When Mhuiri entered the shop, a dog rushed up to her and started sniffing at her hands. Mhuiri smiled, “What's this?” She asked, kneeling to receive wet licks to her face.
“It's a golden retriever.” Emelia answered.
Mhuiri kept petting the dog as she spoke, “ I know that, but is this some attempt to apologize for this morning? Because you didn't have to. I owe you an apology also, for the way I acted.”
Emilia turned from her toolbox, “No, she's not a bribe for what I said this morning. She's a client's pet, and needs repairs. ”
“What?” Mhuiri looked into the big brown eyes of the dog. “She's not real?”
“I wouldn't say she's not real. She's right in front of you isn't she? You can feel her.”
“But she's synthetic.”
“There's quite a market for synthetic animals actually. They're easier to live with than their organic counterparts, and training is just a program away. She's still real though, just as real as you are.”
“Does it have to eat?” Mhuiri asked, looking at its teeth as it panted, undoubtedly enjoying the attention.
“Normally no. Like you, this dog has blood that can be enriched both by ingesting food, or by converting electrical energy into chemical energy, bypassing the need for food. However, something's wrong with her auxiliary power source and she's throwing up bile and losing consciousness if not fed.”
“Can that happen to me?”
“It can, but it's unlikely. You're far more advanced than most synthetics. Not only does your blood harbour the enzymes and nanites that can convert electricity into glucose and other required chemical agents for your muscles; it also uses a form of photosynthesis in your capillaries which allows you to be powered simply by standing in the sun. It's a fail-safe. Since it was uncertain what would become of your mind if you were ever to be completely purged of energy, we opted to make it very difficult for that to happen. So long as you have an electrical source, food, or the sun, you'll remain operational.”
“Oh. So how will you fix the dog?”
“Well, I'm assuming there's an electrical problem with how she's accepting power from AC wall outlets, so I'm going to make sure the paths from an AC source to her auxiliary PCU aren't broken, then if that's not the issue I'll have to open her up and take a look at the PCU itself.”
“Can I help?”
Emilia stood there, tools in hand, head cocked, staring at Mhuiri. “You've never asked to help before.”
“I guess I never wanted to before.”
“Are you interested in how she works, or how you work? Because I can assure you that there is a vast difference between both of your systems.”
“But we're both synthetic nonetheless, the basics would be the same wouldn't they?”
Emilia smiled. “ I suppose so. Here, take this spanner, we'll need it to remove a plug to get to the leads behind the receptacle.”
“Okay.” Mhuiri said, taking the the tool from Emilia. “What now?”
“Well, bring her over, and we'll shut her down while we're working.”
Mhuiri took hold of the dog and brought it over to the table in the centre of the garage where Emilia then picked it up and set it in front of them.
“How do you shut her down?”
“Like this.” Emilia said, raising a small device up to her chin and aiming the other end at the dog. She then whistled, and when the dog's attention turned to her; she activated the device.
The dog's eyes went wide, and then she laid down as if going to sleep.
“There. Now the icky part.” Emilia took a small blade and made an incision on the neck where the collar had been moments earlier. “This will heal up later.” She said, pealing back the synthetic flesh that clung to the stark white chassis with some type of fibrous gelatine. “Okay, your turn. I'll just hold the fur out of the way and you get in there with the spanner and twist that circular plug counterclockwise.”
Mhuiri reached in with the tool and put the two pins into the matching holes as Emilia had directed her. “It smells.” She said, her nose wrinkling from the stench.
“Welcome to synthetic repair.” Emilia said, laughing. “Honestly you get used to it. That endodermal fluid is what allows the synthetic flesh to heal itself. As a measure of preventative maintenance, we're going to scoop out what we've disturbed and replace it with a fresh batch I have growing in the lab.”
“Is it organic?”
“No, it's engineered from a set of compounds that replicate under certain electromagnetic conditions.”
“Is mine the same?”
Emilia looked at her. “I'm glad you're interested in your construction, but I hope this doesn't become an unhealthy behaviour.” She looked back at the dog. “This might have been a bad idea.”
“To allow me to help?”
“Why?” Mhuiri asked, her shoulders slumped in disappointment.
“I'm not sure how it will affect your mental state. Dealing with this kind of information is something no sentient being has ever had to struggle with, and I don't think I'm qualified to walk you through the emotions that you might be feeling.” Emilia looked up from her work. “Huh, a whole new form of psychology will have to be developed to accommodate the needs of sentient cybernetic organisms.”
“So I need a shrink now?”
Emilia laughed. “Don't we all?” She sighed, “Pass me that diagnostic tool would you?”
Mhuiri picked up the unit. “You've used this on me before.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Is my programing the same as this dogs?”
Emilia laughed. “No, you're very different, but basic readouts like vital signs and electrical continuity can still be read by this device. After that, you become far too complex for any hand held device to troubleshoot.”
“Why did you use it on me?”
“Actually, you had very similar symptoms as this dog.” Emilia smiled softly at Mhuiri. “You know there was a time when you ate everything and anything we gave to you. You wouldn't even give it a second look before stuffing it in your mouth. Then, suddenly you just stopped. I'm not sure what made you do that.” She said, staring into nothingness. “In any case, I was checking you with the diagnostic tool because your heart rate became erratic and you were sometimes complaining that your stomach felt funny. You see, you hadn't been plugged in to an outlet for quite some time. When you had stopped eating, and we weren't spending much time outside, you had to be plugged in again.”
“I remember you asking me why I didn't want to eat anymore.”
“Do you remember what you answered.”
“You said, you didn't need to.” Emilia's eyes returned to the dog, but sadness was still visible in them. “But you still drink soda.” She said, smiling though she fought tears. Something still bothered her about how Mhuiri had moved away from human behaviour when they were trying so hard to make her human.
“I like soda.”
“Well, there's the problem.” A click resonated through the room as Emilia removed the diagnostic tool from the electrical leads of the dog. “Looks like we just need to replace a broken set of wires. Not a big deal.” She said, moving to her parts bins. “So you never told me how your day went.”
“I made a friend!” Mhuiri said excitedly.
“Did you now? What's his name?”
“It's a girl actually, her name is Rei.”
“I see, and how did you two become friends?”
“Well, we got sent to the office together.”
“What?” Emilia turned to her. “What do you mean you got sent to the office?”
“I was confused about the layout of the school, and it took me too long to figure out where my next class was. Rei helped me, but we still arrived late, and the teacher sent us to the office.”
“Well I suppose I'll be getting a call then.”
“Maybe. I'm not sure. The principle was very nice. I didn't feel like I was getting in trouble at all.”
“Well I'm glad it went smoothly. When I was in high school things weren't so easy. Being late for class would get you detention without a doubt.”
“Is detention exactly what it sounds like?”
“Well ...” Emilia thought for a moment. “Yes, it is. You're sat down in a room and not given the freedom to leave until a certain amount of time has passed, or you've completed some form of activity, like homework or something given to you by your teachers to finish.”
“Isn't that a little barbaric?”
Emilia laughed. “There are many barbaric things about high school come to think of it.” She turned to her. “I'm interested in seeing how you deal with the social hierarchies. I never did well myself to be honest. I was a bit of a loner in school.”
“Are you insinuating that the social hierarchies are barbaric?”
“Very much so. There's a lot of posturing involved. You see, in social groups there is always the need for some kind of leader. If a leader doesn't exist, many will fight for the position.”
“No, the positions are assumed in a more subliminal way than actual physical confrontation, although physical confrontations are still quite common.”
“Really?” Mhuiri thought about what would happen if she were put into such a position. “What am I to do if I find myself in a physical confrontation?”
“Just stand down. Don't give them the satisfaction of actually going through with it. Most of the time those things are broken up by teachers before they get bad anyway.”
Emilia looked at her, and could read the fear on her face. “Are you worried?”
“I would be lying if I said I wasn't. I think it's safe to assume I've been coddled most of my existence. This is a huge leap from the shop; going to school I mean.”
“I understood, and yes it is. I just couldn't think of a better way to integrate you into society than putting you through high school. Besides, there's much to learn that Frank and I just can't impart to you through home schooling. Speaking of which, do you have any homework?”
“Then you'd better get up to your room and start on it.”
“Do you need any more help?” Mhuiri asked.
“Nope, this pup is ready to go.” She said, peeling open the dogs eyelid and activating the device once again. The dog burst to life and stood on the table, panting heavily with saliva dripping from dark brown jowls. “Before you go though, hand me the dish in the lab. I need to clean out that flap of skin before I put her to bed for the night.”
“Alright.” Mhuiri went into the lab and picked up the large petri dish. Inside was a clear substance. She knew by the smell that it was the endodermic fluid Emilia had mentioned before. She wondered if she would smell the same way if her flesh were to be broken.
“Mhuiri, what's taking you?”
“Sorry, I'm coming.” She said, running out of the lab.
Afterwards Mhuiri went upstairs to her room and opened her book bag. Inside, she discovered a folded piece of paper. It wasn't folded in halves, but rather in some more complex way that enabled the recipient to pull on one corner get to its contents.
She pulled it open.
“Hi, I just noticed you today and thought you were very pretty. I don't remember you from last semester, so I guess you're a transfer student or something.
I'm sorry I didn't talk to you face to face, I guess I'm a little shy when it comes to things like that. Maybe someday I'll get the courage to come up and talk to you.
Until then, I'll just have to be sneaky and stick letters into your book bag.”
The end of the final sentence was accompanied by a drawing that Mhuiri couldn't quite understand, and below it the letter was signed.
“Your secret admirer.”
A strange thing happened then. Mhuiri couldn't quite understand it. It felt both good and bad. Her heart raced, and her stomach felt strange. Was there something wrong with her?
She held the letter against her chest as she laid in bed. “Somebody likes me.” She whispered to herself, and that rush came over her again.
“Why do I feel so weird? Maybe Emilia needs to run another diagnostic.”