the girl sitting in your “room” is very much human; you don’t have to let your sensors study her to see the softness of personhood in her features and her eyes. she’s sitting on your bed with a collection of books scattered around her and you scan the entire haphazard scene.
you process everything very quickly, in a matter of seconds. she’s 19. her books are on languages, english and german. her hair is silver-blue and her eyes are wide.
she is what you believe most humans would call beautiful.
she is also the daughter of your creator, the one inputting your programming and teaching you how to be the perfect household assistant.
“hello, miss kim,” you greet her, using her father’s surname.
she jumps at your voice, looking briefly startled. but then a smile grows across her face and your mental dictionary of human emotion flags excitement, perhaps. that’s a fairly new part of your programming, though, so you aren’t completely sure.
“hi!” she chirps, and her voice is upbeat and a little bit loud. nothing like the scientists here. it makes you feel startled.
“....hello.” you say again. perhaps you aren’t the best at human conversations yet. “why are you in my room?”
her face brightens up even more. definitely excitement. there is a light in her eyes you’ve never seen in your own in the mirror. you’re not sure you can replicate that feeling. “did my father not tell you? you’re coming home with us! he wanted me to have a personal companion and he said you’re his favorite of the ones he’s been working on.”
“....what?” you reply, and though you cannot feel real human emotion in a full spectrum, there are some things your sensors can replicate. confusion is one of them, and it is something that makes the analysis part of your system feel foggy and cluttered. you had no idea you were his favorite. you had no idea you would be leaving the lab.
but you can’t deny that you want this opportunity. every single android here does. the ones who don’t leave after a period of time are dismantled and refurbished and it does not seem pleasant to imagine all of your parts pulled in different directions and reattached to other bodies.
“you’re coming home with me today.” the girl says.
there’s a tug in your chest that comes without your consent, and you think if excitement is something you could feel, this might be it.
“miss kim, your room is very nice.”
and it is. you do not have a favorite color because favorites are arbitrary and unnecessary and thus not programmed in, but you do think the scheme of blue and gold together works nicely as a color palette.
another smile. you’re not sure if she can create any other expression. “call me yoohyeon.”
you nod, remind yourself to smile back and hopes it looks natural and human. you have spent many hours in front of the mirror in the washroom back at the lab practicing expressions at yourself in the mirror. “of course. your room is very nice, yoohyeon.”
“thanks, yoobin! i decorated it myself.” she says, and motions to the fact the ceiling is black and painted with an ocean of white-gold stars, scattered across it in various sizes and shapes. “i painted everything, and mom and dad let me pick all the furniture at ikea.”
she goes on for a moment longer, talking about something else that you don’t hear at all. your processing halted a moment ago, and you interrupt without thinking, “yoobin?” then you curse yourself for interrupting, for your lack of manners, thinking that maybe she’ll hit you or spit at you like some of the less kind scientists had when you didn’t achieve the result they wanted.
“yeah, yoobin. i….picked it for you. do you like it? if you don’t i can pick something else!” yoohyeon says, and you realize that she has given you a name. before you were just a series of letters and numbers attached to a body meant to replicate a human girl. but now….you’re yoobin. you let it sink in and your systems override your old identification tag and replace it with the name.
“i like it a lot, yoohyeon.” you say.
“we can be 2yoo! yoohyeon and yoobin. i think it’s cute.” yoohyeon says, and then she sheepishly walks over to her desk and hands you something. it’s a greeting card, hand made from construction paper and glitter and permanent marker. on it she’s drawn elegant flowers and an animal you know is called a panda. the card reads welcome home yoobin! you take it into your hands gently. “it would be real awkward to give you this if you hated the name.”
“i like the name and your artwork is lovely, yoohyeon.” you reply.
when you look up at her, you smile, and you don’t even have to remind your system to do it first.
after a few weeks you think you have settled in nicely. you have your own corner of yoohyeon’s room, and even though you do not need to sleep, you can replicate it, so you spend every night in the bed she’d set up just for you. the sheets and the comforters have pandas on them like the greeting card from your first day here, and there is a pillow shaped like the animal as well. yoohyeon claims it’s because you look like one, and even though you do not really understand how you could look like a mammal from the ursidae family, you find yourself growing fond of them in some way.
(and it helps that when yoohyeon first told you about the resemblance, her hand found your cheek and squeezed. it was such a strange gesture but her fingers had been gentle and playful and her voice was so bright when she said, “they’re also squishy, just like you.”
and you know that they built you to look welcoming and that’s why your facial features include soft, arguably fluffy cheeks. but for her to call you squishy even though every part of you beneath the manufactured surface is metal and chemicals, well...it’s nice, in a way.)
so much of your internal registry is filled with facts about yoohyeon now.
her favorite color is green. she wears glasses but she hates the way they make her face look so she usually puts in contact lenses instead. she loves languages. she only swears when she’s playing video games. her favorite food is kimchi.
you are programmed to hold nearly infinite amounts of information, but these are the things you prioritize. of course you know how to cook meals for the family and how the kim parents like their household arranged. you know how to help yoohyeon’s younger brother with his homework and what time the bus runs to make sure he gets to school on time.
but you are specifically yoohyeon’s companion, so you place this information at the forefront.
tonight you come home early from escorting her brother to a friend’s home because he decided he wished to spend the night, and when you step into the house you know it is empty aside from yoohyeon. she’s the only heat signature you pick up. maybe that’s why when you set your coat (not necessary, but you like the way the leather looks) on the rack, you hear her singing.
from a completely scientific standpoint, her voice is excellent. it’s clear and the notes ring out on a perfect pitch and you have to admit you are impressed. it’s without real thought you let your feet guide you up the stairs and you stand silently in the doorway and watch her sing. she’s in her bedroom with her back to you and her voice reverberates around the walls.
the song fizzles to a stop, her voice softening into slow silence, and that’s when you speak. “that was lovely, yoohyeon.”
she screams, startled, and whips around on her heel so quickly that she falls.
that’s another fact about yoohyeon. she’s very very clumsy.
“yoobin! don’t sneak up on me like that. you scared the shit out of me.” yoohyeon says, and you register the tone of her voice and the fact that she swears and the way that she’s looking at you. she’s angry. you bow your head in apology.
the fact she’s mad at you makes you feel a slight humming in your chest as though the panels there are tightening. the feeling reminds you that even though you look human you aren’t actually a 20-ish year old girl. you are an android and for a second you wonder if there’s something wrong with the mechanisms in your breastplate.
then you wonder if this is what emotion might feel like if you had access to it, and that worries you even more. how can humans handle anything remotely like that, so powerfully, all the time?
“i’m sorry, yoohyeon. i came home early because your brother is spending the night with his friend. i heard you singing and i didn’t want to interrupt.” your voice is soft and hopefully apologetic enough. you extend a hand to help her stand.
she huffs out a breath of air but reaches for your hand and takes it. you pull her to her feet and don’t miss the way she winces when she puts weight on her left ankle. a quick scan and you recognize that it’s sprained. “you’re injured.”
“i’m fine, yoobin,” yoohyeon says, and she still sounds angry. but her cheeks are pink and you recognize embarrassment there as well.
you ignore that she’s embarrassed and lift her up into your arms to carry her to the bathroom. she gives a brief, startled yelp in your ear and you wince at how it sounds to your audio receiver. but after the initial protest, she just lets you do it. she’s only in a t-shirt and her underwear and though one of your arms braces against her shoulder-blades, the other is beneath the backs of her bare knees.
when you set her down on the edge of the bathroom sink, your hand brushes over the skin of her calf and it surprises you how soft it is.
as you set about wrapping her ankle to give it support, your hands drift to her skin more than they need to. you’re just so amazed, because even though your body has been crafted to replicate the texture and sensation of human skin, hers is so much softer than yours or any of the other androids or humans that you’ve touched.
soon her ankle is wrapped and supported, and without thinking it through you rest your hand on her bare thigh when you rise fully to a standing position, your fingers pressing in just slightly.
“....thank you, yoobin.” yoohyeon’s face is still flushed when you look at it, the tinge of pink blooming like the outdoor garden.
you assume she must still be embarrassed about falling.
the next few days yoohyeon doesn’t spend much time with you. you know humans need privacy and you respect that, so you do not question her distance in any way at first.
then you step in to collect her laundry and realize she’s hunched over her german textbook, squinting at it in the dim light of her desk lamp. she always asks you to study with her, because you are programmed with 20 languages and you can have conversations and help her with her vocabulary. this is the first time since she brought you home that she’s worked through her studies without you.
you want to say something. the issue is just that you have no idea what. all you know is that there’s something in your mouth that feels like it wants to explode and you have to clamp your teeth for a moment to chew it back.
eventually you do speak, though.
“you should really sit up straight, yoohyeon. i don’t want you to hurt your back.”
you turn and walk out, and you hate the way it feels like you’re leaving something unresolved.
yoohyeon doesn’t stay mad for long. this is something she’s told you about herself, how she cannot hold grudges no matter what. so a few days later things are back to normal, and she gives you the same bright smiles. you still aren’t actually certain why she was distant for so many days in the first place, but you know better than to question it.
partially because you are her companion and it isn’t really allowed for you to question what she says. mostly because humans are so confusing you cannot even begin to understand them.
it doesn’t matter either way, though. you are just glad for her to be speaking to you like normal again.
you sit with yoohyeon on the bed while she watches dramas on her computer. the plot is very confusing when you cannot fully understand the feelings that the actors are expressing in the first place, but there are worse things you could be doing with your time. you’re halfway attempting to absorb what is happening when yoohyeon speaks up. “have you heard about all of the recalls?”
“hm?” you ask, your attention flickering over fully to her.
“androids are being recalled because there’s something going wrong with their systems and they’re starting to feel more...human things. like anger and hurt and um...a few of them have fallen in love with humans?” yoohyeon says. she’s looking at you even though the drama is still playing. you want to reach out and pause it for her but it feels like perhaps you shouldn’t move.
an internal scan fills your system up with several news articles and scientific journals about the situation, all within a matter of seconds. it startles you how common it’s becoming, all of these androids malfunctioning and feeling emotions that should not be built into their systems. the humans have always liked the distance between your kind and theirs and the fact that you are just shells meant to look and behave like them but not actually have any real human qualities. for that to be changing alters the entire plane of acceptable reality, taking it and crushing it into dust.
and of course when humans are afraid their instinctive response is to destroy. in your head are images of a wasteland of dismantled androids, a desert of body parts hydrated only by the blue thirium that represents your blood. even for you, the image is harrowing. you delete it from your system as thoroughly as possible.
turning back to yoohyeon, you hum thoughtfully. “none of the feelings are real. they’re just system errors on a dramatic scale. but i can see how it might cause problems.”
yoohyeon’s brow creases, “what if they’re more than just system errors, yoobin? what if you’re learning to feel emotions like we do?”
“ i’m not feeling anything, except that maybe you’re worrying about things too much.” you reply. you give her a small smile and rub your thumb along the wrinkle formed by her furrowed eyebrows, smoothing it out until her face relaxes.
she returns to the drama but even you can tell that her body is heavy with things she isn’t speaking.
“do you wish you were developing emotions?”
yoohyeon’s question comes a few hours later, soft and leaking through the 3 am darkness of her bedroom. she should be asleep since she has vocal lessons in the morning, but you can’t bring yourself to scold her.
“not particularly.” you reply.
yoohyeon goes silent, for a long time. you’re about to sense whether or not she’s officially sleeping when she speaks again. “you really don’t want to feel anything at all? ever?”
“i wasn’t built to feel things.” you reply, “i was built to be a personal companion. nothing more, nothing less.”
another pause, then yoohyeon’s voice reaches you, so soft it feels like a caress against your skin. “i just think it would be beautiful if you could feel emotion too.”
“go to sleep, yoohyeon. you have to be up early.”
she says nothing else, and a few minutes later you know she’s actually sleeping. your thoughts ricochet to the slow tempo of her sleep-breathing. you think again of the androids who have gained human sentience until those images and articles and considerations overwhelm all of your sensors.
something sharp stabs you from the inside and it takes until the sunrise starts to bleed through the curtains for you to realize that it’s jealousy you’re feeling.
“things are getting worse and worse.”
the statement comes from siyeon, another android. she’s the personal companion of yoohyeon’s friend bora. the two girls had wanted to go for a hike, and they laugh and jostle into each other quite a ways ahead of you. siyeon had fallen into a slower walk a while before, obviously wanting to speak to you without the humans hearing, and now that the words have come out you can understand why.
“what do you mean?” you ask, even though you know the answer.
siyeon isn’t looking at you. she stares ahead at bora and yoohyeon and she seems to flinch when bora’s loud laughter echoes around you both, bouncing off the trees and alighting mirthfully into the morning sky. “the humans were already restless. their unemployment rates are at 37%, because of us. because we take their jobs. they’re scared of us overthrowing them completely. and now….we’re starting to feel things. there’s no way this is going to end peacefully.”
you know she’s right, and it makes you feel strange to hear her talk with such seriousness. ever since you’ve known siyeon she’s been very jovial, especially for an android. she has a loud laugh and a sense of humor that can be difficult for you to understand because it’s so odd and honestly very human. but now she isn’t smiling or giggling or making strange noises to cause bora to laugh. she seems very serious, and you can see that the tiny sensor at her left temple is flickering yellow with caution and moderate distress instead of the normal blue.
“there’s not much we can do about it. we’re just companion androids, anyway. we’re not taking anyone’s jobs.” you say, and it feels strange to not be certain of what you’re speaking.
siyeon frowns very deeply, and you don’t like how genuine the concern and fear on her face seem to be. “what if we get recalled?”
“they’re only recalling androids with system errors, remember.” you point out.
siyeon says nothing for a long time, and for a while there’s silence except for your feet on the trail and some birds off in the distance and yoohyeon and bora bickering about ‘which red velvet song is the best of all time’ a ways in front of you.
then suddenly siyeon speaks again, and it’s so quiet your audio receptor crackles picking it up. but it does, and everything seems to stop. you lose the sound of the birds and the wind and of the human girls laughing. everything seems to freeze except the dull buzz of your internal cpu. “what if i have a system error, yoobin?”
“siyeon, don’t say things like that.” you say, quickly. there’s something building inside of you and you realize your system is overriding itself with a panic function. the sensor at the side of siyeon’s head shifts from yellow to red the way it only does when an android is in imminent danger, and you wonder if yours has done the same.
she stops walking, and she won’t look at your face. “bora and i…” you don’t want to hear this. you almost shut her out, almost run to catch up with yoohyeon so you don’t have to process this conversation. you weren’t programmed with emotion but god if your body isn’t doing a great job of replicating human terror right now. “we’ve been involved. sexually. and she said she loves me recently and i think i feel it too. i’ve been feeling so many things because of her.”
you look at siyeon and take her in for a long moment. the way her eyes raise and flicker across your face seems foreign, and you realize it’s because there is so much there that you can’t feel. so much that she has access to that you don’t. you know she isn’t lying and that’s the instant you realize this is much more than a system error. your own processing seems to slow down. “fuck, siyeon.”
“i don’t want to die, yoobin. not when i actually know what being human is like now.” she whispers.
you don’t have time to respond, because bora calls out siyeon’s name in a bright, excited voice, and the other android runs to catch up to her.
the physical distance between you increases and you think that it does in every other aspect, too.
“what does love feel like?” you ask yoohyeon one night, when you take a break from helping her practice her english idioms.
she looks up at you with a smile and that same forehead wrinkle she always gets when she’s confused. “what kind of love?”
“romantic love.” you say, and you shouldn’t be asking, but all you can think about is siyeon’s fear from a few days before. her conviction despite her obvious terror.
yoohyeon pauses for a long time, tapping her pencil against her lips as she thinks. finally, though, she speaks up. “it’s just...this really warm, soft feeling. they make you feel safe and protected and you’d do anything to make sure they feel the same way.”
a nod, and you arc an eyebrow and give her a smile and hopes it comes across as though you’re teasing her, “so you’ve fallen in love before, then?”
“yeah, i think so.” yoohyeon replies, and even though you’re giving her a probably goofy smile, she doesn’t smile back. she looks very serious and her eyes lock on your face for several seconds.
before you can come up with a question or decide if you’re allowed to ask who the person was she fell for, she turns back to the books in front of her, and she speaks in english instead. “what does ‘hindsight is 20/20’ even mean?”
it’s coming up on bora’s birthday, so you’re out with yoohyeon while she browses for a gift. it’s a sunday afternoon and the sun is high in the sky, burning hot in a global warming summer that seems like it could melt even the concrete buildings of the city. your internal fan runs slowly to keep you cool, but yoohyeon is unlucky and doesn’t have similar features.
you’re focused on the way a singular piece of her silver-blue hair is stuck to her temple with sweat and you don’t notice the protesters until you’re far closer to them than you’d like to be. they wave signs like weapons, chanting that androids are stealing their jobs and should be banned.
you reach to grip yoohyeon’s arm and pull her in the opposite direction, knowing there’s a longer way around to get to the store she wanted to visit. but your hand grips empty air when one of the protesters yanks yoohyeon away from you. “yoobin!” she cries out, and you don’t get to say anything back because suddenly a fist connects with your face and your internal processing system stalls for a second when you fall and your head cracks against the ground.
“not so tough now, are you, you fuckin’ tin can?” the man asks. his foot connects with your stomach and you find yourself grateful that even though your stomach is fairly soft to replicate that of a human, underneath the top few layers is solid plating to protect your internal components.
your head still buzzes where it bounced like a basketball off the ground, but things catch up to what’s happening around you. human faces sneer down with a mixture of disgust and anger, teeth like fangs. they spit on you and kick you and taunt you, and for a moment you just lie there and let it happen, because that is what you are programmed to do. humans are soft and fragile and you aren’t to harm them.
then your gaze flickers over to yoohyeon, and you see her face. one of them is holding her back by her arms and she’s crying. not subtle crying, either. you can hear her sobbing and there’s snot and tears all over her flushed face. she’s screaming your name and thrashing but the man holding her is giant. you can read the terror on her face without even having to scan it.
and something happens inside of you. a panel of red grids flashes in front of your eyes and everything goes grey except for the heat signatures of the protesters around you. capital letters appear in front of your vision.
OVERRIDE SYSTEM PROTOCOL: PACIFISM TOWARDS HUMANS?
you push yourself to your feet. all you can hear is yoohyeon sobbing your name.
ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO OVERRIDE?
there’s something inside of you. something that makes you feel hotter than the sun ever could, that makes you want to take every one of these people causing yoohyeon to cry and rip them apart. and it would be so easy, too. human bodies are so breakable. you could snap their bones like kindling, shed blood like water.
you stand up and your hands connect with the shoulders of the man who was kicking you. he hits the ground and you’re about to grab his head in your hands and bring his face against your knee when yoohyeon cries out again.
“yoobin, don’t! ”
and you listen.
your vision flickers between color and the heat signatures. the red grids still flash all around you. but you release him and step back, looking over at yoohyeon again. there’s fear in her face still. she’s still crying. you want to protect her. you want to destroy everyone making her feel like that.
before you can, and before the protesters can hit you again, a police officer steps in. he breaks up the fight and ushers you and yoohyeon away, giving the girl a firm warning to keep you under control better next time.
she leans her body weight on you when you walk away, and she’s still crying when you slip into the space between two buildings just to have some privacy. “are you alright, yoohyeon?” you ask. your hands touch her arms and you see bruises in the shapes of his hands there. it makes you feel that same way again, harsh and violent and out of control.
you realize that you’re angry.
and that’s not something you’re supposed to feel.
oh fuck .
you swallow it down like taking pills and focus everything on yoohyeon. “they were going to hurt you, yoobin. you didn’t do anything wrong!” she collapses against your chest and you run your fingers through her hair, soothing her as best as you can.
but all you can focus on is the rage lingering in your chest, and the implications of what that could mean.
it’s just...this really warm, soft feeling. they make you feel safe and protected and you’d do anything to make sure they feel the same way.
yoohyeon’s words linger in your head for the next few days.
you have the capability to cry just to appear more normal, but the night you realize you love her, you curl up in bed.
then you cry because you feel so much, and not for any reason besides that.
each new feeling that arises makes things worse and worse. sadness is heavy and presses on your chest and makes you want to stay in bed and not face the fact that you are broken and that your system errors have ruined everything. fear crawls up your spine like a spider and bites at the back of your neck no matter what you do.
it’s all so intense, and you don’t understand how yoohyeon has spent 18 years feeling these things and not collapsed in on herself.
the good feelings are just as overwhelming. happiness is the sound of her laugh and the way you smile in response out of instinct and not because you have to force yourself. excitement is the way your stomach stumbles over itself when she asks you to go out to dinner with her or tells you she wants to watch dramas together in her bed.
love is….love is the way you realize why you like how soft her skin is. love is the way you feel sick when she’s sad or upset. love is the way you know you would rip out the sensor in your temple if it meant protecting her. love is how you desire physical human contact in ways you never should have before. love is the way that watching her change clothes in the morning suddenly doesn’t seem mundane and pure.
all of it is so much and you wonder if it might be worth it to turn yourself in and let them rip you apart.
“have you ever kissed someone?” you ask yoohyeon, during one of the dramas. she’s curled against your side with her head on your shoulder and you’ve spent the past hour pretending to act unaffected instead of overwhelmed. but the characters on screen are making out and the more human you get, the more curiosity starts to bloom inside of you.
“once, a couple of years ago.” yoohyeon says. she looks up at you and gives you a smile, the kind she does when she’s joking that makes her eyes sparkle. fuck. “why are you wondering?”
your teeth sink into your bottom lip and you have to remind yourself that that bad habit is too obviously human. all of your feelings are too obviously human. you don’t know how to act like yourself anymore. but your voice sounds passibly bored and disinterested, at least. “i was just curious what it feels like, i suppose.”
yoohyeon looks at you for a moment with that same smile, but there’s something else in her eyes. she shifts upwards so she’s closer to you and her gaze studies your face. you force yourself to look back with nothing showing on your face, just emptiness. like always. like it’s supposed to be.
but then yoohyeon is leaning in and her breath is so, so warm against your mouth. “like this.” and then her lips touch yours, soft and slow and gentle. it feels a little wet and slick and very confusing, but not in a bad way.
you wish it was in a bad way, because that would make it easier. you wish you hated it or you felt nothing, because then you would be able to stop.
but instead in an instant you download guides and tips on kissing well into your internal registry. you learn them in a split second and apply them in the way you kiss her back, sucking gently on her bottom lip as your hand moves to lace through the hair at the back of her neck.
it’s only when she releases the tiniest moan into your mouth that you come to your senses and pull away.
you push her off of you and murmur, “i need to go prepare your brother’s lunch for school tomorrow.”
then you rise to your feet and leave the room, practically running, not daring to look back.
you avoid her for days. you isolate yourself as much as possible and hope and hope and hope that it’s temporary, that all of it will fade away.
but every time she looks at you with that soft, sad expression, it feels like a knife slicing right into the liminal space between your ribs. and you know that this is permanent.
you feel like you haven’t spoken to anyone for days, until you’re alone with siyeon at bora’s birthday party. you’re the only companion androids there, so you sit together on the back wall of the garden and watch the human guests drink spiked punch and scream-sing karaoke. you have a strange longing to participate, now that you understand concepts like fun and enjoyment. and maybe siyeon can see it in your face, because she looks you over and says, “you too?”
“yeah.” is all you reply with. talking about it too much more feels dangerous. all of this feels dangerous.
siyeon looks back at the party guests and out of the corner of your eye you can see her give a soft, wistful smile at bora, who’s currently jumping up and down and headbanging aggressively to a song that doesn’t really work for headbanging. “it’s incredible, isn’t it?”
“incredibly terrifying.” you murmur. siyeon hums in reply and you continue speaking because suddenly you can’t stop. “i haven’t even told her yet. she kissed me a few days ago and i enjoyed it so much so i just panicked and left her there. we’ve barely talked since.”
siyeon looks at you and her smile shifts into a serious, concerned expression instead. “you should talk to her, yoobs. think of the opportunity you’ve been given.”
“but what if someone finds out? what if she gets hurt?” you sound panicked, and you know it. it isn’t technically illegal for you to be physically involved with a human, but romantic feelings mean that you have feelings in general, and that is very much a problem. yoohyeon allowing it to happen, encouraging it, not reporting it...that puts her in danger. especially considering who her father is.
“what if she doesn’t?” siyeon challenges. “most androids never get this opportunity. it’s worth the risk.”
you look at yoohyeon and her bright smile and the tinge of pink icing she somehow managed to get on her cheek. she looks happy and bright and you know this is what beauty looks like. you’ve never been more sure of anything than you are of the fact that she’s stunning. and that’s terrifying. she deserves so much better than you.
“i thought you were afraid to die.” you reply, not looking at siyeon this time.
she nods, “i am. but i would rather die having loved her and felt everything. that’s better than wasting the gift we were given.” she looks at you and smiles sadly. it holds so much and unlike that day on the hiking trail, you understand it. gaining human qualities has made her more mature, but it has also made her more soft.
you don’t say anything else, and siyeon reaches for your hand. your fingers lace together with hers and she squeezes gently.
it makes you feel safe, at least somewhat.
you rest your head on her shoulder and you realize this is what having a friend is.
and you know that you’re supposed to listen to your friends.
you leave the party somewhere around 3 in the morning. bora’s home is only a 20 minute walk from yoohyeon’s so you make the venture on foot, keeping a careful eye on the taller girl because she’s all you can think about. she’s a little flushed and smiling goofily as she waves her hands around, “can you believe that, yoobin? i hit bora with a piñata stick, on her birthday . i’m such a bad friend.”
“i’m certain she thought it was quite hilarious, actually. considering the fact that she laughed until she fell to the ground.” you point out. yoohyeon is always clumsy. combine alcohol and a blindfold and a potentially dangerous weapon, and it’s no real surprise that she hit bora with the piñata stick instead of the paper and cardboard elephant that had been strung up from the backyard tree.
“it was her boob, though, yoobs. do you know how bad that had to hurt?” yoohyeon continues on, but then she seems to think about it more intently and starts laughing instead, stumbling and nearly falling.
you smile and rest your hand carefully on her lower back. a quick read tells you that most of the alcohol has worn off, but there’s still enough there for yoohyeon to be tipsy and not entirely her sober self. “you’re a disaster,” you tell her, but you allow some affection into your voice. she looks so different now, now that you know how you feel and also now that siyeon has encouraged you to take the largest risk you possibly could. but not tonight. you need to think of how to go about this perfectly.
“i’m sad you can’t get drunk.” yoohyeon says. you turn to cut through a thatch of wooded area that divides yoohyeon’s neighborhood from bora’s. the trail is faintly lit because during the day it’s not an unpopular walking area, but the dim yellow glow doesn’t provide much at night. you keep a close eye on yoohyeon because you can see quite well, but you know that she can’t.
you hum in response, “i doubt i would be very exciting even if i could.” even now that you can feel, you recognize that you seem to be much more reserved and quiet than the others like you. siyeon, for example, has maybe only gotten louder and more positive. you still feel very soft and subdued in nature. maybe that programming never goes away, though.
“maybe if you were drunk you would actually be able to feel things, though.” yoohyeon says. she reaches out and grabs your cheek and giggles when she tugs on it. “you’re so cute. i wish you felt things like me.”
you almost just move on. yoohyeon is tipsy and you aren’t ready. but the trail is empty and quiet except for the faint nighttime breeze. the moon makes her hair glow silver and the trail lights reflect dancing shadows across her face. she’s smiling that dopey grin and her fingers are still on your cheek. “maybe i can, yoohyeon.”
the words feel so loud even though you barely speak them. time seems to freeze. yoohyeon’s smile changes in a way that you can’t read and her eyes flick over your face and everything just stops. no wind. no frogs grumbling. just silence, heavy and still.
“what do you mean?” yoohyeon asks, finally. she doesn't sound drunk anymore.
you swallow thickly and you know the sensor at your temple must be flashing yellow. you feel sick. if you could vomit you likely would do it. “you know those system errors we were talking about?”
she stares at you with her cheeks all flushed, her lips parted in a small o of surprise. her eyes are wide, dark and bright all at once. she seems stunned into silence, like she isn’t processing it, and your tongue feels floppy and useless when you continue. “i can feel emotions, yoohyeon.”
you watch the muscles in her throat work when she swallows thickly. then she steps in and when she’s that close, you’re reminded exactly how tall she is. you’re so much stronger than her and you know it, but she makes you feel small. her brow creases and there’s that goddamn forehead wrinkle that makes your chest feel tight even though it’s just a crease in her skin.
her voice is a whisper, warm and quiet, “what do i make you feel?” she almost sounds...afraid.
“you make me feel everything .”
then her lips are against yours, and this time you don’t run away.
yoohyeon grows even more beautiful over time, and you grow even more real, more human. you learn to differentiate what all of her smiles mean (because when is she not smiling?), reading the subtle curves of her lips and what they represent. when it’s just a twitch at the corner of her mouth she’s content. when it’s her lips pursed into a thin line she’s trying not to laugh. when it’s bright and full with her teeth all showing you know it’s because she’s happy.
you can’t do real dates, not easily, not safely. someone might see you laugh or read into the spaces between your fingers when you grab her hands to stop her from waving them when she’s talking. so over the next few weeks you learn to find romance in hidden spaces, secret moments, tiny fragments of time and space captured in your grasp.
tonight you’ve built a blanket fort, dragging all of the chairs from the kitchen up to her bedroom in order to craft an empire out of quilts and comforters. it’s filled up with pillows and stuffed animals and the small light projector that usually throws the stars up on to her ceiling. tonight it’s inside the fort with you and reflects little lightning bugs of glow across the soft pink fleece stretched above your heads.
yoohyeon’s head rests on your shoulder with her face against your neck. her family is home but they’re all asleep and the blankets shield you anyway. if you hear someone coming you’ll move her to a more innocent position, but for now you revel in the way her breaths flutter against your throat and her arm wraps around your waist, fingers pressed up under your shirt to rest against the curve above your hipbone.
“what do you want to be?” yoohyeon asks, and her lips touch your neck when she speaks, the words quiet beneath the soft music she’d set to play just outside of the soft walls cocooning you in.
your fingers pull through her hair gently, “what do you mean?”
“in the future, what do you want to be?” yoohyeon asks. you tilt your head to look at her face and you can tell that she’s deep in thought. but you like that about her. she’s always thinking, and it’s hard to follow sometimes, especially since you’re still learning. but you like that. you like that there are parts of her that even your advanced systems can’t predict.
you haven’t thought about it. you know the pathway for the typical android. your kind serve their purpose for a few years until your owners get bored or find a newer model, then you’re either passed to someone else for a discount or dismantled for parts. you’ve always been told that process isn’t bad, that they wipe your memory card first. but somehow you don’t believe that, because no one has ever come from the other side and told you that it was anything peaceful or like falling asleep.
but now you’re not a typical android, and the future is both far more broad and much more terrifying.
“what do you want to be?” you reply, because you can tell by the faint tension in her shoulders that there’s something she wants to say. she always holds these things physically in her body.
yoohyeon gives you a smile that says that she’s amused. “i asked you first.” she reaches up and taps your nose with her finger, and you know it’s because she likes the way it automatically makes your face scrunch up a little.
“i need time to think. you go first.” you want to hear what she has to say. you want to learn all of her hopes and dreams and save them inside of you forever, so you can make sure to do whatever you can to help her achieve them.
yoohyeon seems to pause for a second, but then she adjusts to lie next to you, on her back, her shoulder pressed next to yours. she studies the stars on the ceiling of the fort and chews on her bottom lip before she seems to decide how to phrase what she wants to say. “i want to be a singer. i want to learn all of the languages i can. i want to read all of the books i can. i want to see the world and take pictures of it all and do stupid things. i just...want everything.” a longer hesitation, then she smiles more to herself than to anyone else, “i want to be someone that makes everyone around me happy. i want to be memorable.”
you roll over onto your side, facing her. you reach out and run your thumb over the soft curve of her cheek. “i think you’re already accomplishing that last part.”
yoohyeon looks over at you and presses her lips to your thumb. “i hope so.” she nuzzles into your hand, “so what about you?”
when you speak it’s without thought, the words escaping with raw honesty, not consulting with your head before they push out of your mouth. “i want to be human.”
yoohyeon’s smile fades, slipping off of her face. she looks very thoughtful but also maybe...sad. “oh, yoobin-ah.” her palm presses to your cheek briefly before slipping around to tangle in the hair at the back of your neck. gentle, she pulls you in. “you’re human to me.”
your noses brush and you pause for a moment before you capture her mouth. her lips are soft and taste like the strawberries she’d eaten earlier. you’ve done this part plenty of times, but when you push against her after a long moment, so she settles fully on her back against the pillows, it feels different. it feels like everything between you is more tense, a rope pulled tight with fraying knots.
when you pull back from the kisses her lips are flush and a little swollen, and you like how they look in combination with the blush on her cheeks and the shine in her dark brown eyes like a collection of light in a far off galaxy. you smile at her one of the smiles you’ve practiced making look gentle in the mirror.
then drop your head to find her neck, kissing the skin there in slow, organized pathways. you know human anatomy, the facts all stored into your internal memory, and that guides you. you kiss at her pulse and bite at the places where you can calculate she’ll be the most sensitive. her fingers lace through your hair and tug very lightly in time with her shaky breaths.
it isn’t until your fingers press her pajama top up as far as you can without suffocating her, exposing her chest, that the tug in your hair grows noticeably tight, sort of pulling you away. “yoobin?”
you look up at her and meet her eyes and you can see all of the questions there. “you’re the only thing that makes me feel human.” your voice is low and rough and you’re already filing away all of the things you should do next, searching for tips and advice and images and videos and storing them away in a split second in case this continues.
yoohyeon smiles almost sleepily. “yeah?”
“are you sure? neither of us have ever…”
“i want you to show me, yoobin.”
and you do.
you kiss every inch of skin you can, memorizing the places that make her gasp or whimper. her sounds are like music and you find a rhythm, a song in it. you weren’t lying. she makes you feel more human than anything else, her presence removing all of your metal parts and replacing them with something soft and real and full of feeling.
and being with her like this only makes that stronger. your head is between her legs and the way she tastes and how soft and warm she is under the strokes of your tongue is enough that you forget that it hasn’t always been like this. when you study her face and watch how her eyes close and her head falls back and her teeth sink into her bottom lip to bite back the sounds, you forget that you aren’t just a human making another human feel good.
when she comes for you, all desperate shaking and slick warmth in your mouth and a breathless gasp of your name, you forget that you’ve ever done anything but love her.
that night, long after she’s fallen asleep with her bare skin warm against your own, you discover that you can cry because you’re happy, too.
of course the happiness can’t last forever, and you don’t know why you let yourself believe that it would. it’s a rare night where you’re completely home alone and you were making the best of it since yoohyeon didn’t have to attempt to be quiet for once. it’s a rare opportunity, a single night suspended in paradise, the cool sheets like the ocean against your skin.
but then you’re interrupted by the intercom that sits in the wall of every room in the house chiming and letting you know that there’s someone at the door.
it’s fairly late and you’re about to ignore it when the intercom chimes again, this time echoed by a series of loud, frantic knocks that you feel rattle through you even from upstairs. you pull on a pair of yoohyeon’s sleep shorts and an oversized shirt and make your way annoyed and a little bleary down the stairs.
when you ask the door panel for the identity of the guest, it dings as it scans them then tells you kim bora . and you know before you even open the door that something is very, very wrong. you feel it under your skin, your blood cells turning to snow that freezes you from the inside out. for a second, you consider just walking away, returning to yoohyeon and her warmth and the way her nails dig into your back.
but then bora knocks again, and you hear her voice. the tears are obvious, and so is the way she sobs out slurred and broken and afraid, “yoohyeon, yoobin, please! ”
desperation. that’s all it is, raw desperation you can hear even through the surface between you.
you open the door, and it seems fitting that it’s raining. bora is soaked to the bone, her clothes slick and so wet that the fabric all looks black, hugging to her skin so tightly you think you can see her ribs when she sucks in sobbing breaths. her hair is disheveled and clings to her cheeks in nests of snakes that soak up the tears you can somehow see despite the rain.
“bora?” the voice isn’t yours, and you realize yoohyeon came to see what was wrong. she stands on the stairs backlight from the upstairs hall light, and bora sobs again at the sight of her. she’s crying so hard that you’re surprised she’s not choking up blood from tearing her own throat ragged. yoohyeon bounds down the steps with speed that almost isn’t human and catches the smaller girl in her arms when her knees buckle and collapse.
yoohyeon looks at you with wide-eyed fear, silently pleading at you to fix it. as though you can. all you can do is take bora’s body weight from yoohyeon’s arms and lift her into your own, shifting so you can carry her up the stairs. it’s like carrying a child, and bora just lets you do it, crying pathetically into your shoulder in a way that would crush your heart into dust if you had actually been built with one.
yoohyeon helps you peel her out of her wet clothes so you can give her new ones, and you let her handle the talking because that’s still not your thing. you don’t know how to choose words very well, and you’re lucky yoohyeon understands you without speaking a lot of the time. this involves the careful selection of phrases that you have no chance at getting right.
bora is still crying when yoohyeon wraps her in a hoodie and a pile of blankets. but the horrible, anguished sobs have faded to whimpers. it doesn’t seem like she’s any better, though, just that her body has run out of energy to cry so hard. yoohyeon brushes the tangles from her wet hair and holds her close as she does it. you sit on the opposite bed and watch, feeling more and more nervous with each second that ticks by on the desk clock.
“honey, what happened?” yoohyeon asks, and her voice is so soft. there’s a gentleness there that you wish you could replicate but probably will never be able to. “where’s siyeon?”
the sound of the name makes you feel sick with inexplicable panic, but obviously it’s warranted when bora starts to cry again. somehow there are still unbroken pieces able to be shattered, splintering when her body collapses in on itself. “they took her away. they found out and now she’s gone.” another choked sound, a wheezing breath. “how could they think she’s broken?”
you don’t hear what yoohyeon says in response. you don’t hear anything except a buzz in your ears, and the lingering echo of siyeon’s voice.
i don’t want to die .
it takes hours and three pills to calm bora down enough for her to sleep. and it takes another two hours after that before yoohyeon stops crying and falls asleep herself. the sun has already started to rise when you walk downstairs as quietly as possible.
you’re obviously distracted because you don’t sense a human presence until you hear the clearing of a throat and the sound of a coffee mug being placed on the kitchen table. your head shoots up and you see mr. kim there, watching you leave with a face blank of expression. almost like one of you.
if you had a heart it would be in your throat. “good morning, mr. kim.”
“i know where you’re going,” he replies.
you feel dizzy. without thought, you back towards the direction of the front door. the first thing that you say comes out so quickly that it sounds too loud, too panicked. “yoohyeon has nothing to do with this.”
he frowns and looks down at his coffee. you open your mouth to speak again but his voice interrupts. “but she does. you’re having the same...errors as bora’s android, aren’t you?”
you shake your head. “no sir. i’m not at all.”
a laugh, but it holds no humor. he stands up, and you take a step back again. you’re sure the fear is obvious, and that probably helps to give you away, the way you know the sensor at your temple must be flashing a rapid red.
“i created you. both you and siyeon,” he reminds you, and you bite nervously at your bottom lip. “i know when something is….different. wrong.”
you feel awful, like you’re going to break open. the door hits your back, the knob digging into your spine. you forget how to open it. you forget everything except fear, except for protecting yoohyeon. “please. i’ll never touch her again. i’ll leave and i won’t come back.”
and you will. you’ll do anything to protect her. maybe that’s the worst part of being human, having to care. having to deal with feeling so fucking much at every moment. for a moment you just stare at each other, the tension so thick you feel like if you move you’ll physically collide with it.
then he stands up. “do you love her, yoobin? are you in love with my daughter?”
“yes.” no hesitation. your voice is stronger than you expect it to be.
there’s a nod. he moves to the sink to wash out his mug, cleaning the coffee from the bottom before it can stain the ceramic. he says nothing. the sound of the water is so loud. but it forces you back to your senses, and your hand is shaking when you reach behind you for the doorknob. you’re so afraid. you don’t want to leave her here.
but you don’t want to leave siyeon, either.
and you accept in that instant that yoohyeon will be fine without you. siyeon will die if you don’t rescue her.
finally, he speaks, the same instant you open the door so you can slip out.
“the lab code is 5792.”
you stop. your eyes scan him and he looks emotionless, still. maybe tired. but he’s just staring at you either way. you swallow thickly. “thank you, mr. kim.”
silence again. he turns around. he doesn’t watch you when you duck out the door and close it tight behind you.
you’ve never been to this part of the lab. you stayed in the areas where they could teach you to replicate humanity (and isn’t it funny how they don’t want it anymore now that you’ve gotten too good at it?). it’s early on a sunday and no one is here, and your footsteps feel very loud in the hallway lit only by the glow of the lights kept running 24/7 by the building’s generator.
the doors all look the same except for the numbers stamped on them, and it feels like you’re never going to stop walking, like the biggest door at the end of the hallway is just moving further and further away even as you try to walk towards it. the walls seem to press in.
but eventually you’re there. your fingers are nervous and you nearly punch the code in wrong. but you’re built for precision and that can’t be emotioned away, so you still tap the numbers perfectly. there’s an artificial hum of air as the door unlocks, sliding heavily to the side enough that it rattles the wall.
it closes behind you once you step through, and that’s when the other door in front of you opens. you enter the space behind it, and you immediately feel a rising since of horror, timed perfectly with the foreboding slam of the other door behind you.
it’s a graveyard created without kindness. the dim lights flicker in the ceiling. the floor is made of bodies, limbs torn aside carelessly. you can see wires so raw that you almost expect them to crackle to life. the once-white floor tiles are slick with rivers of thirium, the blue chemical that represents your lifeblood. it clings to your shoes and you can smell it, sticky in your nose. the rising need to vomit is very human, especially since you’re not certain it’s a capability you even have.
you trudge forward. hands seem to reach for you when they brush your ankles, the skin peeling off to reveal the metal finger casings beneath. eyes long since lightless seem to follow you. under your left heel you accidentally crush a sensor much like the one in your temple and you hate yourself, feel like a murderer even though whatever android it belonged to is deactivated now, non existent except for binary code lost in the hungering stomach of a computer somewhere.
scientifically, you have no reason to believe in ghosts, and you’re well aware that beings like you wouldn’t have souls anyway. but the room feels haunted. each steps feels as though you’re wading through spirits, the lives of all of these ruined bodies trying to push you back, begging you to save them even though you have no power here.
with every passing second you feel worse and worse. your vision flickers between clarity and pixels, a grid refracting over your plane of sight and flashing red to warn you of danger. the fact that it throbs slowly and silently is even worse. you wish it sounded like sirens. maybe it would drown out the buzzing in your ears, the one you think barely covers the sound of screaming.
by the time you reach the intake lab, you can barely walk. you stumble through the doorway. everything dips into an inky blackness for a second before it focuses. the screaming is loud in your head.
siyeon is there, in a sleep state, standing on a platform against the wall. tubes connect to the sensor at her temple and as you look at them you think they writhe like snakes. her eyes are closed and she looks like a shell. for a moment you panic because what if you’re too late? what if everything that makes her siyeon is gone?
the freckles on her nose are still there but they don’t look familiar.
your vision flickers again.
you know your body has never felt such a pressing sense of danger.
you imagine yoohyeon in the room behind you, so small and human and covered in sticky splatters of blue blood.
your fingers wrap around the tube at siyeon’s temple. some part of you that still functions the way it’s meant to recognizes that this is what is causing her to sleep, and you twist it free carefully. you read that her system is rebooting, but you don’t have time to wait. you rip her free of the braces around her ankles and the metal screams.
she’s in your arms and she’s heavy when you pull her out of the room, into the graveyard.
the screams are deafening and accusatory and ask why she’s the one you’re saving. over and over. the words cut like knives and make your ears hurt. your sensors all flicker and cry out. you can barely walk.
you drop siyeon at one point, and the thirium on the floor soaks her skin. for a moment you think it’s her own and a sound escapes your throat that isn’t android or human but entirely animal.
you pick her up again.
you stumble, vision flickering with danger sensors and human tears, an amalgamation of the two parts of you that don’t yet know how to coexist. siyeon is heavy, deadweight and god you can’t think of her that way no no no no not that word not dead . she isn’t dead.
you manage to get the door open and nearly fall into the hallway. you lift siyeon into your arms. you fall to your knees. you stand up and stumble again but this time you walk.
the door to the lab slams behind you and everything seems so silent it’s like a gunshot. everything stabilizes but the fear is still there. the piles of bodies aching and forgotten still exist in your head.
you pull siyeon close to your chest and you run and run and run.
you made mr. kim a promise, but you also made one to bora. siyeon wakes up at some point and you decide together to sneak back into yoohyeon’s room. you owe them a goodbye. and it feels so achingly human the way you both hesitate on the roof before you push open the window, the way siyeon looks at you and you understand because these are the girls who changed everything and you’re leaving them.
pushing open the window feels like a punctuation mark. but you slip inside, memorize the soft sound of your feet on the carpet. you memorize the walls with the posters and the stars painted on the ceiling and the way that yoohyeon and bora look holding each other in their sleep.
one of the best and worst things about not being fully human is that you can never forget.
gently, siyeon sits next to bora and runs her fingers through her hair. the girl rouses slowly, blinking sleep from her eyes. then she sees siyeon and her face cycles through every emotion until it settles on tears, on sobbing and burying her face in the other’s neck. “siyeon. fuck. i thought i lost you.”
the sound wakes yoohyeon who sees you and sees bora and siyeon and her face lights up. you feel like you’re watching the sun burn out, watching the last supernova before everything fades to blackness and dust. “yoobin….you did it.”
you don’t know how to smile back. you don’t know how to tell her. siyeon looks at you over bora’s shoulder with her face dark with panic, flush with tears that claw down her face the same way her hand tangles almost violently in the back of bora’s shirt.
“we have to go, yoohyeon.”
she doesn’t understand at first, and that’s the worst part. watching her go from elated to confused to devastated in a collection of seconds, a constellation of emotions that you wish you didn’t know the mythology behind. “yoobin….what…”
“your dad knows. and it’s not like we can just….get away with the fact i fucking stole siyeon from the lab.” you reply. your voice doesn’t sound cold. you wanted it to. you wanted to freeze her out so she could snap you from her existence like icicles and let you melt away.
bora rips away from siyeon so harshly she falls off of the bed. her eyes are wide with betrayal, vicious with hurt. “no!” she nearly screams it. you flinch. “you can’t leave me! not now, not after this.”
“bora...i….it isn’t safe--”
“ NO! ”
it nearly shakes the room. her anger is loud and violent and terrified, while yoohyeon just sits numb and shellshocked with tears hugging her cheeks. bora’s shout explodes and the aftermath is just...sobbing. desperate, pathetic sobbing. yoohyeon stares at her and her lips quiver like she’s about to join her in the breaking, the ruining.
you wish you had never felt anything. siyeon was wrong about this being worth it. you were all so wrong.
wordlessly, you start to collect your things. you don’t know what to say when things are fine. now it’s even harder. nothing seems good enough. nothing seems worthy of yoohyeon. the room is silent except for siyeon’s frightened breaths and bora’s broken sobs and you shuffling your things into a bag.
tears blur your own vision, and you keep your back to them. it’s easier. you can’t stand how yoohyeon looks right now. you wanted to protect her. you never wanted this.
you almost don’t see the paper on the floor.
but you step on it, and there’s a pause when you reach down.
your fingers wrap around it and pull it close. the words hit your processing system instantly, but it takes a few delayed seconds for you to truly understand. it’s an article, printed on paper, something you never see anymore now that digital print has become the norm. but the words feel more impactful this way, when you can hold them in your hand and run your thumb over the headline.
canadian lawmakers enact protections for androids with new system developments that cause them to replicate human emotion .
you don’t focus on the rest of the article. instead your thumb digs into the post it note stuck to the corner. the words are in mr. kim’s handwriting and you can read that it was written in a hurry, scribbled with an ink pen dying so there are faded parts of some of the letters.
i did hand pick you because i trusted you to take care of her .
you say nothing still. you don’t think you can. instead you just hand the article to yoohyeon and let her read it.
when she cries, they’re tears of relief and of fear and of starting over.
the television in the living room blasts episodes of an anime you don’t even try to understand. siyeon sprawls on the couch with a bag of barbeque flavored potato chips and watches it with rapt attention as though she doesn’t have access to the entire plot right at the tip of her fingers. her bare feet hang over the armrest and her hoodie reads out the name of some human sports team you’re fairly certain neither of you actually give a damn about.
at the kitchen table, bora and yoohyeon sit surrounded by an avalanche of books and notebooks. yoohyeon’s glasses slide down her nose and she listens with rapt attention as bora reads to her out loud from an english edition of harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone .
she stumbles over hermione’s name and yoohyeon corrects her with a gentle smile. she looks over at you with her eyes shining bright and waits until bora pauses between paragraphs to say, “yoobin-ah, don’t you agree that siyeon is a token hufflepuff?”
“definitely,” you say, sage and very serious.
siyeon lets out a shout of protest from the living room, and all of you laugh. the sound mixes with the television and the cacophony of the toronto traffic a few floors below the open window.
the refrigerator in the kitchen has a screen that, when you tap it, tells you what ingredients are inside. but right now it’s black with sleep and before you touch it to wake it, you see yourself in the makeshift mirror.
there’s a smile on your face, and even though the reflection is distorted, you decide that you look completely, comfortably human.