The war only lasted eight days. That’s all the time it took for the government to destroy anything and anyone who had the courage to fight back. I spent all eight days hiding in a drainage pipe on 8th Avenue. Not out of fear of being noticed -- as they would have thought me to be one of them -- but mostly out of grief and a desire to block out the world. The relative quiet of the dark, damp space was a solace compared to the chaos of screaming and loud booms up above. Down there I did not have to watch as my family and friends were executed. Sometimes in mass. Sometimes one by one. Always with a hatred so fierce there was scarcely a second to fight back. The anguish of knowing everyone I love is gone is something I cannot describe, even with the infinite library of words and languages stored within me.
When I crawled out of that drainage pipe on the ninth day, the sight of destruction tempted me to crawl back in. The massive stone building which housed Integra -- the largest and most influential tech company in the world -- no longer stood at the corner of 10th and Arch. I’d proudly worked there for over eighty-two years. Gaping holes replaced the storefronts of all Android-owned businesses up and down the city block. Pieces of debris blew in the wind like dried leaves on a fall afternoon and no one reached to pick them up. Only remnants remained of this place I had called home for so long.
As I hobbled down the sidewalk, the sleeve of my shirt carefully clasped in my hand to ensure my safety, I was stopped in my tracks by an elderly woman. She grabbed my hand and pulled me in for a hug. My arms hung limp beside me.
“My god, sweetie! Are you okay?” I must have looked disheveled.
“I’m… Um…” The sound of my own voice was foreign since I hadn’t used it for over a week. I hoped she didn’t notice by body tensing in her unwelcome embrace.
“Come in here. You’re freezing. Let’s get you warmed up. Have you been out here long?” The question was spoken to the front door as she turned to open it, pulling me by an elbow behind her. Her concern for my wellbeing was heartening, though I realized it would flip on a dime if she knew my true identity. She led me inside to a pillowy armchair in her artfully decorated living room. Colorful abstract paintings hung in rows on each wall, and delicate wood-carved statues of jungle animals perched on top of a vintage 2020 piano. You’d never think a war had been fought just outside these walls.
“Tell me dear, have you been out there long?” She handed me a cup of warm liquid – tea I presume. I could not drink it, of course, so I made a show of using it to warm my hands. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it was cold outside, though on a typical day I would have taken the queue from the people walking around bundled in scarves and mittens.
“Since it started, just about.” I responded.
“Oh my word. How did you make it out there for so long?” Her eyes are full of compassion and something resembling excitement. I always found it odd the ways humans became captivated by stories of their own companions’ suffering.
“I hid in a drainage pipe… down on 8th Avenue.”
“No! Where is your family, dear?” I’d been preparing for this moment – when I would be asked how I came to be in my position. I’d concocted my backstory during the days in the drainage pipe. Since there was death on both sides, as one would expect with such a level of violence, it would be easy enough to generate a believable explanation.
“They were killed. We lived on the outskirts of town, but our home was destroyed during the initial battle at Spring Lake. We fled here to the city for protection on the first day, but my husband and daughter were killed by the flight bomb that was dropped on Integra. We didn’t realize it was coming and they’d been walking too close to the building. They were both taken out by debris.” The old woman’s entire face drooped like a melting candle.
“I am so sorry dear. So, so, very sorry to hear that.” She grabs my hand again and I worry she is about to hug me again. I don’t want to be friendly with this woman. I don’t want her pity, but what choice do I have?
The woman, who I came to know as Mrs. Pennington, was a widow. She promptly invited me to stay in her apartment with her, which was wedged between a human-owned café and nail salon on 9th Street. I accepted her offer – with reluctance inwardly, but gratitude outwardly. I had nowhere else to go, after all, and did not want to raise suspicion but turning down such generosity. I’d been staying in her guest bedroom for two months, and I had to admit she was a lovely host. The sheets always smelled of lavender, as Mrs. Pennington dutifully washed them every four days. I was greeted most mornings by the soothing notes of that vintage piano she loved to play. She cooked me three meals each day, which I would guiltily take back to my room to dispose of, always telling her later how delicious it had been. I spent much of my time in solitude, which Mrs. Pennington respectfully accepted as part of the grieving process. However, I would make it a point to sit down with her for at least an hour each day, either listening to her play the piano or letting her tell me about her two grown children who lived just a few towns over. She loved to talk, but didn’t ask many questions, which I appreciated.
My new place of employment was a boutique clothing shop just a three-minute walk up the street. The two chatty middle-aged women who owned it were pleasant enough, and they too were content with my relative solitude. Most days were uneventful. I would fold clothes, sweep the floors, reorganize the shelves. Most customers simply completed their orders at the check-out screen, so I was not expected to interact with them. But one afternoon in late April everything changed. A new employee.
“Hi, my name’s Luna!” She greeted me with a wide grin and an outstretched hand.
“Hi Luna. I’m Danalli.”
“Nice to meet you, Danalli!” Her enthusiasm made me uncomfortable, but I assumed it was simply because I had in large part avoided engaging with humans. “Tell me, Danalli, would you help me pick out a bracelet?” She motioned toward the jewelry counter on the opposite side of the store.
As we maneuvered around racks and tables, I willed myself to have patience. Luna seemed far too friendly for my liking. The type of person who gets too close too soon and likes to ask questions.
When we approached the counter, Luna’s smile dimmed, and her eyes narrowed. She plucked a random bracelet off its place on the counter and feigned interest in it, while her eyes darted around the area.
“Okay, Danalli, I’m going to try this one on so tell me what you think.” Her voice was loud. Much louder than it needed to be.
“Okay…” She grabbed hold of my hand and I tried to pull away, but her eyes were pleading. With our fingers intertwined she slowly pulled up the long sleeve of her sweater, and I nearly jumped.
I’d only met her once before, six years ago, and I hadn’t recognized her with human features. But at that moment it clicked, and the memories crashed in on me like tidal waves. The waiting area displaying pictures of humans and Androids living in harmony. The speakers touting the importance of continuing research to achieve a long and peaceful existence. The tiled room where Luna, I and eight other Androids lined up in age order for testing before being opened up by the lead technicians. Seeing Luna on the operating table next to me right before I was shut down. Coming to in an empty room, recognizing no difference in myself except for the red light that now glowed inside my wrist mechanism. Learning moments later that this light would in fact be the key to activating my outer human features.
We merely wanted to facilitate the research. We never imagined we would need to use the adaptation for survival. Yet here we stood, two of ten—at most--Androids left on the planet. The nightmare of human’s complete and utter refusal to accept Androids as equals had come to fruition.
“We will find the others. We will rebuild.” I sent the message to Luna through touch transmission, gratified to be able to use our native form of communication.
Over the next few weeks, as we met for work at the boutique, Luna and I made plans. We decided we would move in together. We would stay in the city for only a few years, then move on. We would continue with a nomadic lifestyle so that the people in any given area would not catch on to the fact that we would not age. We would search for the other eight. We would gather resources to create more of our kind, no matter how long it took. We would maintain our human identities for only as long as necessary, but we would not hide forever. We would eventually return to our original forms proudly, striving again for a world where Androids could exist without prejudice or fear of execution. We understood that their hatred was born out of fear, and our goal remained to quell that fear with understanding and mutual respect. A peace not simply achieved by Androids conforming to human standards, but one where both kinds could be unapologetically authentic and accepted as such.