Chapter 2- Charlotte: I remember.
The day I met Cypher plays on a constant reel in my mind. He seemed so lost looking down at his creator’s tombstone. It seemed out of place, for an android, that is. I missed Hal too, but I cannot grieve for him the same way, because I know what happens after humans pass on. He is resting peacefully, as he should be. Compared to whatever sort of life I have found myself in, it’s natural.
I’m not mad at Hal anymore, although I couldn’t say the same when I had first woken up. I guess most would be grateful, even consider it a second chance. I’ve tried for years to come to terms with my new life, but it hasn’t been easy. Anger had dissipated into bitterness, most of which disappeared when I received the news of his passing. Although, a faint trace of longing for what used to be was still leftover in my heart.
There were too many things I remember from life before. The way the smell of coffee brewing could draw me out of bed, the breeze in my hair as I drove down the expressway, the feeling of the salty ocean on my skin, diving into cold blue waves on a sweltering day. Most importantly… the way my mother’s hug always felt warm and inviting. Now the smell of coffee makes me realize I'll never taste it again, I don’t get chills from the breeze blowing hair across my neck, my body has temperature regulators so I can’t feel the warmth of the sun or the chilly water the same way I used to, and… my mother’s hugs feel cold and obligatory.
Cypher and I walked along the tree line near the highway. Red and golden leaves of Autumn crunched below our feet. We were heading into the city to buy a few things to make our new home seem less bland. It was my idea. I think he would have been content just sitting on the floor of that old barn. It really was the perfect place for us. Since AI cannot buy property, we wandered for months looking for the right spot to call “home.” No one would go near there after all. It didn’t fit in with society’s pristine white surfaces or neon-colored lights.
Farming was unnecessary in the age of technology. Food was genetically engineered and mass-manufactured by grunt droids and low-ranking class humans in enclosed factory cities. Although, some small groups of people against the movement towards genetically modified food still maintained crops for many years, most everyone has made the switch due to the nutrient enrichment and flavor.
Many years ago, people struggled with poverty, diseases, and pollution. This led to massive progressive movements in which people demanded changes to public health and safety. Not long after, factory cities were established to provide for their respective districts. Factory cities created nutrient enriched, genetically modified food and other goods. The waste and pollution generated from the factories are filtered and recycled. Since Factory cities are governed by district, rather than industries and corporations, they work together to keep the cities within regulation. One factory’s waste is another factory’s fuel.
Once we arrived in the city, Cypher suggested we check out antiquarian stores, he knew I loved antiques. These days, only collectors, kids, and tourists shopped at antiquarian stores, but I still loved it. It was something about how antiques smelled like simpler times. How each piece of wood was unique, so no two dressers were exactly alike. The way clothing fit and felt; soft and stylish instead of practical and plain. And their trinkets; bottle caps, thread spools, coins, keys. Keys used to be for unlocking homes before they used retinal scanners, now they made great necklaces. Paper books haven’t been produced since the environmental movements thirty years ago, but sometimes you can find one hiding in a dark corner of some antiquarian shop.
Pink and blue laser-diode lights danced across every surface brilliantly making the sun above seem to pale in comparison. The sleek white walls of every shop looked identical. I looked in the windows as we walked along the sidewalk, stopping as we reached the window of a small café. The warm pale light spilled across the wooden surfaces inside, a great contrast from where I stood. I breathed deeply, savoring the scent of expresso and pastries. It filled me with nostalgia. The only fad from the beginning of the century that would not be forgotten were the beloved vintage cafés. They were an intrinsic piece of human culture.
“Want to go in?” Cypher asked looking amused. It felt like the first time he spoke in hours. I realized my hand was pressed against the window, my nose an inch away from the glass. How embarrassing, I would have flushed red if I were human.
“Sure,” I replied. We made our way into the café and found a seat by the counter. I breathed deeply, allowing all the smells to fill me at once. Drinking in the moment, and slowly, carefully separating each one. I could smell fresh dough, dark roast coffee, cinnamon, and… chocolate. I followed the smell to the glass display case behind me.
Resting on a silver dish that seemed too clean for the pile of fudge it supported, was half of a triple-layered chocolate cake, sliced neatly into four separate pieces. I watched as the service droid carefully slid a spatula under one of the slices, transferring it to a small white plate. Smiling, as she handed it to the young boy standing by the order-kiosk. In like manner, his father swiped his fingerprint to pay, as the boy swiped his finger through the carefully piped frosting and hauled a dollop of fudge up to mouth. If I had taste buds, my mouth would have watered at just the sight. My heart, or I suppose the mechanical equivalent of one, hurt. I wanted to cry, I wanted to feel teardrops fall down my cheeks. But much like the taste of chocolate, the warmth of the sun, and a genuine hug from my mother, I’d never feel that again.
“Why do you love cafés if they make you… sad?” I jumped, suddenly remembering I was not alone. Cypher’s hand slid over mine, concerned eyes peering into my own. I wish he could see himself the way I saw him. He sees himself as just a machine programmed with a desire to understand human emotions. But what he feels is real. He’d never admit it, or maybe even recognize it, but the truth is, he’s the sad one. He doesn’t believe he is capable of the very emotions he feels. I’ve never met an android with such intense longing to understand humans. It makes sense though, my father was his creator after all.
“It probably seems petty, but chocolate cake was the reason I was pissed at Hal for years before he passed. That’s all.” Cypher studied me, recognizing my patterns for omitting truth. Nothing gets passed him.
“Please, Charlotte,” He breathed, “tell me more. I want to understand what makes you…. ‘Who you are’.” Using my own line against me was a little excessive, but I did want him to know more. I wanted him to know everything.
“I don’t know where to begin.” It was the truth. How much should I tell? What if he never looks at me the same? He refers to people as “the humans.” I sometimes wonder if he’s bitter towards them deep down. Would he become bitter towards me also?
“Start from the beginning,” he urged, “you don’t have to keep secrets from me.” He gently squeezed my hand. For a second, I was reminded of my mother. Of hands offering me comfort years ago when I struggled through school, friendships, and boys. I couldn’t help the wistful smile tugging the corner of my lips. I’ve thought about this for a long time, carefully scripting out how I would tell the story, running the lines repeatedly in my head. Now the moment finally arrived, and, despite all the high-tech software in my head, my mind suddenly forgot how to remember. A few more moments of silence later, I decided to let my words choose themselves.
“You didn’t know my father the way I did.”
“Your father?” he interrupted one eyebrow arched, leaning into his curiosity. I pressed my lips together raising my eyebrows at him, he sat back, mouthing a quick “sorry.” Eyes wide like an eager puppy waiting to hear more.
“You knew Hal as your creator. The lead tech engineer and researcher at Method. You may not have known since you were the only android that worked there, besides the receptionist grunt, but Method stands for Mind Enhancement Technology and Human Observational Development. It’s the top human-machine integration research institute in the world.
“Hal didn’t talk much about work, but we had an idea of what he did. He spoke vaguely about new experiments and discoveries. As much as he wanted, my dad couldn’t keep a secret.” I watched curiosity and confusion play a delicate game of chess across Cypher’s face, trying desperately, as he does, to decipher where this was heading.
“You once told me Hal talked about his wife and children, but never mentioned his other android creations. That’s because we were born human. I am his organically born child, or…. I was.” Pretending not to notice his shock, I quickly continued. “It was Cody’s 17th birthday I was 19 at the time. My dad took Me, Cody, and Cody’s girlfriend, Shaina to Eastport City to see old-world ruins. The city is so old; streets, lights, buildings… all reminiscent of life in the early 2000’s. It was mid-February. It snowed the night before, and the reddish bricks looked beautiful with little white piles of melting snow spilling over the edges.
Afterwards we stopped for cake at the last remaining original café of the 1990’s, Old-World-Famous Café. They have special permission, as a well-known tourist attraction that fund their district’s Factory City, to make all food fresh. The Factory City supplies the ingredients, they even bake their cakes in old-fashioned ovens from the 2020’s. I remember it was so delicious, so rich. But like many teenage girls, I was unnecessarily concerned with my self-image and weight. So, I took four bites and saved the rest for later, even though I wanted to eat the whole thing right there. It was the best thing I ever tasted. Also… the last.
“On the way home that evening, the melted snow started to refreeze. The car was sliding around in auto and Shaina, and I were getting nervous, so my dad put the car in manual.
“Hal always told me no one uses manual anymore.” Cypher interjected as he made the connection. I nodded solemnly.
“He’d had a manual-drive license for years, but rarely used it. He laughed and joked, in a well-intended effort to make light of the situation. Unfortunately, my dad over-estimated his manual driving skills. We slid across the ice and smashed into the guard rail. The car flipped seven times, but I was gone long before that. My dad was the only survivor.
“It was about 4 months later I woke up to my brother and father staring down at me. But Cody seemed different. He had a blue android-observance light on his temple. That’s when I found out what happened. My father blamed himself. Grieving his only two children, and stricken with guilt, in a half-mad state of mind he retrieved our neural-link chips and samples of DNA. With that and the newest model android shell, he created the first human-machine hybrids. Neither human, nor Android.
“I was so young. I didn’t know how to live in the moment. Having been given a ‘second chance,’ my biggest regret is that I never got the chance to savor the rest of that last slice of chocolate cake.”
Thankyou for reading! If you enjoyed my story, please consider dropping a heart, sharing to social media, or reading any of the other stories listed below.
The Cream Owl Butterfly-
I am, chapter 1