“We teach [humans] not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun - the finely graded differences that run from "my boots" through "my dog", "my servant", "my wife", "my father", "my master" and "my country", to "my God". They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of "my boots", the "my" of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by "my Teddy-bear" not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but "the bear I can pull to pieces if I like".
- C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”
Sunday, May 2, 1989
It was a crisp spring morning. Dean woke up around nine, hazy and still tired but he turned the TV on to wake up further just like Dad. He dozed until the weather channel reported there would be thunderstorms today starting in the afternoon. Dean moaned as he rolled out of bed. Eventually he reached something of a standing position and he trudged to the bathroom to go through his morning routine, sullenly thinking about what errands he’d have to run this morning before the storms hit. He wished their lives didn’t depend on the weather so much but that’s just how it went when you lived in motel rooms.
He had a book report due tomorrow so he’d have to walk five blocks to the local library, register for a library card, then borrow Huckleberry Finn. He’d already read it so he’d do well. He just needed the book to find quotes.
On his way home, Dean would have to stop by the grocery store. Instant coffee and aspirin for Dad, bread because Dean had found spots of green on the last slices they had, peanut butter, and then those Flintstones multivitamins that made Dad feel good when Dean took them.
All the other chores could be done in the motel. He could wash their clothes in the tub and - oh, that reminded him. He’d need to stop by the dry-cleaners and pick up Dad’s suit later. The suit was too long and difficult to walk with, but it was only half a block away so he could manage it. Then he’d finally be free to park himself in front of the TV while he cleaned the guns and sewed that rip in Dad’s cargo pants.
Dean dressed in jeans that looked cool because there was a rip in the knees and his favorite Metallica tee that got him humming ‘Enter Sandman’ unconsciously. He was endeavoring to climb onto a chair to reach the candles in the cupboards should the electricity go out when the phone rang. Dean paused. The phone rang once more, then silence. Recognizing their code, Dean jumped off the chair and hovered in wait for the second call to come through. He answered on the first ring.
“Hey Dean,” his father’s fond, gruff voice filtered through the line. “The hunt’s all done.”
“That’s great!” Dean held the phone with both hands excitedly. “Could you pick me up and we could go grocery shopping?!”
“Mm no, kiddo, sorry. I’ve got a quick job lined up that’ll pay today.”
Dean sighed. “Oh, well that’s good.”
“It is, it is. We don’t need groceries, do we? You’re good, right?”
Dean cinched his mouth to the side, uncertain whether to burden his father further. “No, yeah! All good here. It can wait.”
“Great, okay. Promise you I’ll get done with this job by tonight and tomorrow we can go grocery shopping. Maybe get some pie.”
Dean grinned. “Awesome.”
“Yeah, awesome,” he agreed but he sounded sad. “Oh, I almost forgot. Pastor Jim might swing by the motel. He’s passing through.”
Dean brightened at the news. “Really? When?!”
“I don’t know, kiddo. I talked to him maybe two days ago. Gave him our motel and room number. He might’ve been in a hurry though and blew past us already. Don’t get your hopes up, okay?”
“Okay,” Dean lied.
“Okay. You be good, Dean. I love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.” Dean hung up and sighed. He’d forgotten about the candles in the cupboard. Instead he wrapped a plaid shirt around his waist, grabbed his ratty backpack, and headed out.
The crisp morning gave way to cloudy skies and the ubiquitous dampness of pre-rain weather. Dean hurried as fast as a ten-year-old’s feet could take him to the library then the grocery store and finally the dry-cleaners. He was afraid of taking so long he’d get stuck in the rain but even worse, he was scared he’d miss Pastor Jim. He knew it was a long shot he was going to come at all, just as Dad had cautioned, but Dean felt it in his bones that now he knew about it, it would surely happen.
He got back to the motel just in the nick of time against the first crack of thunder. It was half past noon. Dean pulled the curtains wide so he could watch the skies break open over the parking lot riddled with potholes. Soon they'd be filled with rainwater.
A dog barked and whimpered in the room next door. It was Maggie, the sweetest dachshund with soulful eyes. She had white fur around her face denoting her age and belonged to the heavily-tattooed biker named Leslie that had checked in a couple days ago. Leslie was an army veteran on a cross country road trip that
would end with Washington D.C. where he would march in the Memorial Day Parade. He let Dean pet Maggie whenever he wanted.
Dean could hear Leslie reassuring Maggie over the storm, shushing her whines. Dean smiled and idly wished he had a dog to comfort and love like that as he put the food away and hung Dad’s suit up.
Movement on the gloomy road past the parking lot had Dean squinting, then darting over and opening the door in excitement when he saw Pastor Jim’s Nova pulling into the lot.
He parked right in front in accordance with Dean’s enthusiastic waving. He unfolded his long body out of the diminutive car and maneuvered something like a barely-filled black piece of luggage over his shoulder. With consideration and foresight beyond his age, Dean thought to go turn the thermostat up for him. He returned to see the pastor just reaching shelter under the small overhang along the motel rooms.
“Pastor Jim!” Dean cried through the downpour, grinning ear to ear.
“Hey Dean!” Jim returned, shifting his weight under what Dean recognized now as a garment bag. Dean thought there must be several suits in there because it was pretty bulky. He dismissed it though as the two of them took precautions, saying ‘Christo’ to one another, handling salt, and pressing silver to skin.
After, Dean ushered Jim inside. The man set the garment bag down on the bed and turned to give Dean a big hug. Dean giggled and pressed into it. Pastor Jim gave the best hugs.
"It's so good to see you, kiddo."
“You too,” Dean answered, sincere. Jim let him go and Dean’s eyes drifted to the bulky garment bag on the bed. "What's that?"
Jim smiled, pale blue eyes alight with anticipation.
“It's a gift. For you."
"No! Really? But… it’s so big!” Dean had never gotten a gift so large before.
"I saw it and I immediately thought of you, Dean. It's an android. Brand new. It was a donation to the church."
“What? OH MY GOD!” Dean jumped up and down, pressing his hands to his mouth, eyes wide and shocked, barely able to restrain himself and Jim couldn’t help but warm and laugh at the sight of it. He was more certain than ever Dean deserved this.
“But wait, you thought of me? What about… There's probably someone else who needs it more," Dean suggested reasonably, calming down and going back to his usual air of lonely seriousness.
"That is what is called a selfless, generous thought, Dean. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to hear things like that.” Pastor Jim bent so he could put an arm on Dean’s shoulder and look him straight in the eye. “But trust me. You more than anyone I know deserves this experience. I can’t think of a better family. Dean, I’m certain you and your father will discover something special in introducing an artificial intelligence to the world.”
Dean swallowed nervously, not sure what to do with that. So instead Dean looked at the bag and reflected over what he did know. Androids were mainly for rich people. And androids were so mistreated they were widely known to only last about three years of ‘casual use.’
Dean knew this because Dean made friends easily and sometimes they’d be rich. The first time he saw androids, he was eight and he’d accepted an invitation to play at Matthew Devon’s house. Androids, Dean learned, liked to lurk along the walls or in the shadows of the house so they wouldn’t be noticed. Dean found it spooky at first until he saw how Matthew treated one. It was shaped like an older woman wearing a conservative dress and apron. They’d been in the middle of playing when Matthew had suddenly turned and spat out orders to go make them both smoothies. The lady-robot had given a start and then ran out of the room. She had completed the task in record-breaking time and resumed her station by the wall.
Dean had stared at her as he guiltily sipped at his smoothie.
Over the course of visiting a few more android-filled homes, Dean discovered the mistreatment of androids was often much worse than that first introduction. Parents were the primary, most frequent offenders, much to Dean’s dismay. They would yell, hit, or shove androids over innocent accidents, honest mistakes, and understandable errors in comprehension. Every once in awhile Dean would come across a friend whose sadistic streak wouldn’t surface until he’d seen them interact with their house android. He’d had nightmares over a boy named Patrick last year.
But nobody cared because they were nothing but glorified microwaves. Everybody said so.
Pastor Jim was different. He talked about androids like masterpieces to be preserved and artificial intelligences like they were to be respected. John and Uncle Bobby never really disagreed but it wasn’t a thing for them as much as it was for Pastor Jim and Dean. When Dean asked Jim why once, he’d said the two men never went into new, rich houses that had androids. They frequented the more centuries-old, ghost-infested houses. As a result, they didn’t have much occasion to learn how bad it could be, how disturbing it felt. In contrast, Jim attended the religious matters for people of all classes and for Dean, he was still at an age where making friends wasn’t terribly tainted by wealth. Unlike John and Bobby, they’d seen the myriad of ways people had found to abuse androids firsthand and together they agreed it felt wrong.
And suddenly, just like that, Dean didn’t want it. "Did Dad say it was okay?" He asked, hoping he could pin it on his father that he couldn’t take it.
"Mmhm, I cleared it with your father," Jim replied, glowing.
"Really?” Dean looked up, surprised. “Dad didn’t mention it.”
The pastor shrugged, then took in Dean’s countenance. “What’s wrong?”
Dean worried at his lip, eyes getting a little watery. He went to put his plaid button-up on. “I just… I don’t know if I should have it. What about a kid at a hospital? Don’t they need androids?”
Jim’s concerned expression never left as he answered. “Those are specialized androids, Dean. This one is meant to be a child’s companion.”
“I’m not…” Dean huffed. Jim smiled kindly. “Fine, I’m a child. But… I…” he trailed off, not wanting to say it.
"Have you had lunch?" Jim asked, suddenly perky. “Let’s just… forget this for a moment,” Jim gestured to the bag on the bed, “and just go out to lunch. Catch up. Come on, I’m buying,” and took Dean’s hand and Dean had no choice but to be happily swept along into this generous man’s plans.
After the best bacon cheeseburger Dean had eaten in awhile, he picked at his fries and Jim said his name in a way that made him pay respectful attention.
“I sense you might be nervous about the android-?”
Dean pressed his lips together and looked down.
“Can I ask why?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Try,” Jim ordered softly.
Dean steeled himself. “I… I don’t wanna turn into them. What if it’s the having an android that makes you like that?”
Pastor Jim’s eyes lit up with compassion. “I completely understand what you’re saying Dean. That’s… a very intelligent, very wise fear.”
Dean smiled and blushed. He sat up straighter. “Really?”
“Oh yes. Reminds me of an old quote. ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’”
Dean nodded absently, thinking about how the quote applied. “Yeah, like… the power of having an android, of being able to do anything to it-?”
“Exactly right,” Jim smiled. “You’re sharp, Dean. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. But most of all, why I want you to have this android, is the wisdom and heart to worry like you do. You won’t become like them because you’ve already seen them and denounced their behavior as repellant, am I right?”
“Yes,” Dean replied firmly. Pastor Jim nodded. He looked out the window of their restaurant. The rain had lightened but there were no clear skies in sight. “Let me ask you this, Dean. To prove you’re not like them, and that having this android won’t change you.”
“Okay.” Dean leaned over the table, engaged, ready for the proof that’d help him believe.
“What will you do with him once he’s activated?”
“I… don’t know. I wanna learn about it.”
“So I… know… what to expect? And how to take care of it. Like Dad with the Impala!”
“The way your father loves his car is the other reason I thought the android would find a lovely home with you two.”
Dean laughed and Jim followed suit, albeit somewhat rueful. Dean heaved a big sigh and nodded.
Dad wasn’t home when they got back. Pastor Jim suggested they activate the android now. They were both crestfallen as Jim read the manual that’d been tucked in the outside pocket of the bag.
"It looks like only one adult is allowed to register and activate it... and that’ll need to be your father. Oh, I’m so sorry, Dean. You’ll have to wait."
Dean wilted but he knew how to handle delays like these. He waited on his father all the time. "It’s okay, Jim. I can wait. You wanna hang out more?" He asked, hopeful.
The man bit his lip now, clearly upset. “I have to go.”
“That's okay too! I’ll be fine. Dad’ll be home tonight, he said, and I’ve still got some chores to do and a book report to finish.”
Pastor Jim swept him up into another bear hug. “You take care. And you take care of your little robot. That thing is depending on you just like the Impala depends on your father.”
Dean giggled, warming to the comparison and even found himself daydreaming about it for the rest of the afternoon after Pastor Jim left. The busywork of doing ‘hillbilly laundry’ as him and his dad called it, was soothing. He filled the tub, added detergent, and threw in their dirty clothes. He tossed the jeans he’d been wearing into the tub too. He stomped and splashed around in his boxers and bare feet, using the metal handrails so he wouldn’t slip in the soapy water. After that came draining the dirty water and refilling the tub with clean for the ‘rinse cycle.’ Finished, he hung all the clothes up along the metal shower curtain bar.
After that, Dean pulled out the weapons duffel, Huckleberry Finn, and Dad’s ripped cargo pants. He decided the pants could wait and thanked his lucky stars the weapons duffel only held a few knives and a single pistol. He could clean those quickly and get started on his book report, perhaps even finishing by the time Dad got back when they could activate the android.
The weapons cleaning went by quick enough but after three pages writing about Huckleberry Finn, Dean’s hand was cramping and he kept getting this nasty pit in his stomach reading about Jim the slave when he had a human-looking android pre-programmed to obey its owners in a bag on their bed, haunting his peripheral vision.
Dean swallowed and stood up, needing a break and unable to ignore the robot any longer. It was dusk, the rain was calm and steady.
Dean held his breath and gingerly cupped his hands under it, testing the weight of it.
He let go quickly, surprised. The robot was light. Lighter than he thought any robot could be. And small too. Aware of its weight and dimensions now, he picked the bag up and brought it to the little two-person couch, laid it out lengthwise, and sat on the coffee table. He blew out a breath of air and leaned forward to unzip the bag down the center.
It was a young boy whose eyes were open and a body so still that Dean gasped and backed away, knocking against the coffee table.
He stared at it, his heart racing, but pulled himself together. A couple years ago he'd accidentally seen the photographs inside a police file his father had brought home. Nothing came of it because Dean knew how to feign ignorance but Dean had seen his first grisly crime scene photos in that file. One of the victims had been a boy.
The robot looked like a dead child but it wasn’t, Dean assured himself. It was just an android. It wasn't hurt. It wasn't a victim like the one in the file.
“S-stupid,” he whispered shakily and stepped forward again, inching his hand out to pull the bag further away to get a better look. He quickly smoothed a hand over its eyes so it just looked like it was sleeping.
The android resembled a five- or six-year-old human boy. Usually companion robots were around the age of their owner's kids but since this was a donation, it would’ve been a ridiculous coincidence if their ages had matched. Dean shrugged and figured beggars couldn’t be choosers. He thought perhaps he might prefer looking like the older one anyway.
He climbed onto the sofa next to the robot and took note of the rest of its features: brown hair, fair skin, thin pink lips, high cheekbones and almond-shaped, tip-tilted eyes. It had a strange kaleidoscope of colors for irises. Dean wondered, not without typical ten-year-old excitement, whether that meant it had heat-vision or night-vision or something really cool like that.
But otherwise, it was just a cute little kid-looking android.
The boy-robot was naked in the bag so Dean didn't unzip it any further than its chest. He touched the skin around the clavicle and it was cold but it felt like real skin, its bones felt like Dean's bones...
Dean sat back on his haunches and worried at his lip, at a crossroads. He could either zip it up and wait for Dad while he finished his book report or...
Dean couldn't avoid his reddening face as he dressed the robot. The tiny android was practically swimming in oversized underwear, sweats, and a tee, but it was done and Dean was happy. It was the right thing to do, he told himself. Dean didn’t care if it was a machine. It was cold and little and cute and Dean wanted some soft and warm clothes on it. He finished by bringing his homework over to do beside the inactive robot and then wrapping them both in the quilt Mom had made that Dean took everywhere.
Dean sat down to read excerpts of Huckleberry Finn again, this time with the sweet, young boy-robot looking comfortably asleep beside him, and was finally able to relax and focus.
John came dripping into the motel room sporting a bruised eye but five hundred bucks richer and a new watch telling him it was seven o’clock as he locked the door behind him.
"Hey kiddo,” John grinned, turning, “so what're we thinking for dinn-" John stopped dead, having backtracked over the room to stare at what looked like a small sleeping child bundled up in Mary’s quilt on the sofa.
"Dean, what the-"
“Pastor Jim came by. It's a robot! Oh, what happened!?" Dean asked with alarm, seeing his father's injuries now. John ignored his son's concern and came closer, scrutinizing the thing - it didn't move, it wasn't breathing.
"Oh my god, kid," he blew out, turning into the kitchenette. Dean laughed caustically and padded after his father. John leaned against the counter and pulled an ice pack out of the freezer. He wrapped it in a towel before applying.
"You okay?” Dean asked again.
"I am actually right as rain. Did the job and doubled what I got paid at the bar."
"Got a black eye for it."
John grunted happily, waved Dean off. "This is nothing."
"Oh I got aspirin today, hold on," Dean said before he went to fetch it.
"You're my favorite kid, you know that?" John took the new bottle from Dean when he returned. Familiar with the phrase, Dean smiled and rolled his eyes. He glanced at the sofa, the robot behind him. “So uh, can we…” Dean gestured back behind him. John nodded and smiled knowingly.
“Yeah yeah, we'll get to it. Let me get a shower, you order takeout - whatever you want - and we can take a look at it together, okay?” Dean nodded excitedly. “You found its tablet, the registration thing, right?”
Dean nodded. "On the bed over there." It looked like a cell phone. Jim had explained what it was to him though. There was another device too. Circular, white and baby blue colors with two white cords taped up with it. Clearly taken out of whatever box would’ve held them in place, but still a brand new charger
“Great. Just give me a few." He pulled his shirt off and walked into the bathroom. "And don't forget to order food!" And then, “Oh Dean, thanks for doing laundry!”
Dean chuckled and went for the menus on the kitchenette counter. He decided on and ordered two meat lover's specials with a side of chicken wings when Dad got back out.
"They said twenty minutes." Dean pointed to the phone.
"Excellent." He started dressing. Dean fiddled with the tablet. It remained black and blank no matter how many buttons he pushed or which finger he tried on the fingerprint scan. John suspected it had a minimum fingerprint size since children weren’t supposed to be able to activate androids and designate their kid as the robot’s “companion.” Inwardly, he balked at that term. “Companion” was too complimentary. In his experience, these androids behaved like nothing but rote servants, meaning they couldn't possibly mimic a real human friend or companion in any way.
It was going to be rough when Dean realized that. The kid’s hopes were going to plummet as he observed and accepted this thing’s limitations. Because John knew it wasn’t going to laugh at his jokes or appreciate it when Dean wrapped him in his late mother’s quilt. It wasn’t going to want or prefer, it wasn’t going to hurt or love or be. That lack of personhood was going to diminish whatever sentimentality they had for this machine. But that wasn’t to say it wouldn’t be incredibly useful or valuable to them for travel, hunting, even for Dean’s schooling. In that capacity, John was willing to embrace the A.I.
And in that way, John and Pastor Jim found agreement over the bottom line: the popular mistreatment of androids was absurd. For how expensive and useful they were, it was outrageous that it had become socially acceptable cause extensive damages upon robots at the whims of their owners. It was one of the strangest paradoxes of behavior John had ever seen. Even before Mary’s death he’d been baffled how people could wreck anything that served them so well and in so many ways. Specifically cars at the time, but now that he was living in the friggin’ future and thinking about an android wrapped up in Mary’s quilt right now, androids too.
Damp but warm from the shower, John stepped into his sweats and came around to take a look at the robot. He reached his hand out and Dean immediately placed the tablet into his palm. “All right let’s see here,” he mumbled, angling it properly and pressing his thumb against the pad. The screen lit up and began going through the setup process.
John rearranged the robot so it was sitting up, leaning against the side of the couch. He sat beside it and Dean joined him, leaning heavily against John’s knee to watch. John let his son track the proceedings as he selected the language, date, time, and registered the android under his name and e-mail with SysCore. He pressed “Yes, this is my first android,” and went through the tutorial where they both learned Sam’s charging port was behind either ear or in the arcs of either foot. Dean held his breath when they got to the screen where it asked if John wanted to identify a primary child companion. He heard an excited whispered “yes!” when John pressed the button “yes” and John couldn’t help but chuckle.
It went through vocal recognition exercises with both of them. John couldn’t stifle his amusement over the device’s patient insistence at Dean to slow down and re-do almost every sentence.
The storm felt like it was on top of their little motel when the screen made a whole animated production about meeting your android for the first time. Thunder cracked, drain water from the roof gutter splashed onto the parking lot blacktop just outside, Maggie howled next door, and John and Dean shuffled over to watch what would happen to the tiny robot currently wedged comfy and wrapped up on the couch when they turned it on.
John lowered the tablet to Dean’s height and Dean grinned up at his father before he pressed the big blue “activate” button on it.
The day AndroidAI Version 5.2 Serial Number: KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3’s central system was activated, the first thing it saw when it opened its set of orbital windows were another set of wide green ones staring back. Eyes.
KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3 had sensed an object coming closer - several other systems booted up first before facial movement and visual processors - and ruled it wasn’t a threat, so it made no movement of its own to avoid it.
“Uh, Kaz?” It immediately identified the deep voice of John Winchester speaking the initial call sign with which it was programmed to respond.
“Yes, John Winchester.” It sat up and registered the position it was in on a couch, its clothes, a blanket circled around its body. It immediately began analysis to determine how best to extricate itself. It didn’t notice the gleeful surprise of both father and son when it’d properly identified John’s voice.
“Kaz, I’m Dean,” the green-eyed human exclaimed. KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3 looked at Dean and smiled with a nod.
“Dean Winchester, registered as my companion.” Dean Winchester grinned.
“Right,” he confirmed.
KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3 nodded again once, eyes alight with expectation. As per its standard programming, the robot endeavored to get up. Dean Winchester jumped away, his expression quickly and easily identified as surprise. Both the father and the son watched KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3 in awe as it freed itself from a quilt and cautiously - as per its initial safety program that eased android acclimation to the real world and its dimensions - made its way to the closest wall. There, KAZ2Y5CNK80Q3 froze and its orbital windows glazed over as it fell into inactive status.
It took Dean a second to realize what the robot, Kaz - a name they’d definitely have to change later - had gone totally still against a wall. It was extra jarring because it still held an expression of upbeat expectation, like it was about to say something.
John stuttered a laugh. “Well that was kinda freaky," he chuckled, shaking his head. He set the tablet down and went for his wallet, keys, and the menu on the nightstand so he had the restaurant’s details.
“Dad, what? Why's he frozen like that?"
"I think it's what they do," John guessed, shrugging his leather jacket on. Dean pressed his lips together and moved closer to the android. “You play around with it, I’ll go get food. You can show me what you discovered about it when I get back. Sound good?”
Dean, still fascinated, nodded. “Okay,” he agreed, distant.
John smiled and gave a thumbs up before he ducked out into the storm. He ran to the main office to get directions, then back to his beloved machine, the Impala. He patted her dashboard.
“If that robot in there’s half as useful as you, Baby, it’ll be worth it,” he muttered. The Impala purred to life under him and he pulled out into the slick streets, careful of his baby and looking forward to food.
Dean stepped closer to study the android where it stood by the wall. Kaz’s lips were tipped at the edges just slightly - it made him look pleasant: good-natured and content. Dean would've thought it was nice were it not for the robot’s dull eyes. They'd been open and unresponsive before when Dean had opened him in his bag earlier and he disliked it even more now that he’d been activated. Activation should’ve meant the robot’s eyes would always be lit. If his robot’s eyes weren't lit, they should be closed, not open and unfocused like the dead.
“Kaz-?” Dean ventured quietly. The eyes lit up again and Dean rushed to come up with something to ask for it to stay ‘awake.’ “Do, uh, do you like standing there?”
“I’m a robot, Dean. I like standing anywhere.” Kaz had a pleasantly high, childish voice.
“Kaz, come back to the couch.” Dean took its hand. Kaz took a moment to return the hand hold but he let Dean lead him back. “Sit, Kaz,” Dean asked quietly and Kaz sat, oblivious to his seat atop Mary’s quilt. His posture was like a cardboard cut-out. Dean didn’t like it. Kaz did the freezing thing again and Dean just slumped against the couch, disappointed, and stared at the robot.
Tendrils of fear and worry stole threw him, and it was with a frown and furrowed brows that Dean started a small set of experiments.
“Kaz, clap your hands,” Dean ordered. “Softly,” he added as he saw the android raise his hands comically wide apart in preparation. The android brought them closer together and began to clap. “Kaz, tap your head.” Kaz tapped his head in between quiet claps. “Kaz, get up and stand on one foot.”
The robot kept clapping and head-tapping as he got up and stood on one foot between the couch and coffee table.
“That’s enough Kaz, please stop,” Dean said quickly, disturbed. Kaz froze in the absurd position, making his precarious stance even more noticeable. Dean could see the complicated balancing and counterbalancing act the android was performing as a brand new and tiny robot.
“Kaz, come sit down,” Dean called urgently and thumped the sofa next to him. Kaz collapsed onto the seat and froze with perfect posture again.
Dean felt sick.
Maybe they should return it. He’d already begun liking the tiny android with the sweet voice and floppy chocolate hair but he didn’t like how androids were treated and after this little experiment he realized he didn’t like how androids had been programmed to expect to be treated. He hadn’t known androids’ default settings were to back up to a wall or corner when they were done serving their purpose. And Dean didn’t like how it couldn’t intuit casual orders like how ‘stop’ meant ‘relax and stand like normal.’
Dean rubbed his face, overwhelmed. This was a lot of deep thought for a boy of ten, no matter how mature he was. That said, an idea came to him: an acceptable order to issue.
“Hey Kaz,” he called and the android perked up straight and alert, turning to Dean, “I order you to relax where you are.”
To Dean’s amazement, the sound of mechanical whirring sped up and then slowed down, going softer in volume as the android’s face, shoulders, and overall posture lost its tension.
“Whoa. Kaz, did that feel good?”
“I’m a robot, Dean. I feel good all the time.”
Dean rolled his eyes.
Just then, John knocked the proper code to their room before opening it and bustling in laden with a couple substantial boxes of pizza and a smaller box of wings on top.
“Dinner is served,” John said haltingly as he moved around, making space for all the takeout accessories he’d brought with him too.
Dean wasn’t particularly hungry but he made himself a plate. His father pulled a chair up to the coffee table and dug right in. Dean and his android stayed where they were on the couch.
“So what have you found out?”
“Watch this! Kaz,” Dean said and Kaz straightened. “Relax where you are.”
The android repeated its loss of tension, like it scanned every part of its system and loosened things somehow. John blinked, nonplussed.
“Wow, okay. That’s unusual.”
“Maybe. But I’ve never seen anybody give an android an order to relax so… maybe it's usual and we just haven’t seen it until now.”
John’s brows furrowed at that but he nodded and took another bite.
“I was just gonna change his name,” Dean said, tacitly asking permission.
“Go for it,” John encouraged, mouth full. Dean grinned.
“Okay, uh. Kaz, can we change your name?”
Kaz’s eyes lit up and he turned with a pleasant smile.
“Sure! What name would you like for me?”
Dean looked at his father for permission. John shrugged. “Pastor Jim made it clear this thing’s for you and not me, kiddo.”
Dean could see his father rethinking that permission so before he could take it away, Dean was going to go with “Godzilla” until another name suddenly and inexplicably popped into his head like a blinking neon sign that couldn’t be ignored. And really, Dean didn’t even want to ignore it. “Kaz, your new name’s Sam!”
John started coughing on his pizza.
“Please wait a moment. Rewriting,” Sam replied, eyes glazing over. “Confirmed. I am Sa-”
"Sam?!" John hissed, having recovered from his fit. He made it sound like it was the worst possible name Dean could’ve chosen. Dean’s stomach plummeted. He didn’t know why he was so sure about this, but he was.
“Y-yeah. What’s wrong with it?”
“How… how did you come up with that?” John swallowed and now Dean was really scared because his father’s eyes had gone soft and watery and that never happened.
"Dad, I… I just. Thought…” Dean trailed off. The truth was that he didn’t know, he just knew. But he couldn’t say that, so what Sams did he know? Dr. Seuss’s book ‘Sam I Am’ and how it sounded like something a robot would have fun saying-? That meshed with that famous phrase he always saw in his school classrooms and libraries: “I think therefore I am.” He'd also been doing a book report on Huckleberry Finn, where Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens. “I was thinking of Dr. Seuss. Sam I Am,” Dean said in a small voice, figuring it was the safest and most innocent explanation. His father stared at him. “I like it,” he shrugged. “I thought it’d fit him,” he added, pointing at the android seated behind him. Sam, now. Sammy.
John’s jaw clenched and his eyes drifted to the floor before he just nodded with a shrug and whispered “okay.” Dean couldn’t shake the feeling he’d done something inexcusable but he had no idea what it could’ve been. He didn’t know anyone close to them whose name was Sam. Maybe when Dad was little, like before Dean was born.
“Dad, we can change it again. That’d be okay,” Dean suggested, desperate to lift his father’s spirits.
“No no no, Dean, it’s fine,” John waved, taking a deep centering breath and blowing it out. “It’s fine.”
“What is it?” Dean asked tentatively. John quirked a small sad smile and shook his head.
“Maybe when you’re older, I’ll tell you.”
Dean slumped against the back of the couch. He was older.
Without feeling much better, he turned back to Sam.
“Sammy,” Dean whispered so his father wouldn’t have to hear it, then realized Sam didn’t move or look at him. “Sam?”
Sam perked up. “Yes, Dean?”
“Can we make it so you respond to ‘Sammy,’ too? It’s a nickname.”
“Sure, Dean.” Sam made an imperceptible whir and nodded. “Done.”
“Awesome, okay. Um. Sammy,” he whispered again.
“Stop whispering his name, Dean, it’s fine,” John interjected, annoyed. Dean looked at his father apologetically. “I promise you, it’s fine.”
“Okay, Dad. Um, Sam. What’s up with your eyes? Can you see, like, heat signatures? Like The Predator?”
“No, Dean. My eyes have been logged in my internal archives as a unique design flaw that holds no functional significance.”
“Oh,” Dean replied lightly. “Okay.”
John smiled at Dean's easy acceptance. Dean was a relaxed child. It was a blessing, honestly. Helped them both cope with this lifestyle.
Without anyone saying his name, Sam froze again, a pleasant smile touching the edges of his lips. Dean sighed sadly.
"Sam, why do you zone out like that?" Dean asked.
“It’s called going inactive. It’s a popular battery-saving feature, Dean.”
“How long does your battery last?”
John sat up. “You can be active for forty-eight hours straight without a charge?”
“Wow.” John leaned back in his chair. He turned to his son. “So we could use that feature for Sam during hunts, just in case we’re somewhere we can’t get to an outlet, but otherwise, you want to disable that feature?”
Dean nodded enthusiastically. “I don’t like when it happens.”
“Sam, we can disable that feature, right?”
“You can increase the length of time it takes for me to go inactive after I’ve been called.”
John shrugged. “Can I just disable it altogether?”
Sam gazed up at him, eyes lit. “Yes, John.”
John shifted in his seat, slightly uncomfortable. “Let’s do that for now, then.”
Suddenly Sam stood up as though at attention. “Warning,” boomed a man’s deep voice from the tiny robot’s mouth, “disabling the inactivity feature could result in unidentified aberrant android behavior and may disable or disrupt other system processes. Disable this feature at your own risk.”
Sam sat back down.
Dean and John looked over the tiny android’s head at each other.
“What just happened,” John laughed and the two of them fell into stitches. “Sam, disable the feature,” John finally ordered lightly, rubbing the water off his eyes.
Instead of turning to an old creature feature on the beat-up TV like they normally did over a pizza dinner, Dean and John continued asking Sam every question they could think of as the rain and wind kept storming outside.
They were delighted when just an hour in, the little android began gesturing in tandem with his verbal responses. It was somewhat awkward, curiously with the undeveloped motor skills John would expect of a real six year old, but there was no doubt the little A.I. had already begun to learn and mimic them.
"Maybe it's these companion models. Maybe they're made to be different… like this," John theorized. Dean shook his head.
"I've seen other companion models. They’re still not like Sam."
"Yeah? Hm," John lulled into thoughtful silence, wondering if Dean was right or his building affection for the android was swaying that perception. Dean tried asking Sam to tell him a joke. Sam told a joke reminiscent of a popsicle stick pun and despite himself, John was impressed. He really hadn't seen anything like this in the dull, limp and subservient robots he’d come across in the past. And he was increasingly interested in seeing what Sam would do next around them. If he could allow himself to admit it, he was having fun.
When John announced it was bedtime, Dean couldn’t believe it was nearly midnight. He was still bouncing and breathless with more questions to ask Sammy. The best part was that Sam wasn’t glazing over anymore since they’d taken that feature away hours ago. It made all the difference: the robot’s eyes were bright and Sammy was returning the same interest and engagement as Dean. Sam was clearly a really fast-learning A.I. that needed much less effort and imagination from Dean than he’d been anticipating. As pathetic as Dean thought it might be, it dawned on him he might have actually gotten a friend today.
Dean’s father got up and Sam tracked him as he moved behind the couch and over to Dean’s bed where the charger lay. At that point, his focus whisked straight back to Dean, irises bright and speckled with blue-green and grays against amber. Dean squeezed Sam’s hand. Sam returned the affectionate gesture. They smiled at each other at the same time.
Some time later, Dean finally fell asleep in bed next to John. John sighed and fixed his pillow before rolling over to stare in wonder, much like his son earlier, at the android charging against the wall, its eyes open but clouded in full sleep mode. They pulsed a soft, warm light that John understood to be a soothing night light feature.
John stared. Sam, huh?
It was silly for John to have reacted like he did over the name Sam. Six years ago, the baby had been stillborn with a pool of five names he and Mary had still been considering. Mary had been so bereaved she'd asked John to just pick two without any further deliberations for the stillborn certificate. John had gone with "Adam William" but he'd felt it then and even now he knew the baby would've been named something else if he'd survived and if Mary had been with him to determine the child's nomenclature.
As for Dean, John recalled Dean knew about Mary's pregnancy, watching her get big, getting excited to be a big brother, but when she got home from the hospital with no bundle of joy in her arms, Dean moved past it and his parents encouraged that. He never knew "Sam" was one of the names they'd been considering so there was no way Dean was making a connection to the little brother who could've been.
Still, it was a little uncanny.
John went to sleep, additionally off-put when he remembered Adam William had been born in early May.
May 3rd, one day later
San Francisco, CA
Weaving their way through the sub-basements of Syscore on a golf cart, Doctor Courtney Whitner was giving General Ethan Bradley of the U.S. Army the tour.
“I’m very impressed with these facilities, doctor. I always appreciate admiring where the defense budget goes instead of the U.S. military." The doctor of biomechanics didn't miss the man's sardonic tone.
"Microwaves, GPS, even the internet itself was created for military use at first, then understandably branched out to improve our everyday lives in peacetime. You know this as well as I do, General. Please don't condescend."
The general raised his eyebrows, the edges of his lips raised in a slight smile, and nodded. "Just tell me what I'm here about, Doctor."
“AndroidAU, the companion robot," she sighed. "Six years ago, we realized the model versions 5.2 in particular were learning to anticipate and react to exclusively human-generated external stimuli within a hair’s breadth of a second. Judging the behavior too risky and undesirable, we issued a recall."
"Wait wait, go back. Exclusively human-generated external stimuli?"
"The androids appeared to… defend themselves when humans were the aggressors."
The general grimaced, then spat out the side of the vehicle. "Bots'll be the next damn world war, mark my words," he muttered.
The doctor rolled her eyes. "It was simply bad programming, General, rectified in the dozens of versions that were released afterwards."
The general hummed skeptically.
"Anyway," the doctor continued, "we sent a few of these model versions to the military as per our agreement to share any new findings like this with the government, we kept a few in our storage facilities for posterity, and then we decommissioned the rest. Unfortunately even after the recall, there were still about fifty serial numbers left unaccounted for. We figured it could've been a clerical error and they were indeed successfully decommissioned. They were certainly never activated or registered."
"Well, yesterday evening, one of those models was activated."
Fin (for now ;)