It's too bright. The sun shouldn't be shining. Not today. My ears ring with the raucous cries of birds outside my window, the too-loud buzzing hum of the refrigerator; the nearly imperceptible whine of the fluorescent lights above is grating, sets my teeth on edge like claws on a chalkboard, but worse.

She's so soft... Every time I reach for her, my fingers sink into the cloudy tufts of burnished bronze and burnt gold. She's still warm, too. Warmer than she should be. My throat tightens and I draw my hand back, struggling not to let the burn behind my eyes turn to tears.

I swore I wouldn't cry.

His presence helps, a solid support in the empty confusion of chaos and pain. He gently covers the fist pressed harshly into my thigh. No words are spoken, but none are needed when the solid ring of yellow at his temple speaks volumes; he feels my pain, insomuch as an android can feel. I don't know if this is how I'm supposed to feel ― ragged, worn, strung out a million different directions and yet collapsing inward with every passing second ― but somehow he sympathises, and the gentle caress of his thumb against my wrist is meant to be comforting.

"Connor is on his way," he says softly into the deafening quiet.

I keep burdening them both. They say they don't mind, but it bothers me to bother them so much.

I flinch when the door opens.

"Gavin... I brought a box." The hesitant offer is an arrow through my chest, spearing the last pieces of my shattered heart; spikes of agony rip through my chest. A broken sound echoes off the walls, and my throat aches, tears welling against my will.

The sight of the sturdy, dark-stained plywood coffin no bigger than a shoebox makes it worse; I can't stop the sorrow now.

"Oh Gavin..." Connor sets the coffin beside her and lowers himself to the cushion beside me, his ring spinning red-yellow-red-red. He glances past me to his successor, and Nine Hundred shakes his head slightly.

They're communicating wirelessly, of course.

For once, I can't bring myself to care. Not with Calypso gone.

"We've picked a place for her," Nine murmurs. "We think you'll approve."

It's time.

That's what he won't say.

I take a breath, lungs aching, shuddering, protesting the demanding treatment. The tears won't stop, but I can hold in the sobs. I nod and stand. Connor wraps an arm around me while Nine gently lifts her into the coffin.

She shouldn't look like that.

My eyes close when he closes the lid; some part of my soul stays shuttered while they take me away.

We leave the city and stop on a little-used dirt road, hiking from there into a forested area to a hill that overlooks Lake Erie. A huge old tree sits apart from the others, hunched over a weathered, rickety bench at the end of a trail almost too overgrown even for deer.

Connor guides me to the bench and Nine places the coffin gently at my feet before accepting a shovel from his predecessor.

The hole forms in silence, nature only now respecting my loss; only the soft sigh of a breeze through leaves and the steady rhythm of metal impacting soil disturbs the morbid peace of this place.

It numbs me.

When they stop and turn to me, I stand and pick up the coffin without conscious thought, carrying it to the hole and kneeling to place it carefully in the embrace of the earth. My traitorous fingers raise the lid before I can stop myself, and agony arises anew; trembling hands burrow into soft fur, the lifelessness of her body burning me through the core of my soul and tearing a painful sob from my lips.

My finger hooks on her collar, and I yank my hands back reactively, choking. Connor unclips it and takes my hand to lay it across my palm, curling my fingers around it.

Another sob.

"She loved you," Nine promises quietly, the weight of his hand settling on my head with a soft stroke down the back of my neck.

"As much as you loved her," Connor adds, wrapping my hand in both of his.

I say nothing. What is there to say when I've lost my first and longest love?

They let me cry, and when I have no tears left, Connor carefully closes the lid. Dirt covers the coffin, bit by bit, cutting me off from a past I can never return to, until nothing remains but a slight mound to mark the grave.

Neither try to make me leave, and I make no move to stand.

It's lonely here... Even looking out across the lake, there's hardly any sign of civilisation. The trees loom and haunt, despite their cloaks of green. Quiet and undisturbed as it is, there's something inherently wrong about this place, and I don't want to leave her alone.

Only after the sun sets and the temperature drops do I allow them to take me home. Tomorrow I'm going back; I won't leave her alone. Not again.

Never again.

"Gavin, I think you need to see this."

I know what this is; yet another attempt to cheer me up. You'd think after a month, they'd give up, but stubbornness must have been built into their models from day one.

"Fuck off, Nine." I don't even look away from the screen; the sooner I finish my reports, the sooner I can go visit Calypso.

"You really need to see this, Detective." A surge of darkness blossoms in my chest and leaks through my expression as I glare at them both, but neither even flinches. In fact, both seem unusually amused.

Unbidden, a bubble of curiosity floats to the surface of the angry swell and I allow myself two minutes to go see 'this' before returning to my work. Standing, I wave impatiently for them to lead the way.

The alleyway behind the precinct is nothing I haven't seen before, during every smoke break I've taken for the last fifteen years. Litter clogs the corners, cigarette butts are scattered around the ash post, and the dumpster has seen far better days; I'm as familiar with this view as with my own apartment.

Then I see it.

It's small, but not so young as to be helpless; the missing ear and the favoured forepaw speak of scraps both old and recent. Its black fur is too short to dirty easily, but promises a glorious shine if properly groomed.

Neither Connor nor Nine says a word when I step away from them and click my tongue lightly to get its attention. Twin gold orbs fix on my face; I drop my gaze and turn half back, sitting without care on the filthy pavement. My phone comes out, and I scroll idly through my apps, distracting myself.

The androids go inside, I notice from the corner of my eye. On the other side, the black feline eyes me suspiciously.

Long seconds pass; my two minute allowance stretches indefinitely.

Its approach is slow, cautious, and I lament the lack of treats to coax it closer. Patient as I can be, I don't have all day.

It stills when I shift and lay my hand on my knee. My entire focus is on the feline, though my gaze stays fixed on the screen in front of me; it can tell, and it remains tense, deciding.

Warily, it steps closer, nose forward, tail twitching.

Two more steps; a pause. Another step. One more, and then it's in range.

I snatch it up quickly and carefully, deftly avoiding a reactive swipe of claws and crooning in response to the startled hiss. It wriggles slightly, unsettled; a quick adjustment of my hold to properly support it and a few gentle strokes solve that.

"You owe me fifty," Nine smirks at Connor when I step inside.

February 22, 2020 04:57

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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