Fly Away (1)

Fly Away (1)

Synths are designed to be the perfect companions for their owners. They are genetically engineered to be sweet, kind, loyal, agreeable, and submissive. Arden's synth Luca seems to be the perfect playmate and servant. He seems perfectly content with his lot in life. But as the rebellion brews in the shadows, there may be more to everything than there appears to be.

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Chapter 1.

A Hidden Boy


The high-pitched wail ringing in my earpiece shreds into the comforting warm blankness of my sleep. I feel an intense longing inside me. A longing to not have to get up and go through with another day. Another day of aching sadness. But I have no choice.

I sit up in the small space that exists between the floor beneath me and the bed frame above me. And I take a moment to gather my seeping, fraying thoughts before I start my day.

All around me is the various toys and gadgets of my "brother" Arden, and a handful of my own, put on shelves. The carefully-selected white noise of a fountain along with a quiet symphonic melody is playing through the room as Arden sleeps in his large, plush bed. Comfortable. Oblivious. Perfect. Softly glowing crystal shards in dark colours float above him.

I silently pad to the control panel on one side of the wall, careful not to wake Arden. I turn on all the cleaning tech that begins running through the room, cleaning the floor and walls and shelves. I run in front of the shelf duster, picking up everything on the shelves to clear its path. It's exhausting but eventually I'm done.

I move my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth. And in the silence screaming eerie around me I tell myself that the weekend is almost over. School is almost starting.

I then get the last part of the room ready for the day. I turn the crystals into light blues and soft greens. I turn the music into something more upbeat. I bring Arden's hoverboard to the foot of his bed. And then I move to softly wake him up.

"Arden. Arden," I gently sing-song as I shake him softly, "It's time to wake up." In a few minutes he starts to stir. And then he sits up.

And thus begins the hardest part of my day.

"Hi." Arden murmurs to me, heavy with sleep.

"Good morning, Arden. I hope you slept well." I keep my voice sweet and bright submissive.

"Not really. I'm still groggy."

"Oh sorry. That really sucks. I hope you sleep well soon." How he could've possibly slept badly on a plush, soft, temperature-regulating bed that's full of new blankets and pillows is beyond me but I don't comment. Just keep smiling.

"Ugh do I have to get up right now?"

"You don't have to. But your mother will not like it if you don't. I'll defend you though." Of course I had to balance staying on his parents' good sides and staying on his good side. Any one of them could get me killed if I'm unsatisfactory.

"Ugh I might as well not face her wrath." Arden rubs his eyes and gets on his hoverboard, that sinks under his weight for a second before floating up.

Like this Arden is a foot taller than me. But in reality I'm only a couple of inches shorter than him. But he likes feeling tall.

I walk beside him as he glides into the bathroom. He brushes his teeth while I brush his hair. He has warm red-tinted brown curls that shine softly in the bathroom lights. He had soft white skin and pink lips. He had a dimple chin and a straight nose and bright blue eyes. He's very beautiful.

In contrast to him I have dull black hair and green eyes. I don't look like anything special. But Ari thinks that I'm beautiful. Thinks that I'm beyond beautiful. And that helps me. It helps me a lot.

Arden finishes brushing and we go to the two parallel showers that are joined together and strip down together. He gets into the high-tech shower, bathing himself in warm water. I get in the simple shower and turn on the water in it, which is always cold. We talk as we stand under the water.

"I can't believe I have a project to finish on a weekend." Arden loves complaining. It seems to me that he has nothing to complain about but I can't tell him that.

"Oh you're very smart," I tell him, "you will probably finish it in no time." The water screams around us.

"But still. It's a weekend." Shit. I didn't say what he wanted to hear.

"I'm sorry. I wish you didn't have to go through school. You deserve to be able to just play and hang out."

"I know. You have such an easy life. You get to just play and hang out all day." I can't believe he thinks that's what I do.

"Well you're smart. You can make the world beautiful."

"It's a lot of responsibility though."

"Yes. But you're really responsible as well. I know you can handle it."

He turns on the soap and the soft brushes lather expensive, nice-smelling soap all over his body. I run my bar of hard soap over my body and use my hands to scrub.

"I can't believe my teacher did this though."

"I agree. It was very inconsiderate of her."

"She is honestly the worst teacher I've ever had." He's told me that so many times.

"I'm so sorry you have to deal with her. Maybe you'll get her back one day."

"Do you honestly think I could?"

"Arden. I know you can do anything." He smiles at this, brightly, blue eyes narrowing amidst strings of dark hair.

"Do you really believe that?"

"Of course I do. You can do anything you set your mind to."

"Thanks. I just have to believe it myself. It's hard when school is always telling me what to do."

"Nobody should ever tell you what to do. You should always do whatever you want."

"Mom and Dad don't know that though."

"Yeah, they really don't."

"So anyways, it's still a weekend. We still get to hang out with the gang."

"Yeah. That's great. I bet you guys will have a lot of fun."

"Oh yeah. I can't wait."

"I'm really glad you're excited. You deserve to be excited."

"I mean it's just a small thing to be excited about."

"I agree. It is small. But it's still nice. You deserve nice things. And you deserve big things to be excited about as well. And you will have those as well."

"Like a trip to space for example. That would be so fun."

"Oh yes, it would. Keep asking your parents they're bound to agree sooner or later."

"They're so stingy though. That say it'll cost too much. I just wanna see the stars how they really are. Is that too much to ask?"

"Of course it's not. You deserve to see the stars from space. They're just beautiful and magical up there. Maybe you'll see them when you're an adult."

"But I wanna see them now," he whines.

"I understand. Keep up the pressure. They're bound to cave in."

We start putting on shampoo. Arden gets his head massaged by the special brushes lathered with expensive shampoo. I rub the bar of soap into my hair and massage it.

"Oh I love this shampoo," Arden comments.

"That's awesome. Why?"

"It just makes my head feel so comfortable. Almost like it's buzzing. But in a good way."

"Oh that does sound really comfortable. That's great."

"No more talking for now. Let me just enjoy my shower."

"Okay."

I am left with my thoughts. And in the freezing cold I think of Ari.

After the shower we dry off. Arden with his new, colourful, fluffy towel and me with my old, worn, ratty towel. We then walk and glide into his walk-in closet.

He looks through his clothes before pulling out a shimmering maroon shirt with golden embroidery that reaches halfway down his thighs and a pair of new blue jeans.

"You look amazing," I tell him, "I love the colours you picked."

"They do go together so well, don't they? What will you wear?"

"Oh I'll be happy wearing whatever you pick for me."

He gets me a simple light green shirt and black pants. I put them on, glad to be covered.

"Oh these are so beautiful. Thank you, Arden."

We go to the breakfast table and Arden's parents are already sitting on the sleek metal and glass monolith, the floating chandeliers spinning and gliding and dipping around them. Their synthetics sit on either side of them, silent. Mr. Harrison is a tall man in a cream dress shirt with a blood red collar with metallic red embroidery. Mrs. Harrison has a dress made of sheer layers of purple and white and her hair is dyed purple to match. Her synth has the tips of her hair dyed the same colour of purple and Mr. Harrison's synth wears a cream dress shirt with a normal collar.

"Good morning, Arden," his mom says.

"Good morning Mom. Good morning, Dad."

"Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Harrison."

We take our spots around the table. I do not have to talk here. Arden and his family will do all of the talking. All I have to do is try to not feel left out. Which is impossible.

Arden piles his plate high with salsa and green beans and flakey garlic bread. He pours a glass of mango juice. I just take the bread and a glass of water.

"So I hear that the communists set an huge banking office on fire," Mr. Harrison remarks. I look at Mrs. Harrison's synthetic. Her name is Ella. She looks at me. There is a spark in her eyes.

"Oh how horrid," Mrs. Harrison replies, fiddling with the dial of her personal temperature system that is floating by her chair. All the owners have one beside them.

"Those communists think that the country is theirs." Arden's voice is irritated. "They think they can take on our police and military. But they can't."

I say nothing. Because it's not my place. Because it's never been my place. And because I can't let them know what I'm really thinking.

"I've heard that sixty-five to eighty percent of the communists are synthetics," Mrs. Harrison states. I look at Ella and Sam, the other synthetics. They look at me back. Hope sparks in my heart. How can all these synthetics escape their owners and go on to join the rebellion? I hope I can one day go and join. That would be magical.

Sam smiles at me mischievously and no-one else but Ella and I notice. I think he's going to join the communists. I think he's going to escape. That would be amazing.

"So, Ella," Mr. Harrison continues, "what do you think of these rebellious synths?" It's strange to be addressed in the mornings. Mornings are supposed to be family time.

"I think they're really foolish and arrogant," Ella says smoothly, just as she is meant to, "our owners are like family. Like more than family. You keep us safe and provide for us. Of course any reasonable synth would be loyal and happy with their owners." She smiles. And you would have to look very deeply to see the plasticity and the darkness of the smile. But she smiles.

We continue eating. And the family continues talking about politics. Us synths continue to sneak glances at each other. They give me strength. Give me hope. We are like our own family, the three of us. It's just that we have to spend most of the time with our owners.

After breakfast Arden sets out to meet his friends so they can go to an immersive theatre. I go with him, walking along as he floats down the sidewalk. The houses on either side of us are large, with many large windows and softly glowing metal walls. They are designed in various beautiful styles and patterns. And they all have lush and blooming well-manicured gardens.

"Today it's Sally's turn to pick an immie," Arden tells me.

"So how do you feel about that?" I ask him. I have to know what his sentiments are in order for me to be able to echo them.

"I think it's fine. She's got good taste."

"She does have good taste."

"But I can't wait until it's my turn."

"I can't either. You've got the best taste of all."

"I do, don't I? But still, I have to be a good friend and let my other friends pick."

"That's very responsible of you." I say nothing of the fact that the synths never have a turn to pick. He doesn't want to hear about that. And he doesn't care.

"It is, isn't it?"

"You're a very good friend."

"I try to be."

"That's very good of you. Trying is what matters. And all your trying is coming to fruition."

"Well I think that if someone tries, they're bound to eventually succeed. It's all about caring enough to apply yourself." That's not the way he feels about school.

"You're absolutely right. That's very insightful and inspiring."

"It's just my thoughts."

"You're a very good thinker. You should become a philosopher some day."

Above us a giant iridescent mechanical dragon flies by, letting out a powerful, melodic roar.

"Wow," Arden exclaims, "that was super cool."

"It really was super cool." I echo.

"I wonder where that thing is going?"

"I wonder too. I wonder where it came from."

"Oh yeah. I bet the kid who owns it is so lucky."

"Do you want one of those?"

"If I can get mom and dad to pay for it. I would love a flyer."

"What type of flyer would you want? A dragon?"

"No. Maybe a giant squid. That would be cool."

"That would be really cool. I would love to see that."

"Flyers are the best."

"They really are. I'm glad they were invented."

"I've never met anyone who didn't want one."

"They are really popular."

We arrive at the row of richly carved park benches embedded with semi-precious gems. It's where we are supposed to meet Arden's friends. There is Sally, with her synth Haynes. There is Nora with her synth Aleni. And there is Marco with his synth Hari. I say hello to all of them and then the four free people start talking.

They talk mostly about the immie that they're going to see. What they expect that it's going to be like. The other synths and I say encouraging things every once in a while. We have to keep our owners happy. We make sure that the conversation is going through a happy course.

A man floats by us.

"Fcking synths!" He swears, spitting in my direction.

"What the hell was that about?" Arden wonders, looking at me.

"I don't know. He just seemed like a crazy guy." I do know. I know that this behaviour was just a more extreme form of the superiority that all non-synths feel towards us synths. But I don't tell him this.

"Well he should stay away from other peoples' property," Arden continues angrily, "come here, let me see if you're alright."

I let Arden look me over and when he's satisfied I once again back off, letting him be with his friends.

We make our way inside the huge theatre. There we are greeted by a synth who shows us to our cubicle. The large room is empty at first, save for the six of us. But it will be full of lively holograms soon. The owners get plush, floating chairs to sit on and drift around in. Us synths stand.

I end up next to Haynen. The owners are having a loud conversation and they are not even noticing us. This is a chance.

"How are you?" Haynen whispers to me.

"Terrible. Like always. But what else can you expect?"

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too. How are you doing, Haynen?"

"It's hard. Too hard. I don't know how I'll get by." We keep our eyes on the owners, who still don't notice us.

"I'm sorry. But I heard that the communists are eighty percent synths."

"Wow. How did they get away?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe we can get away."

"I hope we can."

"Me too."

We quiet down as the owners quiet down. Mist fills the room. And the immersive starts.

It's a sweet story, about a girl who was always bullied at school but she finds a book of magical spells and uses it to get back at her bullies. I don't know why but it makes me cry. Thankfully no-one sees me crying. Though if they did I could easily blame it on the immie.

After the immie they go to a restaurant. There are holographic mini-immies drifting around the tables and colour changing mechanical flowers bloom and close on our table cloth. There is a crystal cavern in the middle of the table with fake plants growing around it and there are balls of lightning floating over our heads in ever shifting geometric patterns.

I gulp down my loneliness as the owners talk around us. I'm always so lonely it's unbearable. And yet I always have Arden to keep me company. Or maybe I always have to keep Arden company. He always has me to keep him company. Strangely enough I'm less lonely when Arden isn't around. When I'm truly alone.

I force myself to gulp down my bland mashed potatoes. There is something so intimate about eating with someone. Something so deeply alienating about it.

Bidding goodbye to Arden's friends, Arden and I go back towards our home.

"That was awesome, wasn't it?" Arden asks me brightly.

"Yeah, it was." I feel sick with stress. I always feel sick with stress when I'm talking to Arden. But I bear it.

"A great way to spend a Sunday."

"Yeah, it really is. And I'm glad you got to see your friends."

"I'm glad too."

"What was your favourite part of the immie?" I have to keep the conversation on him at all times. People love speaking about themselves.

"Probably when she imprisoned that girl in a tree."

"Oh I love that part," I lie, "it was so powerful." In reality it creeped me out.

"Wasn't it? She was so badass."

"She really was. She had no fear." Though, she really didn't have anything to fear. Not in the way that I do.

"Yeah. And she was so powerful. She made everyone fear her. I wish I had that kind of power."

"Imagine making everyone fear you. What would you do with that power?"

"I would make sure everyone gave me the respect I deserve."

"You definitely deserve that. Who doesn't respect you?"

"Oh, Robert. That guy is such a fcking bully."

"Well damn him. I'm sure he'll get what's coming to him eventually."

"Oh, he will. I just have to work out the courage to take him on."

"You're very brave. But it's equally good to keep yourself safe and not put yourself in danger if it's not worth it."

"Oh, it is worth it alright. I just have to convince the other kids to join me."

"They'd be fools not to."

"Oh but some of them are fools. And some of them are cowards."

"That sounds very difficult. But keep trying. I hope you are able to gather enough supporters."

"I hope so too. It's time that Robert knows what fear is for a change."

"It is. Go get your revenge."

"He thinks he's getting revenge on us for making fun of the fact that he has a synth mother. Ever since we found that out he's been nothing but rude and disrespectful to everyone that ever tries to engage with him. Having him as a partner or in a group is absolutely terrible. We have to get back at him."

I think that if someone was bullied for something as personal as where they came from, they deserve to be rude to their tormentors. But I don't say that.

"Wow he sounds like a really bitter and overly sensitive person."

"He is. Everyone hates him. They just don't want to do anything about it."

"Well you're planning to do something about it. That's very brave of you."

"It is."

"So who was your favourite character in that immie?"

"The book seller who gave her that book. She was very mysterious."

"She was, wasn't she? I love her aura."

We keep talking until we arrive at home and I help Arden out of his clothes and into new ones. He chooses a light blue button-up shirt with red and orange flowers growing up from the hem.

I don't have Haynen or Hari or Aleni around me. Sam and Ella are gone with their owners. I'm alone with Arden. I'm the most alone I can be.

"So what do you want to do now?" I ask him.

"Hmm. I don't know. Let me think."

"Alright," I smile at him. He goes to his room and I follow him in. He sits on the plush bed while I sit on the floor and think my thoughts.

I wonder if the communists will win. I know that they won't. I know that they can't. Not against the might of Imranion's armies. It's a David versus Goliath situation. It even harder than that.

But still. There is hope.

"I know what we should do!"

"What?"

"Let's play Truth on Armantia!"

I hate that video game. It's so creepy and it doesn't make much sense. But of course I have to go along with it. So I follow Arden into one of the two gaming rooms. I fetch him all the necessary mechanical parts and we stand there as holograms spin to life around us.

The first part of the game is an exposition part where we are introduced to the haunted manor and its strange inhabitants. Arden skips over that part and goes directly to the gameplay.

The mechanical and holographic spiders come to life around us. They crawl all over, with their glowing red eyes and darker than night bodies and their many, many, many long, spindly legs. It gives me the heebie jeebies but I deal with it.

I know Arden likes killing the mechanical spiders. It's objectively more fun. So I hold off the hologram spiders and prevent them from biting him while he tries to shoot the mechanical ones in their weak spots.

Eventually the spiders are all decimated. The eerie mist around us lifts from the dark castle walls. And the final boss spider emerges from the roof.

It's a mechanical spider but it shoots holograms and all kinds of things. It's three or four times taller than us. Arden doesn't like having to dodge all the projectiles and webs so I have to block a lot of them for him. It's exhausting having to cover him as he runs around aiming at the spider.

But finally it's over. He shoots the golden victory shot and the boss is dead. We stand there panting for a bit.

"Great job, Arden," I tell him.

"Thanks," he replies.

In the next level is a giant worm that shoots out this green glowing liquid. It is meant to be a corrosive poison that catches on us and makes us die slowly and painfully. Arden doesn't want to get hit by it so I absorb all the hits instead. Arden laughs about how ridiculous I look covered in holographic green slime. It stings a little bit but I laugh as well.

I have to.

Arden defeats the worm in a matter of an hour and then we are left in the manor. We fake walk, the simulation moving around us, to a large room filled with various objects all piled about. We have to look through them to find the photographs of all the people who died here.

Arden thinks he's a really good finder but he's really not. I dig through all the piles of stuff and when I find a photograph I put it somewhere that's easier to find so that he can spot it. I let him collect the majority of the photos.

And then the ghosts attack.

I know he likes rescuing me and I know he hasn't gotten a chance to do that yet. So I let him fight me out of the clutches of a ghost.

I have to time and measure everything perfectly so that Arden gets the best game playing experience. It's exhausting. And all the while I have to constantly thank him and compliment him to keep his spirits bright.

But finally Arden gets tired of the game. And we go back to his room where he sits on his bed and I sit beside him on the floor. He casually throws a ball to me, and it's a path finding ball so it goes to the other person no matter where you throw it. And I throw the ball back. We keep casually doing this as he looks around the room.

"It's getting pretty late," he tells me.

"You're right, it is. Good observation."

"Tomorrow is school. It will be so boring."

"I know. It sucks. I'll be thinking about you the whole time though, until I can get to see you again."

"Thanks. Knowing that makes me feel better."

"Aww thanks so much. Knowing that you feel better makes me so happy."

"I should probably get to working on my project."

"You're right. That's a very smart move." I can't pressure him but I also have to show my support for his decision.

As he sits in his large, sleek desk and gets his assignment into the screen, I move to the rest of the sprawling house and help the cleaning robots keep everything pristine and immaculate. I spend hours running in front of the cleaning bots frantically moving everything out of the way and then putting it back. It's frantic and dizzying and exhausting. The house is just so big.

Ella is with me too, doing the same task. And I'm really glad for her company. It feels so very intimate to both be doing the same work.

We finish a few minutes early and then come together in one corner in between two shelves. We come together like two pieces of a puzzle. Ella sits on the floor and I sit on her lap. She hugs her arms around my middle and I lean against her chest and put my arms over her's.

"I missed you, my baby," Ella tells me softly, close to my ear.

"I missed you too," I whispher back, "I love you."

"Sam told me he wants to escape this house and go join the communists," Ella says. I let that information sit in the bottom of my chest, bitter and sweet and exciting and terrifying.

"I hope he can do it." We keep alert for the owners.

"He won't do it if you don't want him to. You know he sees you as a son. We both do."

"I ..." I take time to think. If Sam can break free then that will make me so happy. It will feel like a victory, not just for him but for all of us. But I will miss him too.

"Will he leave soon?" I ask.

"No. He won't leave until we are alright with it. And he hasn't made any plans yet. He's just testing the idea out."

"Then ... could he wait a few more years? I can't lose him just yet. But I want him to go. I want him to be free."

"I'll let him know that." Her body is soft and warm against mine. I almost want to cry.

"So how was your day?"

"Terrible. But there was a dragon flyer going by this morning."

"I saw that too."

"When I was younger my mother - not my biological mother of course, but the synth of my owner's mother - told me a story about a couple who hijacked a flyer and climbed within it to fly to safety."

"Wow. That would be awesome." I think about my own lover. If I can call Ari a lover. I imagine myself and him and a flyer and freedom. "Is it real?" I ask Ella.

"I don't think so. But it might be. They could have secretly learned to code. And some flyers are big enough to hold people."

"I wish it was real."

"I wish so too."

"Have you ever been in love?"

"I have. But I lost her. They found out."

I gulp. I can't have the owners ever finding out about Ari and I. I would die without him.

"I'm so sorry. Maybe you'll see her again." That was the wrong thing to say.

"We'll see each other in the Green Place."

"Only communists believe in the Green Place. Are you a communist?"

"Of course I am. Aren't you?"

I think about that for a moment.

"Yes," I answer. And it's a declaration into the sharp corners and searing brightness of the world.

"I'm done!" Arden's voice cuts into the quietness. I can barely hear him all the way across the house but I can hear him. I sigh and get up. I trudge my way to his room like a man walking towards the gallows.

"What should we do now?" I ask him, standing by his bed.

"Let's talk a little before going to bed."

"That's a good idea."

We pass the ball around again as we talk.

"I have a crush on this girl. Her name is Clementine. She's in my math class.

"That's lovely. What's she like?"

"She has very beautiful dark eyes. And she has amazing tits. They're so big." Seriously? He's commenting on her tits? That's so disrespectful.

"She sounds very beautiful."

"Oh she is. You should see her. I'll show you a picture." He gets out a holographic picture of a girl with dark curling hair and wide cheekbones.

"Wow. She's amazing. I do not have the words to describe her."

"I know. I'll have to tell her."

"When are you going to tell her? How?"

"I was thinking you could make a poem and I could write it down and say it's from me." I can't believe him.

"Of course. When do you need the poem?"

"I don't need it just yet. I'm still too nervous to talk to her. I'll tell you when I stop being nervous."

"It's alright to be nervous. It's understandable. It's a matter of the heart after all."

"It's so beautiful, being in love."

"I would imagine that it would be."

"Have you ever be in love?" He asks me.

"No," I lie. I have to keep the lie. Have to keep the secret.

"Of course not. I don't think synths can even feel love. Can you?"

"I love you," I lie again. "I love you more than I love the sunshine. More than I love the starlight. More than I love life itself and more than I fear death." I wrote this poem for Ari and it feels so wrong on my tongue saying it to Arden.

"Ooh I'm going to type that down. It's going into the poem for Clementine."

"I hope she appreciates it and appreciates you for sending it to her."

"I hope so too. But anyways. I know you love me. But you love me as a brother."

"Of course I love you as a brother. What is there not to love about you?"

"I know. But I'm talking about romantic love. Do you feel that?"

"I don't know yet. I never have felt it before."

"I think synths are not capable of it. Anyways, you have no idea how my heart is buzzing right now."

"That sounds like a really amazing feeling. I'm glad you're feeling it. Tell me more."

We keep talking until he decides to go to sleep. He switches the music in his room and I turn the light crystals low. And then I get under the bed and think.

My thoughts would swallow me whole and leave me drowning if I didn't have my people to think about. There is still unimaginable sorrow. Of course. There is still the unbearable sorrow that clouds over most of my existence. But still. There is the way Ella held me. The way Sam is going to maybe escape. The way Haynen whispered to me. The way Ari and I hide. The way everyone loves my poems. The way hope is hard to kill. The communists trying to overthrow the government with an army of eighty percent synths.

My dreams are terrifying. In them I am a small child again. Alone. Afraid. With nowhere to turn to and no-one to find comfort in.

First I dream of the years and years I spent at the Harrisons' house, looking after Arden, with Arden and Mr. and Mrs. Harrison looming above me. Memory and imagination swirl and blur together in a terrible delirium. I ask Mr. Harrison for some ice cream and he throws me out the window. I fall through abject blackness.

I land in the white walls of the training facility I was in until I was four. The robots and the loneliness and the fear and the pain all come rushing back to me. And suddenly I am tied down in front of a screen again, too afraid to scream or cry, watching a video on how to be the perfect companion.

I wake up in a cold sweat. It's not morning yet. I hum tune that Ari sang to me and I'm able to lull myself back to sleep. And thankfully, thankfully my sleep is filled with blank darkness. But still the uneasiness weaves its way into the blankness.

In the morning I get up even though I'm tired like I always am. I clean and I get Arden up. He has to get to school. And his parents are counting on me to take him there on time.

He complains. Of course he complains. And as always I listen to his complaining and I sympathize with him. And I tell him it will all be okay. He will be okay. And as always, he soaks in my praise and doesn't give me praise back.

We walk to school, me carrying his bags and him on his glider. Him talking my ear off. The school isn't very far off. He talks about Clementine on the way over. I navigate the conversation, which, as always, is a minefield.

I bid him a hearty goodbye and act like I'm sad to see him go. Then I walk home.

I rush into the kitchen and turn on the cooking robots. I have to make and deliver Arden a hand-cooked meal for his lunch. Apparently hand-cooked meals taste a lot better than bot-cooked ones. They have more heart. Apparently. But I have no time to cook him an intricate meal. I have to get to school. And quickly. He won't really know the difference between a hand-cooked meal and a bot-cooked one. He never does.

I put the meal in a temperature-regulating box and rush to the school building. My my head is buzzing with thoughts of Ari.

I think I will be sick in the best possible way. I would be seeing him again! After the long, lonely, grating weekend!

I get in easily through the sliding doors of the school. And the hallways are all empty as I walk down them and to Ari's and my meeting spot.

My heart soars at the sight of him. Piercing blue eyes that are like the sky's horizon. A soft and shy smile shining on his angular face. Arms awkwardly crossed against his chest. Head scanning the hallways as he leans against the walls. I almost run to him.

"Ari. I missed you."

"I missed you too, Luca, I missed you so much."

"Let's get in the walls."

The walls shimmer with colours. There are girls and boys walking on the screens giving students reminders about school events. The walls can do even more stuff if they are told to. It's a vast array of mechanics that makes all of it work. And those mechanics need to be maintained. And so there is a crawlspace within the walls that is exactly perfect for us to go into.

Ari swipes the key card he stole from his owner's father and then we are inside. All around us are gray machine pieces arranged intricately together and there is a narrow space we can just barely walk through. We can see out the walls and into the hallways and rooms of the school, in the places where there are gaps in the machinery. We can hear what the speakers inside the classrooms are saying. We can learn here.

We walk to the the first class. Or at least the crawl space beside it. Seventh grade English. We situate ourselves so that we can see the screen, even if it's just barely. And we sit and watch the lesson go by. We do this for the next lesson. And the next one. We talk for the minutes in between lessons. There is not enough time for us to talk. But we both want education. We both need education.

We're not supposed to be having an education.

It's interesting. Deeply interesting. So many ideas and theories and facts and numbers. I don't know why Arden hates it so much. I know that Ari loves it too. Though maybe that's because it's forbidden fruit. Whatever kind of fruit education is, it's a sweet and delicious fruit.

We get out of the walls just before lunch time and we go to meet our owners. I'm happy and sweet and meek and submissive in front of Arden and he never even notices anything amiss. He never does. Maybe part of the reason is that he never really looks at me. After he's done talking to me he goes to talk to his friends.

I rush outside the school and climb a pipe onto the roof. There Ari is already waiting for me.

The wind is blowing in his curly black hair. He's so unbelievably handsome. I run to him, and he catches me in his arms. He spins me around. I tuck a lock of curly hair behind his ears. We gaze at each other for a beautiful, breathtaking moment. And I almost forget about how much everything hurts.

Our lips mesh together for a kiss, my arms hugging him tight and his hands softly stroking my hair. And it's like a warm fire has been lit inside of me. Like my whole being is glowing. We kiss again. And again. And again. Until my lips almost hurt. We finally break our embrace and we sit on the roof.

"My father's going to try to get freedom." I tell him.

"Oh," he sounds surprised, "how do you feel about that?"

"Good. He won't leave for a few more years. I'll still have him in my life until I'm older. And I want him to be free."

"That's perfect. Do you think he'll be able to make it?"

"I don't know." I let the worry show in my voice.

"There was this one synth, they were my owner's neighbour's synth. One day I stopped seeing them entirely. I think they might've escaped."

"I hope they escaped. I hope they joined the communists." Neither of us brings up the possibility that they died. But it hangs there in front of us. "Do you miss them?"

"Oh I definitely do. Even though we didn't get many chances to talk, we were close."

"Of course you were. It feels like, it feels like all the synths are a family. And it hurts losing your family."

"But I'm happy for them though. Happy that they're free."

"I'll be happy when my dad becomes free too. It will feel like a victory."

"It does feel like a victory when one of us escapes. It feels like a victory for all of us."

"You're so right. Because if any of us defied all the odds and defied the owners, it proves to the rest of us that we deserve freedom and we have hope."

"You're so poetic. I love your way with words."

"Thanks so much. I love your way with melodies. You sing really well."

"Thanks. You're so sweet."

Thank you. You're so sweet too."

Talking to Ari feels so different than talking to Arden. Ari talks to me as if I'm a person, as if I'm an equal, not just some toy to play with. He makes me feel seen. Makes me feel heard. Makes me feel human.

"Ari, do you think we'll ever be parted?"

"If I don't see you in this world I'll see you in the Green Place." He seems so sure.

"It's funny how so many synths believe in the Green Place," I remark, "the communist propaganda must have made it's way to us all."

"Well with all the talking the owners do about who the communists are and what they think and do, is it such a surprise?"

"It's funny, the owners are telling us all about them and giving us hope. They're doing the communists' jobs for us. And they don't even realize it."

"Owners have always been stupid. They've always underestimated us. It'll be their downfall." Rage is laced through his words. He carries so much rage within him.

"I love your rage."

"And I love the way you keep secrets. You keep your heart hidden from the owners but always so clear to yourself."

"You do that too."

"I'm not as good at it as you are. Your owner is absolutely fooled."

"He has to be. I have to keep secrets. I have to keep you a secret."

"You're such an incredibly sweet secret."

"So are you."

"So many secrets are sweet."

"Because they don't want us to have sweet things. So we have to hide them."

"We won't have to hide forever though."

"Yeah, their reckoning will come."

"You'd make a great fighter."

"So would you."

The bell rings and we wait fifteen minutes before climbing down and going back to class. And we go to all the classes. And we learn everything the owner's children learn. And we store that knowledge deep inside ourselves.

After school I go to meet Arden so we can walk home. Already I miss Ari. But I say nothing of it.

"Hi, Arden. It's so great to see you. I missed you so much. How was your day?"

"It was good. I got a chance to talk to Clementine."

"That's amazing! What did you say?"

"I just asked her about an upcoming assignment."

He drones on, completely oblivious. And I keep all my secrets hidden deep inside myself.
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