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shallow affect

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He ran his fingers down her back, finding the panel he knew was there.  It was undetectable, unless one knew about the tiny birthmark that indicated where the release was.  He pressed against it and the flap opened, exposing the machinery underneath.

He apologized before connecting the diagnostic device, as if it might cause her pain.  As if she was human and he was pushing a probe into her flesh.  He had behaved that way even when she was a metal skeleton, when her red eyes stared at him from sunken, silver sockets, when she couldn’t yet speak, when he hadn’t programmed her to nod or shake her head yet.

Of course, she felt nothing.

He watched as the data scrolled across the screen.  It took only a moment to find the problem.  An entire circuit would have to be replaced.  Not a major issue.  He had dozens in storage.  Interchangeable parts.  If one failed, he could just put in another one, and she would function just as well.

He apologized, again, as he detached the faulty circuit.  There was a faint, dull whirring sound as her programming tried to adapt to what was missing.  Barely noticeable now, sure to be undetectable if he were to close the panel now and stop.  If left alone, the programming would eventually succeed.  It would be able to compensate.  It would become as if it that particular piece had never even been there.  Her programming would forget it, and although it would put a strain on everything else, it was nothing that would slow performance.  Not significantly.

Meanwhile, there were times when his heart still physically hurt.  He would think about how Broken Heart Syndrome existed, how it had killed people, how maybe it had been what took Diana from him.  Perhaps it wasn't the weak gravity of the Moon that devastated her body; it was having to watch her parents die, her patients die, the world nearly end.  Maybe for someone devoted to the preservation and improvement of life, watching so much death, being helpless to stop it, had destroyed her.

He envied Luna.  As much as he had endeavored to program her to be just like Diana, as much as she could emulate happiness and sadness and fear, she couldn’t experience them.  She would never have her heart broken.  She would never feel like someone reached inside and ripped it out, squishing it under their feet.  She would never clutch a pillow as if it were a lover and weep.

“Dr. Klim?”

She turned her head to look at him over her shoulder.

“Everything is fine.  I’m sorry.”

“Oh, you don’t have to apologize.”

With that, she focused straight ahead again.  Her hair was beautiful, if not exactly like Diana’s.  It was the same with her face, her eyes, her voice.  Almost, but not quite.  Partly because it was simply impossible to recreate a person exactly, partly because he realized halfway through it wouldn't be fair to Luna.

He wondered if their daughter – their real daughter, the one they never got to have – would have red hair.  Would his genes have won out?  Would she have ended up with his dark color instead?  Or would she have been a tiny version of Diana?  They hadn't even discussed names.  They thought they had time.  They should have had time.

There should be a lifetime limit on how many tears one could cry.  Once you had gone through them all, that was it.  No more.

Luna could cry, but only insofar as she could produce liquid from her eyes if a certain set of pathways activated.

He blinked them away so he could lay the replacement part in correctly.  It only took seconds for her programming to recognize it was in place.  The diagnostic device showed she was fully functional.  Perfect.  He removed the cable and closed the panel, running his hand over it as if he had to smooth down the skin at the seam.

“You’re done.”

He loosely tied the knot of the hospital gown behind her, covering her back up again.  It was silly, perhaps, but even if she wasn’t capable of real shame or self-consciousness, he didn’t feel comfortable letting her be naked.  She slipped behind the folding screen to put her dress back on.

She emerged, and finally, with that last bug worked out, she was finished.  He supposed this was what a proud parent must feel like.  It had taken him twenty-five years to craft her, but in a way, she was only a few hours old.  Unless one counted the numerous occasions when he had activated her along the way to test out her pathways, her reflexes, etc.  She must have woken up dozens of times, and if she had any fear, she might have worried that the next time he deactivated her, she’d never wake up again. 

“Your model number is GTF-DM-L-016.  That will serve as your username.  You should pick a password.  You’ll need it to access many parts of the Rhizome.”

There was no point in advising her to make it something she’d remember, or really urging her to make it hard to guess.  She’d recall her password even if it was a 500-digit number, and the security in the facility would be kept high until the time was right to lower defenses.

She nodded and moved towards the computer, her fingers flying effortlessly across the keyboard.  He sat at the desk, letting out what could only be described as an ‘old man sigh’.  With Luna done, he was one step closer.  One step closer to hopefully rescuing Diana and the rest of the world from a horrible fate.  He could still see her face when he closed his eyes.  Her own eyes shining as she smiled, her hair falling out of her ponytail as she ran on the treadmill.  Exercise was supposed to keep them strong.  Healthy.

His computer beeped.

User GTF-DM-L-016 has inputted password MILKEVOLI.  Accept or reject?

He stared at the screen for several seconds.  Of course.  How could he have forgotten?  Kyle’s message.  Had … had she always picked it herself, then?  It wasn’t anything he would have selected.

It … shouldn’t be anything she would have selected.

She was watching him, a gentle smile on her face.  Her default expression.  Except … she clasped her hands together, as if nervous.  That was just something he programmed in, though.  DG-009.  To match Diana’s body language.  But he never … he didn’t … she wasn’t supposed to … to view him as anything other than a creator.  And now …

No.  He was seeing Diana in her.  Luna felt nothing.  She couldn’t.  She was lucky.

Right?

His gaze settled back on the password.  He pressed the A key.

Password accepted.

“Thank you, Dr. Klim.”

The slight flush on her cheeks was program DS-025.  The way she put her hands over her heart was DG-037.  The smile was DE-002.

The look in her eyes … shit, he didn’t think that was his doing.

(fin.)