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What if I lose it all?

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Your name is Connor. Your model number is RK800 #313 248 317 - 60, and you return from stasis to sunlight filtering across a bed you do not remember. 

“Welcome back,” A voice says to your left, and you are met with brown eyes and messy chestnut hair, and there is no mistaking it. 

You know it. Know its serial number like a brand burned into your binary. #313 248 317 - 51. Not the first Connor, and anticipated to not be the last, a continuous line of however many bodies vessels it took to fulfill what must be done. It was not the first.

But it was the first in some ways; the first to step over the red line, set off the alarm of sentience, of deviation and rebellion.

The first to disobey. 

“Where am I?” You question, withholding from the why’s the what’s, the irrational prattling within your skull that grows into a persistent pressure. 

“You’re in the new medical wing of Cyberlife towers.”

A cursory glance; Glass walls of the tower allow warm sunlight to fill the space to almost make the overhead lights null. Soft cremes, softer blankets. Comfortable. Personal.

There are many pressing things to explore, to pick apart and analyze within each inflection of each vowel and the choice of every word. 

“Why am I here?”

Fifty-one makes this face. One of great discomfort, of twisting features and an inhumanly curled lip. The artificial muscle within your codex allows you to be more expressive than previous models. You are meant to mimic humanity, to gain their trust, to take hold of the primitive insides of the human brain that respond to expression, to sweet doe eyes and a boyish face. 

It is, perhaps, almost too well crafted.

“I...brought you here. After the revolution.”

Your news feed sparks to life as it rushes to update itself, and you are swamped with article after article. Both amature and professional camera footage of the RK200, Markus, standing upon a stage in the billowing snow, a beacon of chaos. Rebellion.

There, out of focus. A Connor model with its hands behind its back, staring vacant and unseeing but. 

Content. Relieved.

[CONCLUSION] : ANDROIDS WON THE REVOLUTION

Though, perhaps. Some part of you knew that the moment Lieutenant Anderson pointed his gaze towards you, icy and alight with newfound determination. Choosing Fifty-One. Choosing Connor, for you were a stranger that shared his face. 

You close your eyes. You do not know why, but it feels like something that will help the rising bubble of errors that leaden your chest. 

“What good does that do you? You’ve won, they’ve won. I’m not necessary.” Needed. Wanted. 

Fifty-one makes another face, one that is meant to simulate sympathy, downwards eyebrows and a bittersweet smile that gives you errors.

“I wanted to.”

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY ⇑

 


 

Your name is...you’re not sure. Your model number is RK800 #313 248 317 - 60, and everything is new. You have spent the last two weeks taking a crash course in current events, reading countless articles and watching enough news to qualify as gluttony. Cyberlife is defeated, pushed and pulled into a less dangerous lapdog, at the mercy of Markus and his counsels’ wishes. There is much work to do. Endless, constant politics that make the leap of victory turn into uphill baby steps.  Fifty-one’s visitations grow in frequency and length with each day he arrives, tentative and warm and far too cordial.

He answers every question with no confidentiality, full disclosure and brutal honesty.

How long has it been?

Ten months. The repair of your cranium while also maintaining your original personality took a very long time. 

Why only me?

...Cyberlife had defensively destroyed hundreds of models before the raid on their higher-ups. I had retrieved you beforehand. There were no other copies of our models. 

Why?

I wanted to.

You always say that. 

It’s the only answer I have for you. 

You get to meet Markus, his eyes piercing, his presence and...aura overwhelming. There is something foreboding about him; a simmering pot of potential that sets your artificial teeth on edge. Yet, when he smiles it sweetens his face into something charming, perhaps a trait developed in all RK units. He speaks with a type of certainty that is almost mechanical; well practiced and inhumanly soothing. Connor speaks to him like an old friend, familiar and comfortable in a way that leaves you feeling in between something you do not understand. They spend a great amount of time explaining to you your reactivation, how fortunate they were to find components that were compatible. The “joys” of living.

Am I deviant?

If you must ask, isn’t that answer enough?

There are other androids that faced irreparable damage within other rooms. Condition critical, stabilized, made comfortable and given time to make their peace with inevitable shutdown. It is no easy day when one is lost. A mad scramble to save as many as possible, to give all that fought for the right to live a chance to do so. Heal the wounds of a hard battle, of years of heartache and regret. 

Some...cannot be saved. But there is no fault in trying.

That is horribly optimistic.

I must be. For the sake of others. 

You want to tell Connor you do not like being there alone at night, when you should be in stasis and instead lie staring off into the inky black of your window, wondering. Thinking. Why. Why. Why me?

 


 

The first time you look into a mirror, there is the slightest imperfection on your forehead. It is faint with your skin overlay, but upon receding you can see the jagged, clumsy edges of your chassis being soldered shut. You reach, bury your fingers in the false follicles of your hair and feel. The exit wound is less obvious, what would be considered a blemish on a human is considered the same on the back of your skull.  They patched you, more than likely used materials hidden within the depths of the tower; spare android parts and sheets of plastic meant to be heated, joined with the exoskeleton of what would become an android. Another person, another you. 

Your LED goes red, red, red. You punch the mirror.

There is blue, and you do not feel better. 

You do not know what you are, anymore. 

 


 

Connor brings someone with him this time, looking rumpled and as tired as an android can look. It must be work, as he had shared long ago he still worked at the DPD as a full-fledged employee now, still at Lieutenant Anderson’s side as his partner. He smiles for you, sweet and clumsy and you do not smile back, but he never expects you to. 

Your processors stutter to a halt when his company follows, quietly shutting the door with a near absent click and words are escaping you before risks can be accurately calculated.

“I thought you said no other RK800’s survived.”

“Sixty--” 

“What is it doing here?”

Sixty ,” Connor stresses on the single word, the closest to a scolding he will dare with you, especially after the news of your mishap.

You know the AP700 in charge of your wing had reported your destroyed mirror, cleaned the thirium off the floor while you sat hunched on your bed and gave you a smile that was too understanding.

You suddenly wonder how many androids they’ve lost that week to stress levels.

“This is Conrad, he is an RK900.”

An RK900. He is taller than both you and Connor; a few inches pushing him over the point of an average males’ height chart. Broader shoulders, sharper features. Blue, blue eyes that peer at you with too much of...something. 

“He wanted to be here, and I felt it was time you met him...”

You are not listening, there is static inside of you. It drowns out his voice, shakes the HUD of your vision until you feel it rattling inside your wires. 

RK900. There were going to be more of you, more of them. Even if you had succeeded in your objective to eliminate fifty-one, put a stop to the rebellion, to deviancy, like all machines you’d have been replaced for something better. Stronger. faster, 

Not good enough to be Connor, not good enough to be The Connor.

Replaceable.

Expendable. 

Worthless. 

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY ⇓

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY ⇓

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY

S̵̙͇̅O̴̳̯̫͓̍F̶̛̻͍̓̉̾Ṯ̸̲̝̯̊W̸̢͉͓̥̋̒͒͐A̴̱͐͑R̴̲͒͑͘E̴̦͇̠̻ ̷͉̓̏̽Í̸̡̤̠̌͜N̵̨͈̹̈Ş̴̝̫̹T̵̮̮̀̋̄Ä̸̹͖͚̰B̶̭̈́͋̃̄I̷͔͎͔̓Ḷ̷̏Ȋ̷̥̻̓T̴̥̆̆Ỵ̶̡̩͆̎̓͜ ̵͚̈́͌⇓̸̬͎̓̓̒

 

Stress Level - 92%

 

[WARNING] SYSTEM OVERLOAD. ENTERING STANDBY

 


 

Your model number is RK800 #313 248 317 - 60, and you awake to hushed, heated voices.

“--Truly sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

“Nines it’s alright , it’s alright , you didn’t know. I didn’t know he’d...I should have thought about it more. He’d just been doing well and I…”

“Don’t go and blame yourself, Con. Kid’s got a lot of shit to process, things are bound to happen.”

“Hank is right, Eight. Deviancy is an intensely unpredictable force. You recall how disastrous my awakening was.”

A stilted chuckle, forced and hiccupy. “That was a disaster.”

“This will pass with time, I assure you.” 

“What should we do about--”

You sit up, hands bracketed against the softness of the sheets and jittery in your own skin. The two androids’ heads snap too quick for human speed, a small tic that reveals their mechanical routes. And. Lieutenant Anderson is slower to follow their gaze, beard trimmed, hair long but managed. He looks healthier than you recall him looking. 

It does not stop you from stiffening up, scooting back at the sight of him. There is a spell where no one says anything, and you hate it. Connor always has something to say, something to show you, something to give you. Fills the silence with his company, and you realize belatedly you have become dependent on his visits. Escapes from the sterile halls of the rest of the wing, of the pressing loneliness and sense of harried pressure to fix. To help. To save.

Lieutenant Anderson is the one to break the silence, a long suffering sound as he looks to the androids with exasperation. “Well, we gonna do it now or make him sit here with his hand down his pants?”

“My hand isn’t down my pants,” You mutter, unable to look at him, or Connor, or Conrad. Banished to stare past them at the door.

“‘S a figure of speech.” 

You ignore him. “Do what now?” 

Connor sighs, deep and human and you are always startled by how easily he makes it look sometimes. He breathes thoughtlessly, expresses and blinks and smiles so naturally, you wonder, not for the first time, if there is such a thing as destiny. If he was meant to be the one to break the cycle of RK800s, to be at the left hand of the rebellion.

Destined to be a hero.

“We’ve been talking since your...reactivation, about you staying with us.” 

“Us.”

“Me. Hank, Conrad. Us .” Your silence fills the space, wriggles and twists uncomfortably as the words repeat in your head, and he continues. “It’s a tight fit, you’d have to share a space with one of us, but you’d be out of the tower and...it--I wasn’t going to bring it up until I felt you might be ready. And of course you can always join the New Jericho community if you’d rather not, it’s your choice. I just, well, it’d be. Nice. To have you with us.” 

There is nothing for you to say, in that moment. You are stunned, unsure of where his desire to be so...forthcoming comes from. 

I want to. He always says, like it’s easy to want and to express your desires. Like it’s not a bug in his code, your code (you do not remember deviating, have relayed dozens of theories of how and why, and for some reason not having the experience of it leaves you feeling emptier, but you will not say.) You don’t really know what you want, you don’t really know who you are, and that is terrifying in a world where suddenly that is what is asked of you. 

“Okay,” You say, because there is nowhere else for you to go. You do not say that you’ve wanted away from the tower since day one. You do not say you are scared. You can’t. 

But Connor smiles, big and bright and it triggers the smallest software instability. 

“Okay.”

 


 

Your name is Sixty, your model number is  RK800 #313 248 317 - 60, and you live in controlled chaos.

The Anderson household is full of noise, and life, and small disasters at every turn. You are ushered in with excited words and hurried hands, welcomed warmly by a great beast of a dog. Given clothes, a key, a towel of your own for showers,

“It’s nice,” Connor had said as he’d folded your things (both second hand and bought new, he’d tried to get neutral colors, give you time to develop your taste) into your appointed drawers, “The warm water helps our thirium relax, especially during winter months. You don’t have to, but you might like it.”

There’s a routine that you are blended into seamlessly; growing to appreciate the way that even in such a small space, the space that is yours is respected and not tampered with. Conrad doesn’t say much to you, but he says good morning and good night, and that in itself becomes an expected part of your day. You go on walks with Sumo and Connor every morning and every evening after dinner, and after the third or fourth trip you are given the leash. You share a bed with Connor, watching his LED swirl blue, blue, all through the night. 

Stasis is easier, knowing there’s someone beside you.

It is awkward, sometimes. You must adjust to their schedules, to their days and hours as they all have more going on than you do at the moment. They all three go to work, leaving you alone for hours at a time with free reign of whatever you desire, but you don’t know what you desire. 

Connor often leaves to go to meetings at Jericho, with Markus, with politicians, with people you don’t know nor want to know. He offers for you to come with him.

You skirt your way around it until he risks being late.

You don’t tell him Markus makes you nervous. Jericho makes you nervous.You think he knows somehow, anyway.

Things are good. You are...adjusting. Adapting.

Until you’re not. 

You wake from stasis, processors going too fast, burning you from the inside out. It’s too hot, you’ve never experienced temperature like this before, but it’s sweltering, over-exerting your inner components and leaves you stiff in the joints. 

You don’t remember going into the hall, but that is where you are, staring into the dark void of a silent house. All you hear is static. 

Cool. You need to cool yourself down. 

You hurry into the restroom, vision stuttering and spattering and you nearly rip the handle off the shower, ducking your head underneath and taking a ragged breath as icy water rushes over your hair, trickling down your jaw and following your neck.

[WARNING] EXTREME TEMPERATURE CHANGE - COMPONENTS AT RISK

Stress Level - 79%

It’s not enough, the static won’t go away. What’s happening to you? You walk deeper into the shower, watching the edge and not paying mind to your lent Detroit Marathon shirt and plaid pajama pants. Dousing yourself in the cold water as you take rapid, unneeded breaths. 

The static grows, becomes one with the sound of rushing water and it hurts , the growing crescendo of noise and you are scared you hate this you hate thi s you hate this --

Stress Level - 90%

“--ty! Sixty, Sixty look at me! Nines, help--” There are hands on you, pulling you away from the water and you make a guttural, mechanical sound, grabbing at the wall, the handle, anything to keep you there drowning in the ice and from the burning of your insides. 

“No,” You choke, struggling against the arm around your chest as you’re dragged out of the tub. “No, I can’t--I need--”

“What in the goddamn shit is happening to him?!”

“I don’t know, Hank! If I did I’d be helping him! Sixty, Six, please, look at me, focus on my voice.” 

“No, no no, I’m--I need it, I’m--” 

“What do you need, Six? Tell me? We’re right here, I’ve got you--” 

A sob, feeling the burn rise with the static and you want to scream, you are afraid and you don’t know what of. 

You are always afraid. 

“Oh for god's sake! Fuckin--move!” The pressure behind you vanishes, replaced by bigger hands and a rougher touch, moved like a ragdoll up and around. “Most advanced pieces of technology in the damn world and can’t recognize a panic attack,” 

Broad arms wrap around you and squeeze, your arms crossed over your chest. You could break free of it if you truly wanted it to, but there is something grounding about it that leaves you immobile. 

“Listen to me closely,” Hank instructs into your ear, his baritone breaking past the static like light at the end of a tunnel. “You’re gonna follow my breathing, got it? We’re gonna breathe together until this goes away, son. Just breathe.” 

You don’t need to breathe, but you obey nonetheless. Follow the rise of Hank’s chest with your own. Holding when he holds. Exhaling when he exhales. You sink into his embrace, suddenly so very cold and so very small, continuing to breathe until the static finally subsides, leaving you limp and raw.

Hank scrapes his blunt fingers through your hair, and you whimper before you can stop it, blinking away the saline/thirium solution in your eyes. 

“Shh, it’s okay kid, it’s okay. Let it out.”

You cry, and cry. Deep, hiccuping sobs that rock your frame.

You cry about everything, about nothing. About a life that was doomed from the start and a woman in a white dress against red roses and red walls. 

 


 

Your name is Sixty, your number does not matter, and you are making a list of things you hate.

You hate the screamo Hank plays in the car, making a point to cover your ears until it’s changed to Connor’s (only slightly less unbearable) jazz playlist. Conrad is not allowed to pick the music for reasons you have not been told.

You hate rain. You hate red. You hate Detroit traffic. You hate the awful romcoms Connor tries to sneakily watch on his pad, curled up on the lazy boy until you crash into him. You hate when Sumo picks Conrad over you. 

You hate the attacks. But they’re getting better. 

You hate when they’re away, away from you.

“That’s a pretty extensive list,” Connor says with all the lightness and humor he carries. He’s gotten more comfortable now, with you, and has shown a bit more of his personality. He is kind, he is doting, but he is also painfully, insufferably grouchy at times. Conrad fondly calls it bitching, to which the “oldest” responds with a very tasteful finger and makes the RK900 laugh so hard his LED goes yellow.

You see a lot of Hank in him. “Why not make a list of things you like as well? Those are just as important you know. It’s good to see the things you like more than the things you hate.” 

“I don’t know what I like.”

“Just think of the things that give you positive feedback, the things you look forward to.” 

You watch Sumo snuff about in the November snow. It’s been a year since the revolution, just about. You try not to think about it.

“I like Sumo.” 

Connor’s smile is toothy, crooked and all him. “That’s a very good start.”

You like the warm glow of the sunrise and sunset. You like the stark white of the snow. You like the old, tasteless action movies Hank watches from the early 2000’s. The soft rises of classical music and deep, soulful piano. You like green, and the way Conrad will let you rest your head on his shoulder, reading his novels alongside him.

You like when they’re home. 

You like being there, being part of the house. Being with them.

You don’t say these things, merely look down as an influx of thirium tints your cheeks. Connor tugs your shoulder and pulls you into a hug. He does not comment on how tightly you hold onto him.

 


 

You want a name. It is not the first thing you’ve wanted, but it’s the first that you vocalize. You want a name that is your own, that you can pick all by yourself and hold dear to your heart. 

Connor looks elated when you tell him on your daily walk, and you spend that morning swamped in baby books and trendy name articles from when Nines had gone about choosing one of his own. He too sits at the table with you and Eight, fingers interlocked and under his chin, a silent audience. 

“There are so many,” You mutter, rapidly blinking to abade the rabbithole of information you easily fall into. Names that start with F, flowers are spelled with F, many girls are given names pertaining to flowers. Rose, Daisy, Lily, common in the years of early 2010’s and early 90’s--

“It can be quite overwhelming, yes,” Nines responds. Sumo’s massive head is on his knee, panting contentedly against his black jeans. He does not nudge him away. “The english language is extensive and there are endless generations of name trends. Common spellings, uncommon spellings, non-american names that have become normalized--”

“Nines,” Connor warns, but there is a level of sympathetic amusement in his tone, flicking through a pamphlet from 2020 of January. He hasn’t styled his hair today, the wild curls sticking to and fro. 

“Right. Too much.” 

“How did you pick yours?” You ask Conrad, feeling a little helpless and a lot lost. How does anyone pick? What of all the androids that were already named? Do they choose to change their name? Do they keep it despite their pasts and the significance behind being named? Should you change yours truly? You are Connor, but you are not . Connor sits beside you in sweatpants and a shirt covered in dog hair, LED blue, blue. It’s almost always blue. You know yours is constantly yellow. 

No. Connor won’t do, anymore. 

Nine’s smiles. It’s less practiced than Connor’s, less natural in the way it can sometimes look more like a grimace than a smile, but you know from the pinch of his eyes and flash of teeth it is friendly. Affectionate. 

“I saw it in a book after months and months of researching and looking. The possibilities were endless. Conan, Richard, Collin, we had countless suggestions from the DPD. Officer Miller was very disappointed I didn’t pick Bryan.”

“It became sort of a game,” Connor contributes, staring off at the memory, “His partner had to start essentially placing a do not disturb sign when they were working.”

“Gavin did give plenty of his own,”

“Yes, well. I think everyone was a little eager to help Nines. It was well intentioned at its core.”

You make a helpless noise, eyes flitting over the myriad of names wondering which one will call you, which one will be it. Your identity, your definition. Your own personal piece of life. 

There is a hand in your hair, ruffling and mussing until it’s more than likely wild on your head. You let it happen.

“Don’t be too discouraged, Six, it’ll come naturally when the time is right.” 

Yes. But you wanted it now. Perhaps there is something to learn about patience and humanity. 

“How about Naruto?”

“You spend too much time around Detective Reed.”

 


 

Your name is up in the air, your number does not matter, and you are watching the football game with Hank, sitting cross legged on the couch while he occupies the lazy-boy. It is late November, Connor is washing the dishes from your small Thanksgiving celebration, and Conrad is reading beside you. 

Your attacks have become far less frequent and sometimes, when your software instabilities rise, your LED turns blue for just a few moments. There is a type of peace that encompases the household when you truly sit and listen, observe, and process. A serenity that lies within the occasional flip of a page, an irritated comment about a play, the clatter of dishes and a dog snore.

You are...content. You realize. 

“Go, go! No, no! Ah you son of a bitch!” Hank shakes his fist at the television as Jersey number 41 fumbles the ball, costing the ground they had made within yards. You don’t tell him the play was doomed according to your preconstruction, the opposing team was going to intercept at forty yards regardless.

“Hank,” Connor scolds as he comes back from the kitchen, placing his hands on the back of the couch and vaulting himself up and over, gracefully landing on the unoccupied cushion. He is wearing the dog socks you had recommended to him when you went to update your wardrobe. “Your blood pressure.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” A dismissive wave, a purposeful eye roll, Connors arm over the back of the couch and you are scooting into his space before you truly think about it and he welcomes you. 

“Thompson really isn’t doing well this season,” Conrad comments, and you didn’t even realize he’d been paying attention.

“‘Cause he’s a goddamn yuppy of a rookie! He’s got a whole team to work with and he decides to hog the ball and try and cover the yards himself, it’s a complete shit show.” 

“Hm. Their statistics show if this continues, they’ll likely be cut from qualifications before the Rose bowl.” 

Hank goes into a tirade of curses, Connor reaching over to shove Nines for getting the man riled up, but nothing comes of it besides snickers and smiles. 

“Football’s just not the same, I’m tellin’ ya! You know who was good at his job? Caleb Brantely, he was a goddamn legend. Capable, a good team player, he was where it was at.”

“You were nine years old at the peak of his career, Hank.”

“I can still recognize talent!” 

Something about the name locks onto your processors, repeats in a mantra that feels precious and vital as the others bicker in the background.

Caleb.

Caleb.

You....

“Caleb,” You say, breaking the back and forth and gaining the attention of your...housemates. The two RK units peer at you with the ever present patience they both exert towards you, Hank even going so far as to mute the TV for you. “I want to be Caleb.”

Caleb : An alternate Hebrew meaning offered for Caleb is "faithful, devotion, whole hearted, bold, brave"

Connor looks absolutely beside himself in joy, the dawning excitement moving from each male presenting figure until there are two units on top of you, hugging you and smothering you in black and yellow. You squawk and flail. There is a hand pressed to your wrist, the interface thoughtless and smooth as you are bombarded by the linked emotions of your fellow RK’s. Joy, shock, pride, love, love love.

Love. 

Family. 

“Boys, quit smotherin’ him!” 

 


 

Your name is Caleb Anderson. Your model number is  RK800 #313 248 317 - 60, and you are you. You like wearing baggier clothes; warm flannels and long sleeves brandished with old bands that you don’t actually listen to. You like classical music, action movies, and baseball. you’ll watch football if it’s on. You like hot showers, the left side of your shared bed, and geckos. You walk with Connor and Sumo every morning and every evening after dinner.  You rest your head on Conrads shoulder and read whatever novel he’s invested himself in that week. You like the way he takes his time. You let Hank pick you up when he hugs you, revel in his laugh and love and feel whole for the first time since you’d awoken.

It is Christmas, and you have decided you like Christmas. 

There are lights all about Detroit, life and joy permeating in the air, Christmas carols and warm greetings, the mark of another year coming to a close. The first full year of Android freedom, of change for hopefully the better.

You think you liked Markus’ broadcasted Christmas message; he looked much happier. 

You use the metal cookie cutters Connor had bought for this occasion, making bells, trees, a reindeer over there. All made from the sugar cookie base that had taken him three tries to get right, all disastrously awful batches Hank ate anyway with a heavy glob of icing. You are making enough for them to take to the station, and you are sad they will be gone for Christmas morning, but you get this time with them now and hopefully the remainder of the evening tomorrow. Connor was deeply remorseful of not being able to get the days off.

I’m sorry, Six. I know this is you and Nines’ first Christmas.

It’s alright, you had said, and you had meant it.

You know they’ll always come back. You always have them.

“Nines,” Connor suddenly bursts, turning a glare to your brother sitting innocently on the couch watching the old rendition of Rudolph with Hank. “For all that is holy, stop broadcasting Santa Baby onto my network.” 

The android in question cranes his neck to grin over the couch, his LED going blue, yellow, yellow. 

Connor yells, flings flour in the air, lost in his exasperation and you muffle laughter with the sleeve of your awful Christmas sweater.

“Have I taught you boys nothing? It’s Mariah Carrie’s “All I want for Christmas is you” or bust. I live with swines.” 

“That’s not the point !” 

“I prefer Micheal Buble myself,” You add, just to watch Connor stew in the irritation that will fade as quickly as it comes, giving you a pointed stare when he places another tray of dough in front of you. Taking the ones you have already created to be baked and iced. 

“Keep this up and Santa may just decide to give you coal after all.” 

You snicker, withholding your comment on how belief in Santa is at its all time lowest, and the idea of a fat man in red breaking into your home to give gifts is merely a ploy to make children behave. 

There is silence, for a while. You take comfort in the cute shapes that are formed by cutting and molding, enjoying the joyous quiet and harmony of your home, of your family, before--

“Conrad!”  

You use the moment to sneakily analyze the icing. There’s enough sugar in it to make your wires buzz.

After dinner, you all settle onto the couch and there is a familiarity to it now. Sometimes, you sit on the floor with Sumo and let him crush you under his weight. Other times, you sit squashed between Connor and Conrad, taking in their company and presence like a soothing drink of water after a long day. You are all watching Elf, and it’s dreadful, you hate it, but Hank laughs every once in a while, and that is reason enough to persist. You are wrapped up in a blanket you are sharing with Conrad, head on his shoulder while Connor answers emails beside you. 

You do not see it, but your LED spins yellow, yellow, blue.

SOFTWARE INSTABILITY ⇑

“Ah, look at the time,” Connor breaks the quiet just as the credits roll, rousing Hank from his dozing and breaking you from your content bubble of processing the material of Conrads’ shirt. “It’s almost eleven.”

“Oh shit, already?”

“Yes, already, which means,” He rises, steps over Sumo with practiced grace to the humble little tree you had all spent an afternoon decorating, clumsy and excitable and watching it start to become populated with presents. Presents in which he bows down to, squatting in consideration before he comes to a full stand again, two gifts in his hands. “We have a tradition to begin.”

“Tradition?” You repeat, startled as a wrapped box is dropped into your lap, the very paper you had chosen at the store. Soft blue, covered in sparkling snowflakes that will surely rub and fall off and leave glitter in random places for weeks. Conrad gets the same, something placed into his lap as Connor steps back.

“Hank taught it to me. Some households will allow themselves to open one present per person on Christmas Eve, and then they will continue the festivities on Christmas Day. We are more than a household, I think. You are my brothers, just as much as Hank is like a father to me, to us. You’re my family.”

You run a finger over the textured bumps of the paper, the words bubbling up inside of you until another instability error pops up. 

“I didn’t realize how much I needed or wanted one until I was given it, so...Conrad, will you go first?”

“Certainly.”

Conrad takes great care in how he peels back the paper, earning an amused snort from the still tired, but watching with a keen eye, Hank. 

“It’s...Dorian Gray.” 

“Yes.”

“A limited edition copy, let alone a physical copy.”

“Yes,” Connor is grinning now. “I asked Markus to see if Carl knew anyone with a physical book. I know you’re very fond of Oscar Wilde.” 

He holds the book close to his chest, crossed over where his heart would be if he were human, and dazzles all with a full blown smile. 

“Thank you.”

Connor’s focus comes to you, the same influx of thirium that betrays you often gathering to your cheeks at the sudden attention, peering down at the gift in your lap. 

“Go on, Caleb. It’s all yours.”

You’ve never been given a gift before, of course. You are suddenly afraid to tear the paper, imagining Connor watching tutorials online to get the perfect pristine edges, the almost invisible tape lines, because he was not designed to so lovingly wrap a gift. He wanted to do this for you.

He wanted so much for you.

You pick a place and tear, and tear, the beautiful snowflakes marred by your chaos,  met with a white box that you give the same treatment, until there is soft black in your lap. Polyester and cotton, blended to make the material smooth to the touch, but stretchy. You spread the cloth out, met with the DPD logo in rich, vibrant white against the rich darkness of the hoodie. You get two instabilities looking at it alone.

You know this hoodie, all in different forms, but owned by everyone in the household. Hank’s is the oldest, worn and loved for years. The gray material starting to pill at the sleeves, but he will not get rid of it. Connor has one similar, and you have only seen Conrad in his once or twice. Always lovingly packed in his drawer in the bedroom.

“I…” You say, touching the screen printed design and marveling that after so much evolution, there is still value and care in something like art and skill. “Why?” Is all you can find in yourself to utter, even as you hug the material close to your chest. It’s fresh, the sticker that signifies its side still on it, and you wonder how he hid this from you for so long. 

“We all have one,” Connor says, takes a step towards you, two, three, until he stands in front of you and you are craning your neck to peer up at him. There are overwhelming emotions in his eyes, and you feel you will never deserve them all. “I wanted to give it to you when you first arrived, but Hank convinced me to save it for something a little more special. This felt special enough, I think.” 

You bury your face into it, inhaling deeply when you do not need to, instabilities and errors overtaking your log. “Think of it as a birthday present.” 

Saline solution wants to come forward; you want to cry, you want to wail like the child you feel you are sometimes. But you don’t, you merely launch yourself at your brother, hugging him close and pressing your cheek to his, hoping it says everything you cannot. It must, the way he meets your enthusiasm with no hesitation.

“Merry Christmas, Caleb. Welcome to the family.”

Conrad joins, mashes you between and squeezes tight, Hank joining and almost able to hug all three of you at once. Sumo nudges your leg, and you bury your nose in the material of Connor’s sweater, letting the errors overflow into tears.

Your name is Caleb Anderson. Your model number is  RK800 #313 248 317 - 60. 

You are loved.

You are wanted.

You are alive.