looked startled as Zack crouched down next to him. “You’re awake! Holy crap wait until Angeal sees this!” He grinned happily, looking into the robot’s bright blue eyes.
Is it just my imagination or are they kind of…glowing?
“I can’t believe this, I can’t believe it actually worked! There’s no way…!” Zack shoved his goggles off of his eyes and back on his head so he could take a better look at the robot, who was staring at him with a dazed, confused expression. “Ok, let’s see how well I fixed your legs. Can you stand up?”
Slowly the robot looked down at his legs, then back at Zack before he slowly pushed himself up off the ground. He seemed stable for a moment but then flailed slightly as he began to lose balance. “Woah, woah, woah!” Zack quickly stood up and caught him around the waist, grunting slightly at the weight as he helped him sit back down. “Okay, maybe have to do a few adjustments in a little bit- Ah ah, hey!” The robot had put his hands on one of the wires sticking out of his head and had begun to tug slightly. “Don’t pull those out yet! I’m pretty sure you’re not anywhere close to being fully charged, especially with the power going on and off like that.” Zack placed his hand over the robot’s and gently pulled it away. “Anyway…my name’s Zack.”
The robot looked from Zack’s hand to his then back at his face. Zack began to wonder if he needed to adjust the robot’s hearing but after a few more seconds the robot opened his mouth and repeated slowly. “Z…ack…?”
“That’s right!” Zack grinned happily and sat down in front of the robot, leg’s crossed. “So you can talk, huh? I was starting to get worried there for a second.”
The robot blinked a few times then glanced around the shop quietly. Zack frowned lightly. “Well maybe we’re gonna have to work on more talking later. Do you have a name, or anything?” Zack wasn’t quite sure how it worked with humanoid models. There was no reason for them not to have a name, right? Although the government didn’t tend to name their robots, a lot of his customers named the ones they owned.
The robot looked back at Zack, his mouth turned into a slight frown as he shook his head. “You…don’t know?” The robot nodded. “Huh, well…I guess I’ll think of something! Now, what to call you…”
“Zack!?” Angeal’s voice interrupted his train of thought and he quickly stood up to see Angeal standing in the doorway, his face pale. “Zack, what’s going on? The entire block was out of power and—” He froze once his eyes rested on the robot who was staring up with wide eyes and seemed to be trying to hide behind Zack. “What…is that?”
“Oh! Heh…” Zack scratched the back of his head sheepishly. “Well, you see, I kind of…”
“Zack!” Kunsel ran to the door, nearly running into Angeal as he entered. “I found some stuff about humanoid models that—” Kunsel stopped when he saw Angeal staring at him then glanced down at Zack’s work station, his jaw nearly hitting the floor. “He’s…You got him to start working? How?!”
Angeal slowly looked back at Zack with an expression that clearly read ‘Explanations now.’
“Ahaha…Well…I had a successful scrap yard trip!”