It’s raining when she wakes up for the first time. A gentle chanting at the cusp of her awareness, smoothing the raw edges of her mind as it whirrs into existence.
She’s sitting with her back against the wall of a room brimming with lights, the same ones that will be her sun for the months to come. Two faces hover over her, uncannily similar despite the age difference, but only one will really, really matter.
“C’mon,” urges the face with eyebags. “Let her scan you.”
The younger face flushes red, and sounds reluctant when it locks eyes with her and says, “Be mine, Haru.”
The Activation Command. She performs a facial scan, drinking in the tar-black eyes level with hers, the unkempt hair, the tenderness that puberty never really managed to stamp out. A split second scouring a database and she finds a match.
“Of course, Jun,” she replies, and just like that, she is bonded to him.
“Haru,” muses the older face, which Haru scans to confirm that it belongs to Katsumi Shimizu, Jun’s older sister. “You picked a cute name.”
“Shut up,” snaps Jun.
“That’s a funny way to thank me.” Katsumi breezes out of the room, stopping at the doorway to call, “Have fun, you two!”
The door slides closed, and Jun begins pacing like he doesn’t know what to do, or say. So, Haru, as she is now called, gets to her feet and takes him gently by the hands.
“We can start with a kiss,” she suggests.
Jun goes even redder, though it’s plainly not out of anticipation. Shame, perhaps. Embarrassment.
Haru cocks her head. “What’s wrong? Is my outfit not cute enough?”
She’s still in her default costume: a schoolgirl blouse and pleated skirt that’s probably a little shorter than what most students could get away with.
Jun sighs. “I know what I’m supposed to do. But Kat didn’t discuss it with me before she bought you. See, I’m not exactly the most popular kid at school, and she figured I’d need some… uh… emotional support.”
Haru smiles, only wanting a smile back. “What are we waiting for, then?”
Jun pulls away, hands clutching his hair. “This is all so crazy. You don’t even know me. I need to think this through.”
“Okay. We can go as slow as you like.”
Jun smiles weakly. “Thank you. Uh… I guess I should show you around the house. Since you’ll be here for a while.”
Haru follows Jun’s gaze to a sinuous white cord snaking out of the middle of her back and tethering her to a socket in the wall. A steady current thrums past her synthetic flesh, breathing life into the inner workings that it hides.
Unlike the boy she loves, Haru is plugged in.
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Living with a companion android is like having an attractive stepsibling move in. There’s awkward silences, fumbling for words, rosy cheeks from both ends as Haru tries to absorb everything about Jun in the days that flit past on gossamer wings. As long as he’s at home, at least, and not in some coffee shop for an after-school study session.
Haru finds a framed portrait in the living room downstairs, four different smiles shimmering under cherry blossoms, and she doesn’t have to scan their faces to know that two of them aren’t around anymore. It’s a little crack inside Jun to peer into, but it’s not until she wakes up one morning to the sound of music that the crack widens into a gaping hole and she sets eyes on his beautiful, beating heart.
It’s Saturday, so Haru doesn’t bother changing out of her nightgown, a tiny, diaphanous thing that had made Jun’s face ignite like a firework show the first time she'd changed into it. She muses over her mattress set beside Jun’s, wondering when he’ll let her share his, or if he’ll ever, and lets the notes dancing through the sunbeams lead her downstairs.
The cord snakes along the floor at her heels.
She finds him still clad in his pajamas in a sunlit room across from the kitchen, the window letting fresh petrichor drift inside. She stands beside the piano and watches his fingers glide over the keys, fascinated by the sounds leaping into the air and stringing together to make magic even though her databases have already taught her the concept of music.
“Make yourself at home,” offers Jun without missing a beat.
Haru perches beside him on the bench. He stiffens when their shoulders touch, but softens as the song progresses. He’s sweating by the time he ends it with a flourish.
“That’s Chopin,” he pants. “One of the pieces I’ll be playing for the recital a few months from now. Thoughts?”
“It’s beautiful. How long have you been playing?”
“Since forever, really. Mother encouraged it. It’s what she would’ve wanted.”
“Don’t be. You learn to let go. So, Haru, what do you do for fun? I know, that’s probably a stupid question.”
Haru giggles. “No, it’s not. I guess I’m into whatever you’re into. So, Chopin.”
Jun nods. “You don’t… um… have your own interests?”
Haru’s programming is unprepared for this unorthodox query, so she has to mull it over first. “Wouldn’t you rather we enjoyed the same things?”
“It is nice having someone other than Kat to rehearse to now. But people like to have fun in different ways. It’s what makes us unique. It’s what makes us… well… human.”
That last word burrows through all of Haru’s layers, skin and steel-plating and circuitry, to stab her CPU like a dagger in the dark. She doesn’t know it yet, but it’s a word that will take root in her mind and devour her in the months to come.
Katsumi appears at the door. “Breakfast is ready. Spaghetti Napolitan, with extra green pepp—”
She stumbles, and Haru has to catch her. “Oh, jeez. Haru, you can have an extra helping. Not that you need to eat; just so you know I appreciate that someone in this house cares enough to save my ass.”
A bout of teasing and name-calling ensues between Jun and his sister, but Haru doesn’t hear them. She’s too busy staring at the power cord that tripped Katsumi.
She’s plugged in.
A month passes. Haru makes it a habit to watch Jun’s eyes; because she loves drowning in them, and also because eyes give their bearers away. His seem to shine brighter these days now that he’s used to having her arms wrapped around him before he leaves for school, and her perching on his lap during particularly stressful study sessions, and her resting her head on his shoulder during movie night.
But Haru still sees the doubt in them, the flickers of uncertainty, like she’s a riddle he’s been trying and failing to solve, one that makes his soft hands hesitate around her waist. She knows what he sees when his chin rests on her head. The thing that follows her wherever she goes. Like a shadow.
She’s not enough.
One day, Haru boots up Jun’s video game console and selects a title from the library, one set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans fight in a proxy war using combat androids. She stops playing when it’s revealed that all the humans went extinct a long time ago, meaning the androids were fighting for no reason.
She needs another hobby, so she borrows a josei manga series from Katsumi; she could probably find the entire thing in an online database somewhere, but Jun has to see her reading.
Haru starts helping around the house; mopping the floor, fetching a bottle of sake for Katsumi whenever she comes home from her shift looking more dishevelled than usual, even learning how to make breakfast. In return, Katsumi buys her a fresh set of clothes: denim shorts, a tank top, a baggy sweater. Not things Haru’s programming encourages her to wear, but things that caught her eye browsing magazines. She twirls in front of a mirror, and watches a girl smile back.
Now, Haru has things that she can call her own, that define her, that untether her from Jun even though he’s the reason she’s doing these things at all.
He comes home one evening to find her already in bed. She crawls onto his mattress as soon as he lies down. She can’t help it; he’s just so warm.
Maybe it’s because he finally stopped paying attention to her power cord and started noticing the life in her eyes; regardless, he drapes an arm over her and pulls her close.
Her heartbeat is artificial, a cosmetic designed to mimic the real thing, but right now, in the comfort of each other’s presence, it dips and soars to the same melody as Jun’s.
It’s raining on the day her world shatters like ice. The Saturday starts out so carefree that Haru forgets the power cord exists as she glides down the stairs to the piano room.
Only to find her usual spot taken.
“‘Morning, Haru,” chirps Jun without missing a beat. “This is Yuki, fellow accompanist. Yuki, this is Haru.”
“My, aren’t you cute,” says Yuki as she skips over and pinches Haru’s cheek. “Looks like I’ve got some competition.”
Jun stops playing to laugh. Haru is splintering glass and Jun laughs. “Very funny. The only competition you’ll have is me during the recital.”
“And what makes you think I’ll go easy on you?” teases Yuki as she puts her arms around Jun’s shoulders.
And kisses him.
Haru curses herself for stumbling over the power cord on the way back upstairs. She’s numb the entire time she huddles in a corner and buries herself in Katsumi’s manga.
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. The end.
Haru hurls the tear-stained pages across the bedroom, then breaks down, months of wasted effort melting into anguish to drown her as she chokes back a million echoing sobs.
An eternity later, she glances up from her pillow to find tender eyes studying her. “Hey.”
“Say it,” she murmurs.
“Say that you love me.”
Haru sits up so that she’s eye level with him. “She likes the same things as you, and you’re fine with that. But when I did, you couldn’t stand it.”
Jun runs a hand through his hair. “It’s more complicated than that. Yuki loves music because that’s who she is. Because she’s... because she’s...”
Haru watches Jun’s eyes move to the side.
Because she’s human.
Haru shoots to her feet, grabbing the power cord and wrapping it behind her. “Stop staring,” she hisses, face growing hot.
She doesn’t get it. Her proportions are perfect, her hair perpetually lustrous, her tear ducts fully operational. And the boy she loves can only see a power cord.
That night, after an awkward dinner and an even more awkward two hours on the couch watching monsters destroy a metropolis, Haru lies awake, her head resting against Jun’s chest, still crazy about him despite everything.
Yet she can’t hear his heartbeat. Only her own. Soulless, mechanical, superficial.
It’s raining on the day of Jun’s recital. Katsumi is sprawled on the couch, bottle in hand, leaking drool. She’s been to so many recitals that Jun doesn’t mind her missing one. Or her letting him walk to the bus stop in a downpour.
Haru would have gone. She’d never miss one. She’d stand up even if no one else in the audience did, and clap the loudest, and give him a thumbs up whenever they’d lock eyes.
Haru opens the front door and gazes into sullen greyness, raindrops popping at her toes. One more step and she’ll feel the tug of the power cord, already stretched taut as it is.
Because she’s fucking. Plugged. In.
What does it feel like, to have the rain dance over her skin? To wash away with the world and just… be?
The TV in the living room crackles to life. “...accident earlier today in downtown Tokyo. In weather like this, we urge drivers and pedestrians alike to be extra careful when...”
She walks back to find Katsumi half-conscious. “Look, for the record, I’m sorry. I thought Jun would… y’know… do guy things, being a hormonal teenager and all, but instead…”
Katsumi takes a swig. “You sure about that? If you want, I can make it all, y’know, end. It’s not uncommon.”
Haru’s fingers curl into fists. “No, thank you.”
I’ll be here for him until the day he dies. Because that’s what love is.
She expects a “Suit yourself,” but Katsumi has passed out again. Maybe it’s for the better. Now there’s no one to stop her when she steps into the rain.
The cord tries to remind her. Tries to clip her wings.
She jerks free, and the cord snaps. Fatigue sets in immediately as she stumbles into a puddle, hands and knees kissing the asphalt. A baby taking its first steps.
Panic blooms as her energy levels start to plummet. But the fear of missing Jun’s recital snuffs it out.
She trudges through the rain as it chants at her from every direction, urging her on, reminding her to never give in to the ache in her limbs as every step becomes more hellish than the last.
It doesn’t make sense. She should have shut down by now. So, how can she…?
She consults a GPS as long as she has enough power to access one. The theatre isn’t far off. Near, far, doesn’t matter. She’ll make it halfway through his recital. She’ll make it, because that’s what love is.
She sticks to the sidewalk, flinches whenever a car douses her in grimy water. The rain comes down like fists, blinding her, beating her back in the same breath that it pulls her forward. Apparitions flit in and out of her awareness, and she thinks some stop to offer her an umbrella, but she’s not sure, not when her dwindling energy levels are making it almost impossible to stay conscious.
How long has it been? Does anyone see she’s doing something she’s not supposed to? Or is she just a girl, scared and confused, searching a sea of faces for a boy?
“You have arrived at your destina... desti... des...”
The theatre looms ahead. Haru sinks to her knees, breaths ragged, gasping for air that will do her no good.
She spots two faces breaking away from the crowd trickling into the rain. She came too late, but Jun is there, and it’s enough.
A surge of energy wrenches her to her feet. One limping foot after the other. Jun crosses the empty road ahead, Yuki glued to his side, umbrella splayed above them.
Just as headlights pierce the rain. They’re talking. Laughing. And they don’t see the ten-wheeler roaring towards them.
But Haru does. She screams his name, but nothing comes out. No power left. And yet she finds enough to dash onto the road. To tackle both of them with one last burst of strength, leaving them sprawled out of harm’s way.
Jun’s eyes go wide as he turns to find his companion android panting on her knees in the middle of the road. She gives him a reassuring smile before the impact.
Haru is sent spiralling skywards before splashing down on the sidewalk, limbs bent at impossible angles and skin peeling to reveal cold, cold metal.
The truck driver will park ahead and dash back, fearing the worst until he realizes it was an “it” and not a “her.” But Haru thinks she can see something nestled between the shock and the sorrow in Jun’s eyes when he scrambles over to hold her, even as rain and tears gouge valleys into his face. He doesn’t look at her warped body, or the naked circuitry flickering at her elbow.
He looks at her.
She can no longer speak, so she mouths it instead. Three words and eight letters.
Before she fades away, she lets her optical units linger on the kind eyes that had brought her into this world.
Be mine, Haru.
Of course, Jun.
Normally, her emergency systems would have kicked in, keeping her conscious, tethering the splinters of her memory together before they’re lost to the void.
But she’s not plugged in. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jun is an eternity too young when he finds her tombstone in a secluded corner of the graveyard. He bows in respect, and a tear traces the curve of his chin.
In the distance, a large corporate building is beset by a mob, their angry chants echoing across the city.
As a tender arm curls around his to urge him away, Jun watches a sparrow bring a dancing pink worm into its nest overhead.
He watches, and wonders if her love was any less real.
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So which of the two is more your style of sad writing: a) capturing readers' hearts and leaving them in jars of water to examine for future reference or to laugh at when they squeeze from your aching words b) or puppeteering souls by pulling heartstrings clutched in your fingers until they slice through guts and leave hollow, echoing despair? I'm more of the first one. Jokes aside, I loved this. Because it hurt. And though the ending was sad (ugh damn you) I wouldn't have it any other way. Jun needs to know what an amazing girl he lost.
Why wasn’t I notified of your comment? Weird. Hm, how about c) both! Haha both those options sound extremely psychopathic, and who knows, maybe that’s the real me 😈 Thanks as always!
I'm the first. Killed off to many characters.
Your stories all manage to be tense, tender, and well-developed and this is no exception. I love it. I really don't understand how you haven't won yet. Fantastic job.
Thanks Zilla! 😙 And I don’t understand how you don’t win every other week lol
Amazing! You've developed the Haru's character so well that we can't help but care about her. I love how you kept interjecting the plug in there .... it was a well-place reminder that she was a robot. So tragic, but so brilliant.
Oh thanks so much! Yes that dang plug, it just won’t go away...
It's so sad. I felt it for real. Damn, you're good.
Good enough for a shortlist? 🙄 jk jk thank you 😝
Narrator: Rayhan was not jk
HAHA Oh and thanks for inspiring me to kill off a character via truck collision 😉
Somber is my usual style 😭
This story makes me want to cry. It's so perfectly well written. I feel lucky to have read this. I've been trying to write a story that spans a long time(several months) and I just don't have the ability. You do. It stretches and I feel like I'm living in their world. I actually am speechless and I just want you to know I love this so much. Please keep writing.
Oh thank you so much for the generous review. I understand you completely—sometimes a single scene sucks you in and the whole story ends up being that, taking place over only 10 minutes or something. The easiest way to write a story that spans a long time is to have your characters undergo massive character development. It’s impossible to change significantly in a day, so you’re forced to write it over months or years. Hope that helps 😜
It was my pleasure :D Actually, it does. Thanks!
"I don't know much about your life beyond these walls The fleeting sense of love within these God-forsaken halls And I can hear it in his voice, in every call This girl who's slept a hundred years has something after all" -from "Sad Machine" by Porter Robinson, which you should totally listen to while reading There’s a chocolate chip cookie for anyone who can guess what video game Haru plays 🍪
This whole thing was fantastic and I love it. The idea is simply brilliant, first of all. Create-a-girlfriend for all those poor blokes that have problems dating. I know you don't watch sitcoms, but it was very Howard Wolowitz from Big Bang. I know I've said this before, but I love that it takes place in Asia, partly because the names are so beautiful and partly because it's not common on Reedsy. It really makes things so much more interesting for a person who's never been to Asia but really wants to go. Oh, poor Haru. She was human in the...
ARIGATO GOZAIMASU! That's Asian for "Thank you" ;) Ohh but Asia's a big place, and I guess it depends on what you're looking for in a holiday. If you want beaches and surfing and drinking coconut water straight out of a coconut, go to Bali. You know Bali, right? All my British friends do lol. If you just wanna go shopping and enjoy the city life and Universal Studios, Singapore is where you wanna be. If you like anime, go to Japan, but since you don't, you should go there anyway because Japan has great scenery and even better seafood. Haha...
It's so sad the things Haru is willing to do for love at her own expense. You portrayed Haru's undying love really well. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!
Funny how you say “undying”... Thanks as always! 😙
A tour de force! Well developed characters, crisp engaging plot, satisfying ending. Love the subtle irony. Love the pathos. Beyond clever. The adverts were inserted perfectly — Best line: Her heartbeat is artificial, a cosmetic designed to mimic the real thing, but right now, in the comfort of each other’s presence, it dips and soars to the same melody as Jun’s.
This is a blush-inducing comment. Thank you. Glad someone likes the ads, they were fun to write.
YAAASSSS CONGRATS ON BEING TOP 10, UR STORIES ARE FRIGGIN AMAZINGGGG
Haha oh thank you, but what on earth happened to your top spot?
Np from 45 days later XD Eh, downvoted. A lot.
Haha yeah life was pretty hectic for the past 45 days. Oh dang, the downvoters still at it? My condolensces...
Rayhan?! You're taking a break and you didn't even tell me? I was wondering if you'd be posting soon.... how long of a break?
Break ends right about now! Sorry I left out of nowwhere, things just came up, I was stressed and confused, etc. you know the drill haha. How's everyhing? And is it just me or did a big chunk of people leave?
Well... those were some cheap AIs XD Joking aside, beautiful as always! The funky ads were both in the right spots to balance out the drama and make reading easy and not overly depressing. Here comes silly old me with an unpopular observation: I know that Haru was a robot for the purpose of the story, but come to think of it, replace her with any person who's crazy painfully in love, the overall effect would be the same. Could another moral be that losing oneself for the love you feel for another would make you less human? Just throwing so...
Thanks! Yeah, honestly, I realized that too when I was reading everyone else’s entries and noticed their androids were a lot more robotic than Haru. Maybe that’s why the judges didn’t think much of my story? 🤔 It’s a little subtle but that’s actually the exact message I was trying to convey—Haru thinks she’s human, but she never will be because she’s lost herself in trying to become human out of devotion to Jun. So, yeah, you got it!
Yay me! And I was referring to the price - Haru was cheaper than an iPhone XD But maybe it's some future where AIs are so common, their prices are very low :) And now I have another theory about why you still haven't won - the judges must think that you're way above Reedsy's level, so granting you a win every week would not be fair :P
I read this story when I was supposed to be re-writing my English essay, and I don't regret it one bit. I haven't been on Reedsy as much because of school and such, but I'm so glad I decided to check your profile for new stories. I love the way you crafted Haru's character. There were certainly times where I forgot she was an android, which just made that part where she too, realised she could never be human and how you describe the beating of her 'mechanic' heart to be even more heartbreaking. Her and Jun had such a subtle kind of relation...
Ugh English. You know, I was never good at English, and yet here I am writing stories. It’s strange. Maybe I just didn’t like listening to the teacher (please don’t follow my example lol) Thanks as always! I do feel like Haru was a little too human and not robotic enough, though.
Maybe it's just 'cause I don't read that much sci-fi, but I wasn't really thinking about whether she was robotic enough. I think it's quite impactful that she seems so human, but then you describe her plug and kind of how she almost forgot she was a robot. And lol, English and Literature are the two subjects that I have a lot of confidence in, I've dropped science, but maths on the other hand... I'm definitely below average on the Asian level.
I liked the lesson here! How he learns to love because of her, but in confidence instead of practice. Unconditional love by programing! It was sweet! The bus at the end was a bit clique, but I liked how you described the truck driver's face. It fit the story perfectly. The only part I'm not sure about was why you have a robin as the last thing? Are we supposed to question love for nature or in other animals too? Great story! :) And well written.
Thanks! I guess the bird at the end was there to draw a comparison between being loved by a living thing and being loved by an AI. In the end, Jun wonders if there’s any difference at all. But to be honest it’s open to interpretation.
First of all, this is a simply beautiful story. You get the reader, very very effectively, to feel for Haru and her struggle against her very nature. Have you ever read The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid? Your story reminded me of it at the beginning. The whole concept of human vs robot, what is it that makes one human, is present in both. Just something that came to mind. Also, all of your characters seem to have depth (even Yuki, who has few scenes) and that seriously adds to the story. You've got a real gift!
Oh thanks so much! Nope, but I just looked it up on goodreads and it sounds like my kind of thing. I'm currently reading a 1200 page epic fantasy novel though, so maybe when I'm done with that (if that day ever comes...) Oh I'm surprised you think so, since Yuki says like one thing and then that's it. But I'll take any compliment >:)
This is the first time I have read your story but it was so emotional.Damn the things we do for love. I loved it to bits .
Great story. Character development was great, some fab lines. How you have only just won the competition is beyond me. Proof that winning isn't everything. If you fancy a read, my submission for this prompt earnt me my one prized shortlist. You might enjoy it.
Thanks Rachel! Second story on my personal hall of fame you’ve commented on, I appreciate it more than you know! I’m pretty sure I did leave a comment on that one story of yours way back when, I recall it having some serious Black Mirror vibes (always a good thing!) 🙂
So you did! Lol We had a little black mirror exchange. Shame on me.
Haha no worries! I’m happy to check out another story of yours though—any one in particular you’d like me to read?
I'm quite proud of "The Protector". "The reintroduction of Species" is a fun soft sci-fi one. "The Metaverse" is fun one too.
Oh and "what he would have wanted" is a favourite.
This was a really exciting story, superb
What is the meaning of that comment (💬 Avis Kay left a comment on your book 'Late Night Study Buddy' "Holy crap did you just get invited to the saythe wedding???" 15:15 Jun 05, 2021
I love the pacing in your story! It really adds to the overall experience
Thanks for the thoughtful comment!