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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