March 14, 2085, 12:00am
There is a rabbit, more precisely, an automaton. A being of aluminum and artificial muscles, flesh. Made by one of the six demon lords, whose factories continue to spew out machines of a violent nature.
It sits among the leaves and sticks, sleeping, although that may be a bad term for the scheduled maintenance of the inner pathways that passed through its tiny brain. It would do this until its brain literally fell apart, which would be a long time indeed, as this rabbit had no intention of dying any time soon.
In its eye, a camera made from gel and flesh, was a transmitter that would relay back to the demon lord who had created it. The thing was for surveillance, to protect the lord’s land as he worked on his projects. Other animals were allowed to live, but anything sentient would be hunted down by the lord’s hellhounds.
A snake, a real one, watched the ‘sleeping’ rabbit and thought it looked good enough to eat, so it did. The scout then became nestled inside the snake’s expanded stomach.
At 12:05am, the scout finished its reboot. It saw nothing but darkness and hated that. It then tightened its ‘muscles’ and jumped hard, leaving the snake with a large gaping wound it would soon die of.
Nett saw this and didn’t really care, she sat on her perch with a telescope about half a mile from the event. Had she been human, she still may not have cared, snakes needed to start weeding out the failures that would eat an automaton. They were already far behind in the game of evolution.
She didn’t consider herself an automaton, although the distinction was minute. She was a Doll
In her city, there were many like her, but unlike them, she had not been created by a demon lord. At least, she thought not, the truth being that she was found not long ago near the edge of the demon lord’s property. All of the others had been bought from the lord with food and minerals by the farmers she lived with.
There was no memory before that point, except for one. A hellhound with its sharp steel claws, otherwise human features, had been carrying her towards a dark building, contributing to the four big scars forming a ladder on her back.
It was a surprise she hadn’t become a hound herself. Her hair would be torn out of her head, her fingers replaced by blades, and her flesh flensed away to reduce weight. Most hounds were, in fact, the result of the capture of a sophisticated Doll.
It wouldn’t happen to any of her like in the city, they weren’t true Dolls, but rather metal pieces attached to a brain. Nett was the only full android in the city, but the distinction of Doll was still given to the gears.
Nett was a model-A1 Doll, a body age of 10-12. Originally designed as a playmate for grade-schoolers. Her new job was to watch the lord’s forest from the top of the bell tower, dead center of the city.
It had come because of a few things. Nett wasn’t tall enough to pick fruit, nor strong enough to hunt, she couldn’t plow because of her size, and even seeding was better suited to human children. Nett could, however, fuel herself with aerial hydrogen and two meals a day, her skin couldn’t burn in the sun, and her eyesight worked twice as far as a human. All of this making her perfect to sit on her butt all day and look at nature for days, only stopping to eat or sleep.
A strong gust tore about the tower, making Nett’s mousy brown hair flutter behind her and doing the same to her small tan dress. Such wind was common when so high up and Nett had started wearing tights under her dress just to keep the cold from her delicate body.
Cold never bothered any of the other Dolls because the demon lord Vielhahne had neglected to put heat sensors in them, as her creator obviously had.
Also, none of them had skin; they were just subservient piles of scrap metal. They weren’t very smart, but then, why would Vielhahne give smart robots to people who clearly hate him. They mostly worked in the mines.
If a mineral vein was discovered by those gears, it would be continuously stalked by hellhounds and scouts that would ensure Vielhahne got his share of the treasure, 60%. If work stopped, people started to die.
That was why she watched. If a scout came into the city, Nett would ring the bell and no one would work anymore that day. They would all just go home and hide behind closed blinds.
The last watcher would do this to get out of work. Once Vielhahne saw that no one was working for him, the tower was swarmed by as many as fifteen hounds the next day, no one ever saw the boy again.
It seemed to Nett that there was a delicate equilibrium that couldn’t be disturbed without death. Vielhahne was obviously an evil man, if indeed he was a man. His designs constantly challenged his humanity.
As she sat, watching the forest, Nett’s hands absentmindedly cleaned her gun. It was a 9mm revolver with a foot-long rifled barrel. They had given it to her to shoot potential threats, Vielhahne apparently didn’t care how many of his automatons were destroyed, he could always make more of them.
Nett had only fired it in practice, but her artificial muscles made her aim impressive to the point of hitting a grape at 50 paces. And, while she knew it was exceptional, she hoped never to be required to use it. Any situation that would require its use would probably have already killed someone.
“Nett, your shift is over!” Nett’s replacement, Erin called from below. Her black head peaked over the edge and she crouched to take the perch. “David made scalloped potatoes today.”
Nett only saw Erin twice a day, in the morning and late evening when they changed shifts on the tower. Nett got off in midday too, but only for two hours, Zachary took that shift to allot some free time for her. Erin was usually asleep at that time, preparing for the night shift.
“Great, see you in the morning, Eri.” Nett said and started on her descent down the wooden ladder to home. Since seeing that snake die, she had been sitting there for over seven hours.
Altogether, Nett had four hours each day to roam freely and eight hours of sleep. She worked the other twelve hours dutifully and without complaint. She really didn’t mind the work, she only ate twice each day, even then, sparingly. Almost 98% of her energy came from sifting hydrogen out of the air, even water worked for that, although it made her need to pee.
“David!” Nett cried as she jolted into the young man’s waiting arms. He picked her up and spun once before setting her upon the dish of steaming potatoes.
“Eat up kid.” He said, starting on his own plate.
It really meant something that he waited so long to eat with her, there was a lot of history between them in only her short three years.
David was a strong young man. All of his twenty years, he’d been working at the tower. Three years ago, he had been the one to find Nett, half torn apart by a hound at the edge of the forest. David had patched up her back and gave her a place to rest, to let the fake muscles heal themselves. And though the small of her back sometimes itched, the spinal injury was far less than what it could have been.
Even more remarkable was the man’s cooking. Three years of eating it every day and she had never had to suffer a bad taste, except the bitter taste of wine she snuck once. David had that way about him that just made things better, even Nett’s scars never bothered her when he was around.
“David, today I saw another snake try to eat a scout.” Nett managed between frantic bites.
“Eventually, they’ll evolve not to eat anything that looks like a rabbit, then you’ll never see that happen again.” He replied. “Though I doubt that’s why they look like bunnies…”
A somber air tried to permeate the room, but Nett immediately beat it to death With a large sigh of contentment as she finished her meal.
“I’m gonna wash off the dirt before bed, david.” She said and left, her bare feet pattering through the hall.
She turned the water on at a temperature high enough to raise steam, undressed, and waded cautiously into the water. Her skin turned paper-white wherever the water touched. Her hair became two shades lighter when she dunked her head.
When she finished washing, Nett’s hand went to the back of her neck to trace the characters again. Whoever had created her imprint-ted her name and number there for identification.
It was where her name had come from when she was found.
Each time she traced those numbers, she knew that, somewhere there were at least three others who had the same creator. It was horribly conceivable that she might have come from Vielhahne.
Only the numbers gave her any semblance of comfort. After all, there were others, she had family.
Until Nett, David had never seen a Doll that mimicked a person so well. At times, he found himself wondering she wasn’t getting fat due to her job of sitting all day, then he remembered. When he was seventeen, he likened her to a little sister, but he was slowly becoming her father. Soon, she would have to be his granddaughter, and when she was, she still would not have grown.
All of the other Dolls only barely deserved the title. They only qualified because they had the same OS as and advanced Doll. There used to be first and second class dolls, they had long since been taken to provide raw material for the lord. That was partially why Nett was kept on top of her tower.
“Sir, are you done?”
David startled, having forgotten the clockwork standing in the corner. Its metal gears prepared it to take away the dishes, the clear orbs that made its eyes were waiting for David to give a response.
“Yes, I’m done.” The machine cleared the table and David went to tuck in Nett.
He finally found her, passed out on the bathroom floor. She’d forgotten to get out before her brain turned off. She was still wet and red, her skin was scrubbed pink where she had managed to wash before shutdown.
David wrapped her in a big, fluffy towel and placed her under her sheets. She sighed cutely as her body stored extra energy for the next day. Her small chest rose over and over, sucking air into what counted as her lungs to filter out the hydrogen that she used instead of oxygen in an extremely complex procedure.
The effect was that of a sleeping child.
She didn’t twist in her sleep, she had told David that she didn’t have dreams either. Her brains were only slightly on, enough to maintain the data she had gathered that day and store it for the next. It happened every day from 9:00pm to 5:00am, though it was sometimes early or late, maybe that made it more realistic.
Model-A Dolls, as David well knew, were originally used for jobs that require no stature. Couples that were sterile were able to buy one and transfer the mind into a Model-B when they thought it was raised. That first Doll, however, was wiped clean and sold to the next customer.
David couldn’t imagine getting rid of Nett, she was eternally young and anything else wouldn’t be her. Those strange people just wanted to have children, but Nett was no child, she was a very small, immature adult.
But David did understand those families, they were desperate enough to buy a robot, but not enough to adopt. That year, the population growth rate had evened out, not because of the Dolls, the prophylactic pill had been made chap enough for everyone. An age of perversion was started for that very reason.
The underage sex rate also rose by 47% because it was no longer a problem. Unplanned babies and sexually transmited diseases essen-tially went out the window.
Then, forty years ago, a forgotten event caused the spread of the demon lords, and the enslavement of every significant town. Unfortunately for the others, Vielhahne was know as one of the better lords, whether he was a good person was another matter entirely.
David lost his ten year old sister to a hellhound. Maybe that was why he had such a strong connection with Nett. Seemed like David was no better than those adoptive parents of the old days. But David felt he was special, Natalie had been his life since his parents were killed, there was no reason not to bond with a doll.
“You don’t mind that I love you, right?” He sat beside his adoptive sister and stroked her soft hair, as expected, she didn’t move an inch.
“Sir, you need something?” The clockwork was standing in the doorway, it held Nett’s freshly-cleaned clothes.
“No, just leave those with me. Then go take some dessert to Erin.” David took the clothes and a stick that had become jammed in the machine’s chest.
“Of course, sir.” It left again.
David took the folded clothes and lay them beside Nett’s head, he wouldn’t dress her, that was going too far even if she wasn’t real.
After a long time of petting, David felt the need to sleep himself. His wife would probably agree.
Elenore happened to be a big, well-endowed woman, whose blazing red hair was constantly stained with dirt from the fields. Somehow, she always seemed to get in bed before David, much to his enjoyment.
“How is our daughter?” she asked as David climbed into bed. “You were gone a bit longer than you usually are.”
“She fell asleep in the bath and I tucked her in.” He replied. “We need to trade for a wristwatch the next time Alfred comes through town, I’m just glad she can’t drown.”
“Duly noted.” Elenore went on. “We might also get some new clothes, I feel embarrassed that my daughter is made to wear such a ragged thing.”
Elenore was a natural mother, when Nett first moved in, it was Elanore who took care of her while her back repaired. She used phrases like ‘our daughter’ and ‘my daughter’, although she knew, deep in her heart, that Nett would probably outlive her adoptive mother. That was a horrible fear, to have one’s child watch her die.
“How much would Alfred want for a watch? That’s some expensive stuff.” David said to himself, maybe a bit too loud.
“We could give him a book we don’t read anymore, hose things are worth their weight in gold.” The irony was, gold has no value to people who can’t sell it. Who really needs gold?
“He might even give us that dress for free, Alfred knows just how much books are worth. I’ve heard that he has a box of pencils in his coat for safety.” Pencils might be cheap, but they were still something valuable enough to steal. As it was once said, the work of a pencil is worth a week of pay.
Ahh the life of a trader. To wander, free from the fear of demonic death and left only to the dangers of the road; Bandits, wild animals, and the ever-present threat of attack by an unhappy lord. Yeah, those guys had it easy.
But to be one, one would need to forego the comforts of fertile land. The lords had long since filled all of the good land with killing machines. The land that wasn’t under their control was festering with all sorts of human filth.
Alfred knew how to do it though, for a fifty year old man to have stayed alive after the incident was rare indeed. Old people who knew of the world before were dying out fast and the few remaining were trying to teach their stories before having them be lost forever in the void of death.
The lords didn’t seem to care about wanderers as long as work was still being done. Hellhounds saw nothing special about these people and would rend them apart if they were to trespass.
David wondered if any human was truly free.
Ritter either didn’t remember, or there was nothing beforehand anyaway.
Waking up was his first memory. There had been a data plug stuck into the back of his head. He was reclined in a comfortable leather chair, watching green words swim across his vision.
European swordplay reinstalled
Asian swordplay reinstalled
Once he pulled the cord out, the text disappeared. It didn’t come back even when he plugged himself back in. He didn’t care much, he didn’t even know what those words meant.
What concerned him was the girl, hooked up like he had been. He pulled the plug and her eyes popped open violently, scanning the room frantically before fixing on his face.
“Who are you?” Her voice was light and high, her eyes warm and her face scared.
“I don’t know.” He answered, not yet knowing about the marks on their respective necks.
“Then, can I call you brother?” She said with her lofty voice.
“Sure, sis.” He said. She giggled almost drunkenly at the pet name, he still used it sometimes, but less than at first.
They didn’t speak much, having just been born, but she did have many questions. She had searched the big, metal-grated room until she came across a staircase, and the body of another one who could not be roused from his sleep. His neck had similar markings.
They tried to move him, but he was too heavy to budge an inch. In his chest were seven iron spikes, his ribs were poking out.
Up the staircase was a house, a large stone and concrete house. It was completely surrounded by mountains, a large field stood between the house and the imposing sheets of rock. Even that contained a stone pool of warm, clear water. A few red and white fish swam in circles in another, disconnected pool.
There was a time each day that it suddenly went from being dark to light, they later found out about sleep from the extensive library.
When they were hungry, they ate. When it was cold, the huddled together under a blanket. When they were bored, they would play.
They soon discovered new things in the house. Individual rooms to sleep in, though they only used one at a time.
One day, after a long game in the dirt, Seiden went swimming with Ritter. They took off their clothes and put on the colorful swimming clothes. Ritter dove right in. Seiden, however, walked in on the stairs. The dirt was carried into the filer and away from their skin, revealing her silken white skin.
“Ritter!” She said and swam up to him.
“What is it sister?” He grabbed her stomach to keep her head from going under.
“I saw something in a book from the library. Two people were massaging each other’s mouths and tongues.” Her face started to glow red. “I think we should try it, the book said it felt good.”
Ritter couldn’t find anything wrong with it, she often wanted to try something she’d read about. Most of their games came from brightly-colored books that littered the library. Ritter liked the ones about war more than those.
“Sure, let’s try it.” He moved them both to the shallow end so they could both stand, and he bent down to her height. “I don’t know how to do this, so you lead and I’ll follow.”
“OK, um…” Her face glowed more fiercely. “I don’t know if I’m doing it right.”
Before he could reassure her, she lunged forward and pressed their lips together. She began to gently move, he followed. Soon, she used her tongue to part his lips, he followed once again.
It did feel good, and Seiden did taste good, but it was more than just that. A strange pulse filled his chest and heat flashed his face, Seiden became a precious thing, a perfect porcelain flower that needed to be coddled and loved. Ritter had always felt that way, but at that moment, the feeling overwhelmed him. It pushed at the corners of his mind and picked at his heart.
When it ended, Seiden pulled away and let out a contented sigh. The separation was almost more than Ritter could handle, a depression descended upon him that threatened to take away his very soul, if he had one. How did she seem to be so contently happy?
She was still staring into his eyes, her pupils quivering in excitement.
Say something you idiot! The words swam across his vision like they had on that first day. The unknown program urged him to speak.
Seiden beat him to it. “You taste good, brother.” Her face became white again and the serious look faded from her face. “I didn’t think it would feel that good, the book was right.”
“What did it say?”
“That kissing boys makes you feel good, I wanted to see if it worked for us.” Her face half-blushed again and she tried to run back to the stairs, falling face-first in the water on the third step and swimming the rest of the way. Once there, she grabbed her clothes and dashed back to the house.
Ritter waited a bit, then left the water for his training room.
That room was a 20ft by20ft square, floored with bamboo, which sat in the exact middle of the house. The walls were covered with weapons. Ritter thought that a great swordsman must have lived here before him.
He went there every day to practice. He may have had it all devoted to a program, but said program had room for improvement.
Stab: 75*-15*, 15*,86*-90*
Right block: 90*-45*, 30*, 90*-90*
Both programs were wrong by one or more articulation, Ritter had to re-write that code by practice. So far, he had re-written all of the programs for most of the weapons on his wall.
The new program would read.
Stab: 75*-15*, 15*,86*-90*___45*-50*, 15*, 45*-90*
Right block: 90*-45*, 30*, 90*-90*___90*-20*, 45*, 90*-90*
Of course, those were just the failsafe programs. They only took over when Ritter couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to technique.
It usually just didn’t matter as much as it was intended to. Ritter was designed to learn, the base program was nothing but a reference to him now.
Seiden also didn’t know why, but she had been programmed with perfect pitch and a basic wu-shu program. The two were so far apart that neither of them had any idea what she was supposed to be for.
Mostly, aside from practical matters, they ignored the fact that they had been made. Seiden appeared to ignore it better than Ritter could. He sometimes wanted to leave their valley, but Seiden was violently opposed to the idea. And a big brother is not allowed to leave his little sister alone, no matter what. If he left, she would be right there beside him.
Seiden had one memory, although she hadn’t told Ritter about it. In it, a girl that looked exactly like her was getting kissed by a tall, fair headed boy in a pier overlooking the setting sun. then tears blurred the memory and her former self ran away through a thick crowd.
She didn’t know who the girl was, or why she had started to cry. She only had that one memory. Seiden thought that if she couldn’t remember something, it probably wasn’t worth remembering anyway.
It wasn’t horrible, Seiden had a big, comfy house and good company. As long as those things were still true, the lack of memory was bearable. Even now, new things kept popping up to entertain her, she would make sure that kissing would become a common occurrence.
She had tried kissing other things, pillows, stuffed animals, but none of those things made her heart race like Ritter did. Seiden guessed that one needed another like oneself to make it work. Ritter wouldn’t know, he still didn’t understand why a female robot had ever been made in the first place, gender must not matter muck for people who could not procreate. But then, why did she feel that way if he didn’t?
Ritter wanted to leave the valley, to explore the world around him, but Seiden was scared. Why would one want to leave a place that, while remaining comfortable, was still full of information? She could only assume it was the fourth suggestion in action. “An automaton must always improve its knowledge of its surroundings.” While Seiden was using the house as her environment, Ritter must have been using the whole world.
In the textbooks, it was dubbed the “playful law” because it affected dolls in a way as to provoke playfulness and curiosity. Ritter displayed it often when he played in his room of sharp objects, his program deemed fighting to be useful information. Seiden, being herself, had no idea what her program forced her to do, maybe kissing was beneficial for some reason, though it didn’t seem useful for anything but recreation.
Seiden found herself obsessing over that kiss. Ritter had looked so sad when they finished, did he not like it? The truth was, breaking from him was the most depressing thing she could think of. It felt like their hearts were connected by a string and stopping had snapped it.