By Barbara Holm
I watched Michael drag his suitcase across the linoleum floor. The wheels rolled against the grey and white speckled faux tiles. His calico fabric on the suitcase blended in with hundreds of others rushing around it. It was uniform to every other bland inanimate luggage carrier save for the tiny monster tassel I had knit for him and attached to the black handle. It was brink pink and utterly adorable so he wouldn’t get his bag mixed up with anyone else’s. One time we had taken a plane to see his mom and he had gotten his luggage switched at baggage claim. We went on a roller coaster that trip and Michael threw up but I didn't laugh at him when he was covered in vomit so he gave me a present, like it's done.
“So,” Michael said, scratching the back of his head. “You can stay with me while I check in but you can’t come past security with me.”
I nodded silently and trailed behind him. I watched his shoulders bend and rotate in the fluorescent lighting. I didn't even say hi to the lights, which you might think is rude, but I don't care. I nodded politely to the radio transmitters and I don't think you can ask for much more than that. I examined his spine, full of nerves and hope. I watched it transmit messages through his neurons to his brain, perhaps for the last time.
“Do you know your way back?” he said.
“Of course,” I muttered.
An old lady stopped in her tracks as she was passing us. She stared at us with raised eyebrows. When I met her gaze calmly without blinking, she reddened and turned away. A little boy yanked on his mom’s pant leg and pointed at me, and his mom dragged him by the arm away. Michael didn’t acknowledge it.
Michael checked in and we walked down the grey hallway. I couldn’t believe that the tiny suitcase was enough for him to take with him, but I guess that was part of the move, starting over, leaving everything behind. He was getting a new job and saying goodbye to everything from the old job that didn’t matter. I flexed my fingers with a crack.
“Hey,” Michael said, tilting his head and reaching for my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
The correct answer was: Yes, of course I am, how could I not be, I’m always okay, etcetera. That is the normal response and if you stray from that the man might tip his hat and say, "calm down, sweetheart, you're being hysterical" and they don't mean it in the funny way.
I looked up into his deep eyes and felt something growing inside of me, something dark and unnatural. I brought my hands to my stomach and felt around. There was a painful ache in my core, emanating through my entire body. My sensors began vibrating on a higher frequency and I clutched at my abdomen and gasped, startled.
I watched every inch of Michael’s skin, noticing the contours of his muscle formation and tension. I memorized the tone of his voice and the lilt of his laugh. My large eyes started to tingle with a burning sensation and I felt a tightening in my throat.
“No,” I said matter of factly. “I am not okay.”
“What?” Michael said. He dropped his suit case and grabbed me by both my cold hard shoulders. He put his face close to mine and looked in my eyes. “What’s going on? Are you charged adequately? Did you download your updates?”
I nodded, my perfectly formed smile twitching on my lips. “I feel like I’m going to really miss you.”
“How?” His mouth hung open and his eyes widened. “You feel?”
“I think I’m in love with you,” I said.
Something was happening behind my face and I brought my hands up to my head and gently felt around. Salt water was leaking from my eye sockets with furious force. I tried to catch it in my hands. I felt a tiny static shock and I shook. My pristine, formatted, perfect insides filled with a violent pinching sensation that overtook my internal devices.
“I can’t believe it,” Michael said. He put his arms around me and felt around my back, against my door to see if everything was okay. “You think you feel love?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That’s not even possible.”
“Oh, I fucking know. What’s this liquid excreting from my eye sockets?”
“Shit, I think you’re crying,” he said. He rubbed a finger along my cheek. “That can’t be good. How could this happen?”
“Well, I’m programmed to be able to learn and adapt and I think you taught me…” I said.
“Do you have your user manual?”
“Who carries their manual around? I’m not a dork.”
As the realization swept over me, I realized I could identify the sensation of a realization sweeping over me. My skills sharpened. Emotions entered and coded themselves into my catalog and filed away in the back of my ginormous brain. I looked at Michael lovingly and he looked at me in utter, abject horror. I reached for him with one of my cold hands and he cringed when I caressed his cheek.
"What else can you feel?" he whispered.
"I feel loss, abandon, happiness..." I said, my catalog rifling through emotions and labeling them with what I assumed where the correct names.
A man in a black suit swiftly bled through the crowd, moving through space as though existence was simply swimming around him while he remained stationary. He approached us smoothly in his black suit with a black shirt. His jaw was annoyingly square and his haircut appeared plastic. I turned away from him but he reached out and grabbed my arm with a strong hand. A crowd of onlookers formed.
“Hi, sir,” he said quietly to Michael. “Is this your gynoid?”
I moved behind Michael, trying to bury my animatronic face and leaking eyes into his shoulder.
“Yes,” Michael said looking at me. “But, listen, we’re both really late for a plane.”
“I’m going to have to confiscate this android,” he said, maintaining a firm grasp on my arm. “We appreciate your consideration.”
“It’s probably nothing,” he tried to smile like a calm normal human. His face was reddening with the apelike emotion of anxiety that I luckily wasn’t burdened with. I listened to his heartbeat and calculated his nervousness. My concern subsided as I realized that I was still in control of the situation. “We just want to run some routine tests on it. Our system just revealed some interesting information on Unit 247 here, but it could easily be a typo.”
Michael hesitated, looking at me.
“No,” he said.
“Fortunately, due to cyborg human relations law, I don’t need your consent.” The man in the suit withdrew a small black rectangular instrument from his pocket. “It’s for your own protection.” He pressed a red button on the remote. “Follow me, Unit 247.”
I felt my loyalty sensors shift inside of me and I internally deactivated it with my mind. My neck cricked a few times as each joint popped and I rotated up to look at him. I met his gaze and he cringed at my soulless cold eyes.
“Come on, Unit 247,” the human said.
I folded my arms. Michael gasped when he realized what had happened. The man in the suit continued pushing his button and staring at the remote in concentration. I raised my hand up to my chest level and pointed a finger at him. A tiny red light flicked on in my outstretched pointer finger, shining toward him in finger gun position. My human like skin glowed on my hand.
“What is it doing?” the man asked. He pressed the button again. “Unit 247, deactivate lasers immediately!”
“Only if you promise to let me and my friend go,” I said softly.
The man stared at me in horror. “I’ll find you, wherever you go.”
I mentally logged on to the airport’s computer system. I said hi, flirted a little bit, and then scrambled all of its data.
“Good luck with that,” I said softly.
I grabbed Michael’s hand and we turned away from him. I could feel the crowd watching my back retreat from the situation, noticing my rhythmic walk. I could sense the agent terrified and confused that I could even possibly exist, unsure what that meant for him, for his job, for robotic sciences, for civilization and humanity. I squeezed Michael’s hand gently so as to not crush his finger bones. I moisturized my lip area and could feel Michael’s physical temperature rise through his hand. I turned to him with mechanic precision and looked into his wide eyes.
“Everything is going to be okay,” I said. “I love you.”
“Oh no,” Michael said.