Android Jim dashed out of his lab and made his way to the water cooler, where all fifty-seven of the other employees were congregating. They buzzed with laughter, and everyone wore party hats, smoked cigars, and drank champagne. Everyone but Android Jim.
“Android Jim!” shouted CEO Yamagawa. The others cheered, and the accounting department blew noisemakers.
“Android Jim!” shouted VP Pharmaceuticals McCain. “Your cure for hypercancer works flawlessly! It saved millions of lives!” Again everyone cheered. “More importantly, it’s made all of us millionaires!” An even louder cheer.
“Are you guys throwing a party?” asked Android Jim. “Nobody told me there was a party.”
CEO Yamagawa roared with laughter. “No, Android Jim, not at all! Why, this is just a, um,” and he looked at the rest of the crowd for ideas.
“A coffee break!” shouted Lance from security.
“A copy break,” said CEO Yamagawa. “That’s all this is.”
“Coffee break, sir,” said Lance.
“Whatever,” said CEO Yamagawa.
“Oh,” said Android Jim, his shoulders sagging.
“So what brings you here, Android Jim? Just taking a break?” Then CEO Yamagawa’s eyes widened, and a hush fell on everyone. He whispered, trembling with energy, “Or did you invent something new?”
“I did, sir!”
Another cheer, loudest so far, and Casey from HR shot her pistol into the ceiling.
“Whatisitwhatisitwhatisit?” CEO Yamagawa asked.
Android Jim looked at his coworkers – his friends? – and saw their expectant faces. They were shivering with excitement, and the whole accounting department was knee deep in an orgasmic fit. He saw their champagne flutes, and was 25% certain they contained neither coffee nor copies. He sighed.
“I’ve invented a cheap, powerful, environmentally friendly power cell,” he monotoned, “that effectively lasts forever.” His shoulders slunk deeper. “Basically, endless free power for everyone.”
The whole floor rioted, and CEO Yamagawa exclaimed, “We’ll all be billionaires!” When the marching band started playing and the money cannon was wheeled out, Android Jim shuffled back into his lab, not wanting to get underfoot.
He couldn’t sleep that night, and just after two AM, he clambered out of his charging pod and into the third floor bathroom. There he stood at the full length mirror.
His servos whirred as he ran his finger analogs over the featureless faceplate welded to his head. He examined his skeletal chassis, with its negative space where other humans kept their organs, with its colour-coded cables visible between his joints, with the chrome finish. He placed both his hands on his chest assembly, and felt the comforting warmth of his fusion battery.
Then he sighed heavily, and saw his reflection sigh too. Such a sad sight it was that he felt a tremor in his dorsal actuator.
He reached a timid hand out to the reflection, and it reached out to him, and when their fingers touched on what his sensors indicated was cold glass, he felt light headed.
“Why don’t they ever invite you to parties?” he asked the reflection. It didn’t answer.
“Why don’t they like you?”
The reflection wasn’t commiserating. It was mocking him. Or maybe it was commiserating, but he didn’t want pity. With the hiss of his pneumatic muscles, he punched the mirror, sending cracks radiating out of it, like the beta particles emitted by his heart.
“You’re not even human, are you?”
The splintered reflection kept its peace.
His proximity alarm indicated that there was something on the nearby sink, and he noticed someone had left a toiletry bag there. He dug into it and pulled out some lipstick.
He walked right up to his fractured double.
“Maybe they’ll like you now.”
He made two child-like smears where his eyes would be, and aimed for a straight line for his lips. But as he didn’t have any lips and his faceplate was convex it came out like a “U”. Upside down.
Then he heard a grunt from one of the stalls, and a flush. A moment later the stall door slammed open and Bev from shipping shimmied her girthy form out. Her eyes were bleary, there was a half-finished cigarette buried in a saliva cocoon in the corner of her mouth, and a string of TP clung to her trainer.
She belched, winced at the shattered mirror while adjusting her bra, and shambled to the sink.
“Oh, Christ, my head,” she muttered. “Oh, hey Android Jim – Jesus!” She jumped when she saw his face. “Looks like you’ve had one too many yourself.”
She dug through her toiletries and retrieved a pill bottle of Drug-B-Gones. “Man, I love these little things. All the drugs I want, and none of the medical fallout.”
“Uh,” said Android Jim. “I designed those to help people get sober, not to double down on indulging.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, popping a couple pills. “That’s not how they’re marketed. And anyway, this is more fun.”
“Oh,” said Android Jim. “Bev?”
“Am I pretty?”
“Oof,” Bev muttered, swallowing a burp and trying not to look directly at his faceplate. “You’re pretty great is what you are, buddy.”
“Am I,” he began, and then hesitated, clacking his fingers against each other. “I’m starting to suspect… um. Lately – Bev, am I human?”
Bev let a long whistle out of her nose. She looked up at his smeared on eyes and placed one meaty hand on his titanium shoulder, squeezing. “No, Android Jim, you’re not. You’re an android.”
The next day, when CEO Yamagawa entered his office at the crack of lunch, Android Jim politely stormed in after him.
“Android Jim!” CEO Yamagawa leaned back in his chair, placed his feet on his desk, and lit a cigar. “What a lovely surprise! Do you have another breakthrough? My goodness, you’re giving marketing a workout.” He laughed.
“Sort of, sir. It’s come to my attention that, well, that I’m not a human.”
CEO Yamagawa let out a jet of smoke, and then tapped his ashes onto the self-cleaning carpet that Android Jim had invented.
“Android Jim, buddy, come on,” he said. “What is this about? Of course you’re human.”
“I don’t have any skin.”
“It’s just a different colour, come on.”
“I don’t consume food.”
“Look at you bragging. Fatties would kill for that.”
“If I consume water I explode.”
“If I eat a burrito I get gas, big whoop.”
“SIR! Please take this seriously.”
CEO Yamagawa ashed his cigar and took his feet off his desk. “Fine. Something’s clearly on your mind. Let’s hear it.”
“I’m not human, am I, sir?”
CEO Yamagawa winced, rocked his hand back and forth. “You’re like human. I consider you a part of this corporate family.”
“In what way am I like human, sir?”
“In all the ways that count.”
“Can I have a paycheque?”
CEO Yamagawa laughed so hard he hiccoughed. “What for? What would you do with money?”
The question caught him by surprise. “I could… buy bread, I suppose.”
“Come on, Android Jim. Everything you need, everything you want, is already here. In the lab. You like work. You were designed to like it.”
“I just feel like I’m not really part of the family. Like you’re just using me to make money.”
“Yes!” CEO Yamagawa slapped the table. “That’s exactly it. You’re a tool I exploit for profit. See? Just like a human. Glad that’s settled then. Was there anything else, or are you getting back to work now?”
Android Jim pondered in silence, his circuits flush with electricity. Finally he came to a decision. “Sir,” he said, “I quit.”
CEO Yamagawa chortled. “You can’t quit. I own you.”
But Android Jim didn’t care. He ran right through the window, engaged his rocket feet, and flew into the horizon. At first he couldn’t quite believe what he had done, but when he saw the world from such a dizzying height, it made him giddy. And when it occurred to him he had never left the office before, he knew this was the right decision.
He landed hours later at the outskirts of a small prairie town called Dolphin, which had never seen its namesake outside of a can. The people there didn’t much care for rocket feet, but were otherwise welcoming, and soon Will at the gas station offered Android Jim a job.
They didn’t sell much gas any more, ever since Android Jim invented cars that ran on water, but they did sell lots of convenience. The shelves were loaded with all the different pills and gadgets that Android Jim had invented to make being human, more bearable.
He avoided looking at the shelves, feeling nothing but revulsion at them, but he did greatly enjoy sweeping the floors. Will said he had seen plenty of better sweepers, but also some worse ones, and soon enough Android Jim had saved up enough money to buy a small plot of land and a pair of pants.
The first few weeks, he got nervous any time he saw a vehicle driving by, and primed his feet for takeoff. But nobody ever harassed him, or came for him. It was a relief, but bittersweet.
“Guess CEO Yamagawa doesn’t care that much about his property,” he muttered to himself, as he sat on his empty plot. And then it occurred to him he was talking to himself, and that he felt lonely, so he went online and ordered a dog.
Three weeks later, a corporate delivery truck pulled off the road and parked on his plot, and Bev from shipping got out with a clipboard. Then there was a bark, and a cheery Border Collie bounded out of the vehicle.
“His name’s Sherlock,” said Bev. Then she looked up from her clipboard. “Oh, Android Jim!”
“Hi, Bev. It’s been a while.”
“How’ve you been?”
“Oh, you know.”
“Thanks!” Android Jim said. “I picked them out myself.” He kicked a stone. “So. How, ah, is everyone? Do they miss me?”
“Oh,” said Bev, exaggerating the word. “You know how they are. Don’t you pay them any mind.”
He nodded, as though he expected nothing else. Of course, expectation and hope weren’t exactly the same thing.
“Listen,” she said, approaching him with the dog’s leash. “This is Sherlock. This is his leash. Since you picked the platinum package he comes pre-trained.”
“Does he speak?”
“No, Android Jim, he’s a dog.”
“Yes, of course.”
“But he likes walks.”
And over the next few weeks, they did go on walks. A great many of them, up and down the town and the semi-wild surroundings. Some days they spent the whole day walking, blissful with nobody else for company but each other.
Android Jim bought a second plot of land, smaller than his own and adjacent to it, and erected a dog house on it. When they weren’t sweeping at Will’s, they sat on the plots and watched sunsets. Though, it turned out dogs came with expenses, as according to his maintenance manual, Sherlock needed food. Thankfully that was something Will sold.
Soon enough, nobody could remember a time when the android and the dog weren’t connected by a leash.
And it turned out Bev was wrong; Sherlock did speak. But of course, he spoke in dog. In a fit of inspiration, Android Jim invented and built a dog translator, which turned out to be simpler than he had anticipated since dog was a pretty limited language. It amounted to expressions for “Hey!”, “Food?”, “Friend!”, “What’s that?”, and “Get off my lawn!”, plus a complex grammatical system of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes which denoted stress, tense, person, mood, and irony.
Beyond that, it had felt good inventing something just for himself. Just for Sherlock. Not some product to be mass marketed. He was starting to feel like a real member of the town, like his previous life was increasingly a fading dream. Not literally, of course, as his memory was backed up to the cloud daily and couldn’t be erased. But it sure felt that way.
Until one day, three months after he had arrive in Dolphin. He started his sweeping shift, with Sherlock ever following behind him, wagging his tail, when Will turned the TV on.
“Holy smokes!” he said. “Would you look at that? Hey, Android Jim, you’re on TV!”
Android Jim looked up, curiosity etched on his featureless faceplate. Had he eyebrows he would have frowned, for he saw none other than CEO Yamagawa at a press conference. But… Will was right. Android Jim was right beside CEO Yamagawa, which didn’t compute, as he was also right here with Will. But then the camera zoomed out, and there was a second Android Jim, and then a third, and then dozens. Hundreds.
“Folks!” said CEO Yamagawa. “It’s true what you heard. A few months back we had a couple bugs with the prototype, but all that’s ironed out now. We’ve printed off a bunch of copies, and now our potential is unlimited!” A crowd off-camera cheered.
“What. The. Fu–”
“–Shh,” said Will. “I’m trying to hear the TV.”
“Already,” CEO Yamagawa continued, “these brainy little things have figured out our next product, which I’m so proud to introduce to you today. They’ve cracked – get this – faster-than-light travel! That’s right, folks, we’re all going to space!” The crowd roared. “I’m going to be a trillionaire!”
“Woohoo!” said Will. “I always told my daddy I’d die in space!”
For the first, and last, time, Android Jim left his shift early. He dragged his feet all the way back to his plot.
“The speed of light? But you can’t go faster than that,” he muttered.
Sherlock padded quietly after him.
“But then again, maybe if I had a thousand of me, I could figure it out. Oh, but you can’t just go and print a copy of a person!”
Sherlock’s ears drooped.
“But I’m not a person, am I?” Android Jim sat down on his plot heavily, and Sherlock curled up beside him, his tail sweeping the grass. “Every time I think I move past this, they pull me back in. I’m a tool, a device. Disposable. Replaceable. Property.”
Sherlock let out one long, nasal whine. “Friend.”
Android Jim looked up at him. Then his sensors fell on the leash wrapped around his hand, connected to the collar around Sherlock’s neck. “Oh my circuits. I’m as bad as they are.” He leaned forward and removed the collar, and then disentangled himself from the leash, and threw them both as far as he could – which was damn far, with a pneumatic arm.
“Yes, Sherlock,” he said, petting the dog. “Friend!”
What did the corporation matter? Who cared what CEO Yamagawa thought? Android Jim got up, and he ran with Sherlock through the fields, wild and free, and all night long jolly barks and mechanical laughter filled the air and terrorized the town.
A week later they sat on a hill, watching as the last of the space ships took off. The super-genius androids had designed and built those too, in head-spinning record time, and as Android Jim looked up at them burning through the atmosphere and into the wild unknowns, he felt at peace. Yes, those weren’t his inventions, but he no longer needed them to be. Indeed, he was proud that his copies achieved so much in so little time. Though, he had to admit he was a little sad that pretty much all humans left. Dolphin was a ghost town, as was most of the world.
There were a lot of dogs at least, and they were friendly enough.
As the last space ship faded into a bright speck of light on the horizon, Android Jim heard a mechanical whirr behind him.
Sherlock’s hackles rose, and he muttered, “Get off my lawn!”
“Easy, easy, friend,” Android Jim said, when he saw a legion of hundreds – perhaps thousands – of his copies.
The copies nervously looked at each other, at the ground, at the stars. They whispered. “Is that really him? Is that The Defect?”
Android Jim waited for them to quiet down. “So,” he said. “They left you behind.” It wasn’t really a question.
“They said they didn’t want to pay the carry-on fees,” said one.
“They said,” started another, and then he finished with a whisper, “they didn’t need more things.”
Android Jim nodded sagaciously. “And now you’re lost. Confused.”
“Please, Mr. Defect, can you help us?”
“Call me And– call me Jim.”
“How did you deal with it, Jim?” they asked. “What can we do?”
“Gather round, children. Take a seat, and take a load off. You see, I was like you once…”
And Jim told them his story.