The lights went out with a deafening snap, arresting Emilia from her sleep. She had dozed off at her desk, on a schematic that was now damp with her saliva. Rubbing her eyes, she got up and fumbled through the darkness, knocking over precariously placed tools that rang like tuning forks when they hit the concrete floor. Flashes of light flickered through the street facing windows of the garage door. She listened for rain but heard none.
“Emilia?” Came a voice from up the stairs.
“It's okay Mhuiri. It's just a transformer.”
A young girl sat at the top of the stairs, a book clutched tightly in her grip. “What happened?” she asked.
“I don't know.” Emilia responded in disdain. “A power surge I guess. Happens all the time in places like this.”
“What do you mean by places like this?” Mhuiri asked.
“Poor places.” Emilia answered, without thinking. “I mean, places with - ”
Mhuiri stopped her. “It's okay, I understand.”
Emilia looked up at her and forced a smile. “You can go back to your room. Do you want me to light you a candle?”
“No, I'm fine.” She said as she got up and returned down the hall.
It was a rhetorical question, after all, Emilia knew that Mhuiri could see perfectly in the dark. Speaking to her as though she were human had always seemed to be appropriate in how Emilia related to Mhuiri. Though lately it seemed almost cruel.
A knock at the door took Emilia from her thoughts. She made her way across the garage floor, this time far more aware than when she had first been pulled from her sleep. She slid the peephole cover open and saw Frank standing on the other side of the door. It took her a moment to unbar the entrance, but Frank waited patiently.
The door slid open and the dry hinges lamented. “Hey.” Frank said, walking in. “I was just wondering if you needed a hand getting the genny started.”
“Thanks for the concern Frank, but I think I'm going to call it a night.”
“Falling asleep on the job again are we?”
“Well I can't fire myself now can I?”
“Hah, I suppose not. Well, where's my number one?”
“She's upstairs, reading.”
“While I'm here I might as well go and say hi.”
“Be my guest.” she said, leading him to the stairs. She stayed at the bottom and listened.
“Hey there's my number one!”
“Oh hi Frank, why are you here at this time?”
“Well I figured I'd tuck you in!”
“I'm very grateful Frank, but aren't I getting a little old for that kind of thing?”
“Nonsense, you'll always be my little girl, no matter how old you are.”
A smile crossed Emilia's lips, this time it was real.
“I guess I'll always be a little girl to everyone, no matter how old I am.”
Emilia's smile twisted into a sharp line and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Don't worry your little head about things like that Mhuiri.”
“What else am I to worry my little head with then?”
“Hah, well isn't it your big day tomorrow?”
“Aren't you excited?”
“Well how come? School is going to be a lot of fun.”
“I'm not sure it will be.”
“Well, what do you feel about it?”
“To be honest Frank … I'm very scared.”
There was a moment of silence. Emilia imagined that Frank must have been hugging her just then, perhaps even whispering words of comfort in her ear before telling her goodnight. Moments later, he was coming back down the stairs.
“It's normal.” He said to Emilia as he reached the bottom. “For her to feel anxious.”
“Yes, I think it's normal for a young girl to feel anxious about going to high school. But we both know that Mhuiri -”
“Isn't normal, yes I know.” Frank rubbed his forehead; a stress induced behavior he had adopted. “She'll be okay.”
“We'll find out tomorrow.” Emilia said, as they heard a truck roll by outside. It stopped and idled a couple dozen feet down the road, undoubtedly a repair crew for the transformer that had faulted earlier.
“Well I should be going.”
“Alright Frank, thanks for coming by.”
“Anytime you need help E, let me know.”
“You know I hate it when you call me that.”
Frank nodded. “Partly why I do it.”
“Good night Frank.”
“G'night Emilia.” he said, showing himself to the door.
Emilia locked up behind him and plodded up the stairs in a trance. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
In the morning, Mhuiri came down the stairs to see Emilia pacing back and forth with the phone to her ear.
“Yeah but Ray I can't.” She stopped, obviously cut off by the person on the other end of the line. “No, this won't work.” She continued, walking up to a crate that lay near the garage door of the shop.
Mhuiri made her way to the crate and looked at the contents with Emilia.
Emilia continued. “I can't sell this Raymond. It's not in demand in these parts. Nobody wants this kind of merchandise around here. Heck I'd get night letters if someone even saw me trying to sell this thing.”
In the crate was a humanoid labor drone. Though the features were bland, it had five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot and a proportional torso. The head was shaped like a human head along with muted facial features.
Mhuiri walked up to it and touched its hand. The synthesized flesh was similar to hers, yet far less advanced. It was nondescript, while hers had all the creases and fingerprints of a real hand. She touched its face, pinching the cheeks to feel rudimentary teeth beneath them.
“Superficial” she said.
“Hang on Ray.” Emilia cupped her hand over the receiver. “What did you say?”
“Superficial.” She said again, looking back at Emilia. “The teeth, they're not needed. I can eat, but this droid doesn't need to. Why would they put teeth in it?”
“To make it look more human.” Emilia said. “Yeah, yeah Ray I'm still here. Look this just won't do. You have to be good on our original deal. I need that stack of relays, not a droid I can't sell.”
She walked off, but Mhuiri could still hear her.
“Parts? What good are those parts? No, never. I would never put that crap into her, besides she's not going to be doing anything that will require those kinds of repairs; and we shouldn't be having this kind of conversation over the phone. You know the situation I'm in.”
Mhuiri sighed and walked to the far end of the garage where Emilia's desk lay. Beside it was a mini fridge. She opened it and took out a soda pop. “Can I?” She asked.
Emilia nodded, obviously distracted by the ongoing conversation.
Though she had no need for nutritional sustenance, she enjoyed the sensation of carbonated drinks in her mouth. She popped the can open and consumed half of it in the first sip, belching immediately afterward. This always made her laugh, and she even got a smile out of Emilia.
“Alright well I'm sending it back either way. Alright. I'll talk to you soon. Bye Ray.” A beep rang out as she hung up. “God, could you believe this?” She said, pointing to the android. “What did he expect me to do with this thing?”
Mhuiri remained silent.
“I can't sell this here. People around here want labor units that look like lego men, or that don't even resemble a human being at all. I don't get it. It's as if they feel like they're competing against the droids when they look human, so their solution is to make them anything but. It's such an ignorant way of thinking. It's a machine just the same, just because it doesn't have hands and feet. Just because it doesn't have eyes and teeth, doesn't change a damn thing. It's just a machine, just like that one.” Emilia said, pointing at the droid. She turned to Mhuiri. “You know?” It donned on her then, that Mhuiri had related herself to the droid when she explored it earlier, and that each word she had just uttered felt like a knife through her heart.
“I'm just a machine too.” Mhuiri said, tears in her eyes, as she grabbed her school bag and rushed out the door.
“Mhuiri, wait, I'm sorry.” She followed her into the busy street, populated more by pedestrians and cyclists than motor vehicles. “Mhuiri. You're not just a -” She stopped herself, looking around, now painfully aware of how exposed she was to scrutiny.
Mhuiri had turned around. “Say it.”
“Mhuiri, you know why -”
“No, Say it. You're ashamed of me.”
“God no, I'm not ashamed of you, I'm so proud of you Mhuiri, look at all you've accomplished.”
She looked around herself, mockingly searching for said accomplishments. “I'm still looking Emilia.”
“You've learned so much.”
“And yet you insist I go to school to learn more.”
“It's for your benefit Mhuiri. You need to make friends, social bonds.”
“Why can't we just keep the android. It can be my friend; we have so much in common.”
“Don't talk like that Mhuiri, you're so much more.”
“Really?” She asked, her question dripping with sarcasm.
“Yes. You're my little girl.”
Mhuiri stood in the busy street, silent. Pedestrians nudged her as they squeezed by in the narrow thoroughfare. “I'm going to school now.” She said.
Emilia nodded, tears in her eyes. “Okay. Have a good day.” Before she could finish her words, Mhuiri had disappeared into the sea of bodies.