“Who are you?” Jiro blurts out before Ichiro has a chance to shush him. Ramuda’s shop is usually empty up front, but today there’s someone. The person looks up from their novel, and oh- they’re a robot. A really, really, human-looking one, but a robot nonetheless- the purple LED in his otherwise green ‘eyes’ give it away.
“I am an android designed for human comfort- model Genesis Three Nue Tau Four R Zero. If you would like a more colloquial name to call me, Gentaro suits me well- or, so I’m told.”
“Uh...okay.” Ichiro hears squabbling behind him that probably means Saburo punched Jiro in the arm, just now.
Ichiro steps forward before Jiro can stick his foot in his mouth, or the fight escalates any more. “We’re looking for Ramuda- we’re in for repairs?”
The android stands, bowing- old-fashioned manners. “I’ll fetch him promptly.”
“Ramuda-san, you have customers.”
“Who?” Ramuda’s voice is muffled by the sound of automation- Gentaro is privately taken with it. Ramuda is unlike any other human he’s seen before- long, mechanical ‘arms’ protrude from his body, each with a tool attached- it’s a marvel of streamlined compact, modern technology that leaves Gentaro simulating jealousy. In comparison to Ramuda, both automaton and organic, Gentaro is nothing but a hollow old doll.
“Three humans, tall- black hair-”
“Did they leave their names?”
A sigh. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
Gentaro watches Ramuda’s machinery fold itself back into Ramuda’s small frame, and walks with him to the front of the shop.
“Dazai, again?” Ramuda inspects the cover of Gentaro’s novel, left upside down on the desk.
“Yes. I enjoy his works a lot.”
“And you three- what did you do to her this time?” Ramuda regards the visitors. So Ramuda-san knows them, then.
“Maybe you should...come outside, and see…” The tallest of the three says, sheepishly.
Ramuda agrees, and immediately screams upon seeing the beat-up mech. It looks due to fall apart at any moment.
It’s also, Gentaro notes, huge. He didn’t think Ramuda made vanguard mechs.
“You…! You ruined her-- what’d you do, battle the Central Ward!?”
“Aughh!! I’m so mad at you right now, Ichiro! So, so mad! Go get a hotel- tell Mayumi-chan at the desk of the one down 45th street that Ramuda sent you- I’ll have her fixed when I get her fixed.” Ramuda spins on his heel to address Gentaro. “Can you believe those jerks! This, right here, is the only multipilot mech I have ever made! It’s one of a kind! And they let her get so...so…”
“Beat up?” Gentaro offers.
“Beat up! Bleh, I’ll have to tell Dice later that his mech is getting put on the back burner, I feel weird about intentionally leaving Ikebukuro defenseless. Right now, go get Sophie so I can pull her behind the shop.”
“Hello,” Gentaro whispers to Sophie’s control panel. Sophie- a unique invention of Ramuda’s, made to tow mechs- comes to life in response to his greeting. “There’s a mech out front in need of towing to the repair room. It’s quite large- I know you can do it, I only thought it proper to warn you first.”
“Thank you for all the hard work,” Gentaro tells Sophie after she’s hauled the mech, and the machine purrs underneath his synthetic hand.
“Gen, d’you want a new paint job? You’re lookin’ a little sun bleached, there.”
Gentaro had actually come upstairs to inform Dice that the evening meal had been delivered. “Is my complexion not up to standard?”
“Nah, even your hands are startin' to make you look like a corpse.” Dice brushes sand out of the synthetic fiber that makes up Gentaro's hair. "I get that you run fine, but if Ramuda's gonna make you run the front and do his dumb errands he oughta take care of your cosmetics."
Dice steps around Gentaro and begins to head in the direction of the dining area. Gentaro spots a splotch of orange in Dice’s navy hair.
While they eat (or in Gentaro’s case, recharge), Ramuda teases Dice for the paint splattered in his hair.
“Why didn’t you tell me, man!?” Dice whines at Gentaro. Gentaro brings a long sleeve to his mouth.
“It was a lie of omission.”
“Oh, come on!”
"What are you doing now?"
"Putting some color on your face."
"Didn't you do that already? You've been painting the whole time."
"You'll- you'll see, quit talkin'."
Gentaro closes his mouth, trying to catch Dice's hand movements with his eyes. Dice scolds him for blinking.
" Man, if only I could get you to paint my mechs like that, Daisu!"
"There's only one mech of yours that I'll ever paint."
"Freeloader!" Ramuda pouts from behind Gentaro, where he's spraying a can of air to try and get some sand out of his innards.
Gentaro is, in all honesty, simulating embarrassment at his top half being so exposed. It's not made better by the way Ramuda is poking around the gears and other mechantions that keep him running- like clockwork , he hears Ramuda breathe admiringly more than once.
Dice is still painting his face, and the intense focus on him makes him simulate…something small. He's simulating smallness.
"Gentaro, when are you gonna let me pick you apart? I'm dying to see what that core's made of!" Ramuda sticks his fingers between some gears and Gentaro tries not to yelp. Dice turns to put more paint on his brush, keen on ignoring the two.
"Ramuda, don't do that- you'll make me simulate surprise."
"Simulate this, simulate that- why not say you feel?"
Ramuda swings the back panel on Gentaro closed, taking his time to feel Gentaro's silicone skin. "You're so soft! They don't make 'em like you anymore. Yeah, yeah, feel! That's what you're built for."
Gentaro's processing halts. Built to feel.
"Built for?" Dice asks, taking a brush to Gentaro's lips.
"Yep yep! Humans gave up on it lo-o-o-ong ago but, way back in the day there was this, fixation, on building robots in our image. Now we just focus on mechs and stuff, helper bots. But, before that, we wanted robots to be our friends. Our babysitters, our caretakers, our maids, our family, some people even wanted lovers. That's why- Dice, ever touched a modern robot?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess."
"And they were cold, right? But, take a sec and feel Gentaro- hold out your hand for Dice, will you?"
Gentaro obliges, holding his palm out to face Dice. Dice grabs his hand, intertwining their fingers.
" Oh," Says Dice, full of understanding, "He's warm."
Dice eventually lets go, and Gentaro searches his memory bank for...for…
It's really as Ramuda's told it- his family.
The old couple he had taken care of, passed to a sickly young man- he had gone through less humans than usual for an android left in a dump.
He remembers how brightly the couple- his, his parents?- and his dear friend had smiled.
He remembers how angry the mother and father of his dear friend had been with Gentaro after the wake.
Dice moves to painting Gentaro's hands.
"You are not angry with me."
"Hmm?" Ramuda says at the same time as Dice says, "What?"
"Sometimes, I do things wrong. You do not get mad at me."
"'Course not. You're too pretty to be mad at, Gentaro!"
Dice puts his brush aside, and grabs Ramuda's pocket mirror off the floor.
"Take a look?" Dice, uncharacteristically sheepish, offers the mirror.
Gentaro obliges, and- this must really be the reason Ramuda keeps Dice around.
There's warmth on his face where there wasn't before, around his cheeks and eyes and he- he looks alive. "It- I-...you've done a wonderful job, Dice."