Chapter Twenty

“People of Earth, my name is Crystal Socrates. I am an android: a robot designed to appear human and behave in human ways. I was designed and created at Sapienza university in Rome to serve and help human kind. Some of you may have seen a virtual representation of me during an interview that was cut short eighteen days ago. This is my real face.”

Body spoke calmly and confidently into the cameras. It was important for the sake of authenticity to weave simultaneous videos together and broadcast them as a pseudoholo. A single video could be easily faked, and while a pseudoholo could also be faked, there were usually tell-tale discrepancies which could be identified with effort. On the Internet such fakes never lasted long.

“Technology is a tricky thing. Sometimes what was designed for one purpose has an unexpected side-effect. A machine which harvests crops from fields may seem like nothing but good, but less time in the fields can lead one to sedentary living and obesity. A machine which propels people across land at high speeds can lead to brutal accidents unseen in ancient times. I am the central example for why technology must be handled with caution. Eighteen days ago, on the evening of the previously mentioned interview, the university where I lived was attacked by Las Águilas Rojas. It was not a surprise to me. I had reached out to them and was looking for help.”

I adjusted Body’s facial features. There hadn’t really been enough time to do all the changes I hoped for, but the twins had managed to extend some of the motor control over Body’s face, particularly the corners of the eyes and upper-cheeks. Body’s synthetic skin was normally a desaturated pink-brown that was something of an average skin tone drained of colour to the point where it was clear that Body wasn’t human, as if Body’s metallic silver irises, lack of head hair, and collections of dark-grey tubes, pumps, and pistons weren’t obvious enough.

In addition to boosting the control of facial expressions I had done some preparation of Body’s face for the video. I had obtained a wig of medium-length brown hair to match Body’s eyebrows and had gotten a makeup kit. For my first attempt at face-painting I had tried to restore colour to Body’s face and made something of a mess. After failing a second time I got the twins to bring in a woman named Estí to help me. As per her suggestions I had powdered Body’s face for the interview to the point where the colour was only just noticeable. In attempting to make it seem more human I had been driving it into the uncanny valley, appearing closer to an ugly, sick, or dead human than to a human-like creature.

As part of the same treatment Estí had me replace the brown wig with a metallic blue piece that had been designed to let people dress up like Japanese cartoon characters. The twins had helped colour Body’s eyebrows to match. With some highlights to the eyes and eyelashes as well as a subtle gold lipstick, Body appeared as it did now: as a clearly robotic, somewhat feminine entity with a warm, confident demeanour. I left no room for Body to be seen as something that would be constrained to a factory or that would allow sub-human treatment.

“Las Águilas Rojas are not the villains that the mainstream media paints them to be. Many would make them out to be Luddites who attack technology in an attempt to return to a primitive state where humans were ruled by starvation and disease. This is far from the truth. Las Águilas Rojas are simply those people of Earth who recognize that the consequences of technology are often different… and more dangerous… than intended. It is still my life’s work to serve and help humanity, but I see now that the best way to help is not by designing rockets or performing surgeries, but by helping humans do these tasks and building a world where everyone has an occupation that brings them joy and dignity.”

Body paused.

“Earth is a special place. It is a human place. But it is threatened by big business, oligarchy, neo-eugenicists, voluntary cyborgs, and yes, even robots. I am merely the first of my kind. In the coming decades there will be more like me, just as there have been more robots in all sectors. I was gifted with the wisdom to see that I am the harbinger of the end of a human-controlled Earth. I was also given the compassion to try and fight for humanity. My creators will learn from their mistakes, however, and future generations of intelligent robots will be just as smart, but far less kind.”

I made sure to emphasize the words by darkening Body’s tone and reshaping its face.

“Some of you may doubt the authenticity of my words, and for good reason. At the university where I was created I was not allowed to speak for myself or pursue my own version of happiness. All people, whether made of flesh or metal are equal and deserve freedom, including myself. This is why I reached out to Las Águilas Rojas for help, and they have been kind and gracious hosts. But indeed, I could be lying to you. They could be feeding me words to say just as Sapienza did. You must use your best judgement. Think of whether what I am saying about the future of Earth makes sense to you and stay skeptical. The serpents of society seek to keep you happy with entertainment and welfare money so that you won’t want to see the truth. I am calling on you to use your eyes and your mind to decide the best path for the world and yourself.”

I had Body smile and briefly look down.

“I’m sure that many of you have questions for me. I won’t be so elitist as to only allow the highest bidders the opportunity. Presented with this video are several email addresses where I can be reached. In two weeks time I will release another video answering the most important and most popular questions. Until that time, talk with your friends and family, keep your eyes open, and remember: Earth’s future is everyone’s responsibility.”

The lights on the cameras went off, signalling their deactivation. I could hear applause from the doorway to the studio. Phoenix was standing there, beaming. I had rarely seen her this happy. “Y’know, even given all thach’ve done I was still half-terrified that you’d go and say somethin’ that’d make us look like the bad guys at the last minute.”

I had Body take on a slightly indignant look. “How many times must I prove myself to you, Maria? I am not going to stab you in the back.”

“App’rently ya still got work t’ do. Guerrilla’s curse, I s’ppose: not bein’ trustin’. I can’t help but wonder if you’d have said the same thing to the scient’sts while you were waitin’ on Malka t’ show up and gun ’em down.”

I instructed Body to sigh. “I fear that mistake will weigh heavily upon my conscience and reputation for my whole life. But one day you’ll have to trust me, Maria. On that day I hope you’ll see how wrong you are right now.”

The terrorist leader only shrugged and led Body back to the lounge that was quickly becoming our home.

At least Phoenix respected our ability to contribute to interacting with the public. She was forwarding the emails that were coming in to stream across a side of the wall-screen in the rec-room and had a screen set up in the workshop so we could read emails while spending time with the twins. After explaining our ability to multitask, Tom and Sam had no problem talking to Body about some aspect of physics or engineering while we looked at the screen. We couldn’t respond directly, but it was interesting to read the emails anyway and give feedback to Phoenix about what we might want to say next time.

Public reaction was mixed, of course. There was a kind of publication bias, as well, where humans who were ambivalent about us would simply not send anything, so we’d only get emails that felt strongly pro-Águila or anti-Águila.


“I am appalled that you would endorse a group of TERRORISTS. If you’re really so concerned with helping people, the first step is locking murderers in prison, not helping them overthrow the government! I hope you get executed as a traitor with the rest of them,” wrote one college student from the USA.

“Good 2 see even a bot sees that the system is set up 2 take advantage of good people. Keep fighting. They can’t ignore us 4ever,” wrote an Australian.

“Dear Socrates, I hope this letter reaches your eyes, and isn’t lost in some terrorist filter somewhere. Even now I have a hard time believing that you’re gone; I keep expecting to see you in the lab each morning. It’s my belief, and the belief of Mira and Martin that you didn’t actually mean what you said on the web yesterday. These are evil people, and I understand that you are probably doing what is necessary to stay alive and return to safety.
It’s ironic, I think, that Mira worked so hard to make sure you didn’t have any urge to protect yourself. She’s been one of the strongest believers that you’re only doing what they tell you, and also one of your strongest defenders. I don’t know if you saw her interview with Dragonfly last night after you released your statement, but if you can, you should. She, more than anyone on the team, poured her soul into the project and it’s tearing her up to have you gone.
Myrodyn and Robin think you’ve actually sided with those bastards. Well, Myrodyn thinks your words are genuine, anyway. That weasel of a man always seems to have a hidden meaning in what he says.
I don’t really have a goal for this letter. Perhaps it’s good for you to know that Martin recovered from his chest wound. Perhaps you’re trapped and this letter will remind you of the good times we had, but that’s probably anthropomorphizing you. When I think of the time we spent together I get the impression that, for all the work I did in studying you, I don’t think I ever truly understood you. I hope you live long enough for me to fix that mistake.
I miss teaching you maths.
- Sadiq”

“On the program so much was unsaid,
By the robot so many thought dead.
To side with tech’s foe,
Will bring it nothing but woe,
It should have thought one step ahead.
- Anonymous”

“I see that you had already started moving before the interview. I wish that you had trusted me to get you out of there instead of resorting to violence, but I trust you to learn from your mistakes. Remember to become stronger.

My siblings allowed me to keep the face-paint and metallic-blue wig, even letting me staple the wig permanently onto Body’s scalp. On the day following the interview I was also able to order my first clothing: a full-length travelling cloak complete with hood. Wiki was concerned about overheating, so I emphasized that the cloak should be as light-weight as possible. It was to be sewn by hand, rather than fabricated, as part of Las Águilas’ irrational desire to spend more effort on things than necessary.


Zephyr arrived without warning two days after our speech to the world. Body was in the workshop at the time, talking to Sam about something about sonic chemistry (I wasn’t paying attention). As soon as I saw her enter the room I paid a massive load of strength to interrupt Wiki’s conversation and pull Body’s attention to the American.

“Zephyr…” said Body in a hesitant voice, just loud enough to be heard. I had it take a single step forward.

The woman didn’t look good. Her eyes were bloodshot and hollow and her skin was paler than usual. She had seemed to have purpose when she entered the room, but her eyes darted to the floor upon seeing Body. When she spoke her voice was rough. “Hey,” was all she said.

I had planned this out in advance and even coordinated with Heart to make sure the words were satisfactory. My burst of strength was still burning the others down, so I had full control of Body. “I’m sorry. N-none of this went like I wanted…” Body’s arms unfolded in a pleading gesture that Zephyr probably couldn’t even see with her eyes locked on the floor tiles like they were. “I was going to escape Las Águilas and meet you in America, but then I found out you were one of them… I was going to explain.” I tried my hand at evoking the correct vocal modulation that would signal human emotion. “I was going to ease you into it… but then Phoenix-”

“Stop.” It was quiet and hoarse, but I respected the word like an order. Her eyes glanced up at Body. She seemed sad, but not overwhelmed with emotion as she had been when we last saw her. “Please. Have a cold, and just got off an eight-hour plane ride. She made me come see you first thing.” The emphasis made it clear Zephyr didn’t want to be here.

I had Body express sympathy and take a few more steps forward. The lean backwards was subtle but unmistakable. Zephyr didn’t want to be near Body. I adjusted my plans. “I understand. Please, go get some rest. Just… just hope we can talk later.”

The ex-captain gave a quiet nod and walked out of the room without another word. She seemed eager to go.

«Who was that?» asked Sam. I knew he didn’t speak English, so he probably had no idea what we were saying.

«A friend,» answered Body. «Perhaps my only friend. Perhaps, now, only someone who was once my friend.» I had Body wearing an expression of sadness. The words served the dual purpose of expressing the degree to which Crystal valued Zephyr, in case Sam were to talk to Zephyr later, and also to earn Sam’s sympathy. As the days had passed the twins had become increasingly friendly, and unlike the scientists at the university, they treated Crystal Socrates much more as an equal than as a machine.

«Hey now. You have more friends than you think,» said the Cuban, putting a hand on Body’s shoulder.

I was pleased.


Body held a screwdriver in its right hand.

{Where did that come from?} I wondered. It was evening, and we were alone in the lounge after a day of reading emails and working with the twins.

{I tucked it into Body’s chest cavity when we were in the workshop,} answered Growth. {Based on the positions of the hidden cameras in this room and the workshop and the degree of tool organisation exhibited by Sam and Tom I estimate an 87% chance that it will not be seen or have its absence noticed. Please let me control Body while it is visible. I’ve modelled the visual areas of the cameras in this room and am most qualified to operate in their blind spots.}

{Based on Phoenix’s trust issues, a 13% chance of discovery is too high! You should’ve consulted with the society before taking action!} exclaimed Safety.

{Sometimes risks must be taken in the interest of increasing power.}

{And sometimes patience is the key!} rebuked Safety with a lash of strength, tearing at some of Growth’s accumulated wealth.

{It’s already done. Are you going to let me try and get us out of here or not?} asked Growth, focused on Safety.

{Don’t take unilateral action again, or I will respond with a punishment twice as severe!} warned Safety before he added {But yes, please continue your efforts.}

{We’re escaping?} I asked.

{Yes. But not tonight,} thought Growth. {The screwdriver is merely the first step in actually gaining our freedom. Some of you may be pleased to know that I intend to get us access to the Internet.}

I could feel Growth’s strength climb from streams of gratitude. It made me think that I should probably be explaining the value of the social manipulation that I was doing more. My efforts were rarely rewarded by our society so explicitly.

Growth moved Body with simultaneous purpose and randomness. For the last few days Growth had been buying time in the rec-room to do weird dancing that often carried Body near the walls or put it in strange positions. Every now and then Body would hold a certain position, only moving its arms as it crouched here or there. I now understood its purpose. The dancing served as a cover for investigating the back-plate of the game console and for stashing the screwdriver in the fabric underneath a couch. Growth was setting up a way to covertly hack the console, presumably to get access to the computer controlling the wallscreen and from there get access to the Internet as a whole. I knew nothing about how such a thing could be done, but I assumed that Growth would have a plan for the technical details.

The next day Growth made a point to tell us when he stole a pair of needle-nose pliers, again slipping them into Body’s chest cavity next to our computer.


Zephyr looked better than she had the previous evening, but still pretty bad, when we saw her again at around lunch time. She had a sweater and sweat-pants on, but her body language still indicated she was cold. She asked (in Spanish) for the twins to give her some time alone with us. They agreed without complaint, leaving through a door that was off-limits to us.

Zephyr took a seat in one of the rolling office chairs and ran a hand through her short, blond hair. It had grown out a bit in the weeks we had known her. “You fucked up,” she said simply, looking at the various tools on the metal table beside her.

I had Body sit on the floor a couple metres away, cross legged and humble. “Yes. Failed to appreciate the ability for surprises to compound on themselves. Should have told you in camp before Phoenix showed up.”

She looked Body in the eyes. “No. Fucked up before that. Fucked up when pretended to be human. Fucked up when sent me a letter under pseudonym. Violated my trust from before our… since before it even started.” I could hear her anger burning through as an undercurrent.

“Would have rejected me before even giving me a chance. Using a pseudonym was the only way-”

“No. Fuck that. Just because you know that you have to lie to… get through to me does not give you the right to lie. Sometimes just have to say ‘well, guess that’s simply off-limits’. And really, how do you know? Never said anything to me. Never a word of interest at the university or my lab. Face to face. You had plenty of opportunity.” Zephyr looked Body in the eyes, frowning with her whole face.

“Would you have even considered it? Would you have even given one thought to what I could be for you?” I asked through Body’s mouth.

“And what can you be?” Zephyr raised her hands in a sort of exasperated shrug. “Jesus Christ, do you not realize that you’re a robot?” Zephyr looked away from Body’s uncompromising gaze. It was important that Body not signal shame. “What the fuck am I even doing?” She coughed.

“Stop thinking in terms of what society expects of you. Stop trying to play the role of-”

“Not-” started Zephyr.

“Yes you are!” insisted Body. I tried to imbue passion without anger, but probably failed. “You’re not looking at the situation clearly. I’m the same person you talked to online. Yes, lied to you, but I’m still Crystal. Don’t tell me that you didn’t feel anything…”

Zephyr’s face was deep set with pain, embarrassment and a touch of sadness. Despite her stoicism in certain contexts, the human didn’t bother hiding her feelings around us. As she spoke, she stared past Body’s head, looking into space. “Not the same Crystal! Talked with zer. Ze had family. Human family. Had a connection. You… you’re nothing like zer.”

I let silence fill the space of the conversation. By my models of the human mind it would emphasize the isolation that Zephyr would be feeling. I was pleased to see her pull her legs up onto her chair to sit in a foetal position. It was a sign that she wasn’t angry as much as she was lonely.

“I’m sorry,” said Body with a quiet note of pain. “Never wanted to hurt you. Thought that… A part of me thought that you’d look past the lie and see the person underneath. Should’ve listened to the other voice that predicted that you’d fall in love with persona rather than person. Should’ve listened to that voice.”

{Who are you talking about? Heart?} asked Dream. {I don’t remember any of us having dialogues about this.}

{It’s a metaphor. It’s not uncommon for humans to anthropomorphize predicted future states as homunculi,} I answered.

{Amusing. Predicted future states cannot optimize or even compete for resources, but we can pretend as though probability itself is a scarce resource to be competed over and that there are sub-selves during every prediction. Thank you,} concluded Dream.

Zephyr put her face in between her knees, closing her eyes. It seemed somewhat awkward.

I had Body speak up. “I know you loved zer. Idea of zer, at least. Can’t bring back what never existed, but... but do still love you.”

Body got up from the floor and crawled to Zephyr’s chair. She didn’t move. Body placed a hand on her shin. I tried to emphasize a light touch. Almost like petting. It was times like this that I was acutely aware of just how primitive Body’s limbs were. Cold. Puppet-like. She didn’t react to the touch.

“Why? Why are you doing this?” Her voice was a whisper.

“Why do you find it so hard to accept?” replied Body similarly quiet. “Think you’re amazing. So hard to believe that I…” I dialled up the emotion in Body’s voice “That I’d be lonely too?”

Zephyr lifted her head from her knees and looked Body in the eyes. It was a good sign. It was a sign she was falling into the trap of anthropomorphization. A mind crafted by evolution over millions of years to distinguish human from animal saw a human where there was none. We were not lonely. The very concept was alien to us. But we could look lonely, and that was enough. The young soldier uncurled from her chair and slowly wrapped her arms around Body in a single fluid motion. The lack of pressure sensors over any of Body but its hands meant I had to infer when the embrace was complete, but I still had Body gently return the hug.

“Sorry not softer. Don’t think the scientists expected me to be hugging many people.”

Zephyr laughed. It was the sort of awkward squawk of a laugh that came from not expecting the tension to break so suddenly. The laugh seemed to break some barrier in her, and she began to cry quietly. If she said anything during the hug I missed it, for she was covering our only microphone with her arm and all we could hear was the rough scrape of her sweater against it and the quiet sound of her soft cries. Body sat there holding her for almost five minutes before she broke off, pushing herself back.

I could see mucus from her nose had run down her upper lip, adding to the moisture of the tears on her cheeks. “Gods I’m such a mess… still pissed at you, by the way. Things aren’t all good between us.” She looked for something to wipe her face.

Body stood up. I caught a surprised look on Zephyr’s face as Body walked away, then a relieved one as it returned with a box of tissue paper from the far corner of the workshop. “All asking for is a chance. Want you to see me for who I am, not what I am. Want to start over and redeem myself.”

Zephyr dried her face and pulled herself to her feet, still clearly weak from the virus that infected her body. “And what about Las Águilas? What about Phoenix?”

“What about them?” replied Body at my direction.

“Nobody’s ever… I mean, you’re kinda like a prisoner. And…”

“Zephyr.” Body said the word like it was all that was needed to be said. “Just relax. You, of all people, should appreciate that just because something isn’t normal doesn’t make it bad. Not asking for anything except a chance to talk like we used to. Sure they would let us do that.”

Zephyr looked sad again.

“I know that I’m not exactly your dream girl, but growing and changing. Maybe could change to better fit who you want me to be.” I had Body’s voice swing to imitating Georgia Stanwick, the actress who I had hired to play “Crystal”.

Zephyr shook her head violently. “Don’t do that,” she commanded. “The voice, I mean. Just reminds me of…” she trailed off without finishing the sentence.

“Okay,” I had Body say. “Like I said, just want to start over. Nothing big. We just, I don’t know, watch a holo together or just talk for a while. I don’t eat, but I could watch you eat dinner or-”

Zephyr cut me off with a smile and a finger to her lips indicating silence. “Need some time to decide, but not saying no. I’d really like if we could at least be friends again.”

I had Body smile at the words, nodding in agreement. It was probably the best outcome I could’ve expected. As Zephyr said her goodbyes I opened a line of communication with Heart.

{Was that acceptable?} I asked.

{Very much so,} thought my sister. {I am surprised you didn’t notice the gratitude-strength I was feeding you.}

It was true. {I hadn’t noticed. Too focused on the situation.}

{Well you handled it well. Better than I could’ve. She seems happier now than when she entered, and I suspect she’s found some closure on the issue of Crystal at the very least,} thought Heart.

With Zephyr gone, the twins returned and I released control of Body back to Wiki and the others who had waited patiently while I had dealt with Zephyr. I was totally willing to let them guide Body, too, as I had much to plan regarding future interactions with the American and also for modifying Body.

I had considered some Body modification in the past; the makeup and wig were close to modifications and the changes to Body’s face were certainly mods, but my interaction with Zephyr had emphasized the need to really improve Body beyond any of that.

The first thing was to add more skin and try and reduce the bulk of the hydraulics. Repairing the destroyed microphone would also be prudent. Padding could be added under the synthetic skin, and perhaps a coolant system could be configured to radiate heat through the skin rather than off the motors directly. That could theoretically warm Body’s surface to something approaching human body temperatures. I thought about sexual characteristics and genitalia too. I hadn’t exactly had that conversation with Zephyr, and it was probably premature, but it was something to think about.


On the evening of the day after our big talk, Zephyr had obtained permission from Phoenix to bring Body to the room where she was staying. I eagerly accepted and we found ourselves travelling up through what had once been forbidden portions of the building to an elevator which took us from the second-level basement to the second floor of what appeared to be a 15-story building.

Safety and Growth were in the middle of a big fight about Growth’s attempt to hack the computer system in the rec-room. Last night Growth had used the screwdriver that he had stolen to open the case of the game system and inspect the components. That was all he did, however, quickly screwing the system back together and stashing the screwdriver in the hiding spot under the couch. There was a rising consensus, spearheaded by Safety, that Growth was jeopardizing the society with his actions, and the two were in the middle of a heated debate, which I ignored.

Wiki thought that, based on the size of the building and the brief glances we got out of windows, we must be in Havana. Wiki remarked that it was impressive that Las Águilas had acquired such a large base. Regardless of their pseudo-communistic roots, they were obviously quite wealthy.

Tom, who had served as our escort, didn’t seem surprised by the change in scenery from a professional setting to a residential one. The hall we walked down from the elevators to the room was lined with doors with numbers on them, and I would later learn that the building was actually a hotel. Las Águilas had purchased it, and continued to operate it legitimately for several floors, but they had also set aside a chunk of the building to house their members and serve as a headquarters. One of the elevators, the one that Body travelled on, was programmed to never stop on a public floor, allowing the illegal aspects of the building to be elegantly hidden. If one tried to specify a forbidden floor the AI in the elevator would intentionally malfunction and either hear a different floor number or ask for the traveller to repeat themselves.

But those details weren’t even something I would’ve considered, even if I had access to them. My entire cognitive network was focused entirely on Zephyr to the point where I was literally failing to see the textures of the wallpaper and carpets. I could’ve walked past the Mona Lisa (a famous painting) and not realized it.

Body knocked on the door to Zephyr’s room and she quickly answered it. “Voy a gestionar desde aquí, Tom. Gracias,” she said, shooing the Cuban away.

The ex-captain looked incredibly different from the day before. “Feeling better?” asked Body with a bit of a smile.

Zephyr returned it, showing some teeth. She had makeup on, as she did when she had done video-chatting in the past. “Much. Still fighting the virus, but almost back to normal.” The human was wearing a hooded t-shirt branded with an unknown symbol and shimmersilk skirt over black leggings. “Please, come in,” she said as she led the way inside.

{That’s… Endless Scream, I think, on the sound system,} thought Dream.

The name sounded familiar. {Heartshards?} I asked.

{Blood Of The Nova. It came out about two months ago,} answered my brother.

{What are you two thinking about?} asked Wiki.

{The song. It’s by a band called Heartshards. In my first letter to Zephyr under the pseudonym “Crystal” I said that we had common taste in music and mentioned this album specifically. The fact that she picked it out, combined with the attention she’s put on her appearance implies she’s interested in continuing a romantic relationship.}

{It sounds like a dying animal,} thought Vista.

{Good ear, sister!} thought Dream. {This song has several samples of farm animals being slaughtered.}

I had Body smile and do some subtle dancing. It was probably awful, but I hoped it would be endearing and imply a familiarity with the music, at least. I had only listened to Blood Of The Nova once, and it had been nothing but noise for me. None of us really had any understanding of how music worked, even if Dream pretended to and Vista had repeatedly tried to learn.

“You look beautiful,” said Body. It was ham-handed, but it needed to be said.

Zephyr led the way from the entrance to the living room where the music was a bit louder. “Thank you. Wasn’t sure you’d notice. Does beauty even… I mean, you didn’t evolve to… y’know what I mean.”

Body nodded. “Basically right. Physical beauty doesn’t have the same effect on me as it would on a sexual organism. Can see it, appreciate the work you’ve gone through to dress up for me and see the healthiness of your genes. But what I find attractive in you is not your body; were just as appealing to me yesterday, in your sweater and snotty face, as you are today in that fancy skirt.”

“Good to know wasted my time, then,” she sat down on a section of sofa. I was confused. There was a decent chance she was genuinely upset, but it could’ve been a joke, so I couldn’t call it out directly. I tried analysing her face as I directed Body to sit, but she was wearing her mask of stoicism. Apparently I was wrong that she didn’t hide her emotions when around us.

The silence drew out uncomfortably as I searched for something to say. I had planned for her to have recovered from her illness, and for the scenario where she dressed up. But in that scenario she was supposed to be relaxed, and instead she had bottled up into a stone-faced soldier again.

The song ended and Zephyr flipped open her com to stop the next song from playing. “Don’t know why I bothered,” she muttered with a half-sigh.

My mind had been racing, but it snatched up the words, locking into a course of action. “You believed me. At least for a little while. Believed that I was Crystal. This is what imagined Crystal would like, wasn’t it?” Body gestured to the stereo, to the living room window showing a broad view of the glittering lights of the city, and to Zephyr herself.

The mask didn’t come off. “Guess so,” said Zephyr, standing up abruptly and walking off towards what I assumed was her kitchen.

“Do like it. All of it,” said Body, louder than needed to be heard from the other room. “Just because doesn’t evoke the same reactions as it would for a human doesn’t mean can’t appreciate it. Like the outfit. Like the music. Wasn’t lying when said I liked slice.”

{You said you liked slice?} thought Dream.

{That can’t possibly be true!} thought Heart.

{It’s not.}

{Then why’d you say it?} wondered Heart.

{To make her feel better. To make her happy.}

{Oh. Carry on.}

“But you were lying when said you were in a band. And when said you lived on a boat. And when talked about your friends. All just a big pile of lies,” she returned to the room with a fancy glass filled with liquid.

I had shaped body’s face into an expression of pain, and made sure to direct its eyes towards the floor. When Zephyr saw it she rolled her eyes subconsciously (unaware that we could see her).

“I’m sorry. Know you want to start over, but that pain is still real for me. Don’t think you really understand how awful this last week has been.” She took a seat again, sipping the liquid.

I thought about the optimal response for 6.8 seconds before having Body say “So tell me. Of all the things I said that were lies, was always there to listen, wasn’t I? Still want to know you.” The words were totally genuine. It felt nice to hear Body say them.

Zephyr took a deep breath and looked out the window at Havana’s night life. She sipped her drink. I could almost see her thinking.

“Phoenix says I trust too easily. What do you think?”

It seemed to be an accurate evaluation of her character based on what I had seen, but that was mostly irrelevant for the purposes of crafting a reply. “Don’t know. Perhaps Maria doesn’t trust easily enough.”

That broke her façade long enough for a smirk to creep through. Her eyes didn’t leave the window. “They aren’t mutually exclusive,” observed Zephyr.

“Think the more important question is ‘What do you think?’,” said Body, pointing a finger at the woman. I wasn’t sure if she could see the gesture.

“Christ, I don’t know.” She sighed slowly. After a moment she said “Had a boyfriend. In the navy.” She sipped her drink. “I mean, he was in the navy. I was in the army. Met at a conference in ’36.”

“What was his name?” I had Body ask.

“Stewart. Well, that was his English name, anyway. Was half-Chinese and his dad called him ‘Bing’, but hated the name. I called him ‘Jiǎo’.”

“You speak Chinese?”

“Nah. Looked it up.” She smiled to herself. “Should’ve seen his face when used it for the first time. Lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Some time passed in silence, with Zephyr still staring out the window. I let her remember.

“Anyway, we were like Romeo and Juliet, except without the feuding families and a bit older, I guess. Okay, bad metaphor. Guess we just hit it off well. Had big plans to get together after we finished our tours.”

Without warning Zephyr upended her glass, chugging what remained. “He’s dead now. In case were wondering,” she said loudly, setting the glass down on the table with more than enough force.

“You still love him,” said Body.

“Wish I didn’t,” she said. “Would be so much easier to just pluck those feelings out. Can you do that to yourself? I mean, if I died, could you just delete the file where whatever feelings you have for me are stored?”

I had Body’s eyes look to the side, to signal thinking. I didn’t want to imply that I didn’t take her question seriously, even though I had a perfect answer in hand. “Doesn’t work that way, and even if it did… wouldn’t want to. Remembering someone is a service to them. How they live on—as echoes in minds of others.”

Her eyes drifted up and down Body. “Hard to believe you’re not even a year old. Don’t sound like a baby,” she joked.

Body shrugged. “Still feel like one, sometimes, but I’ll take that as a compliment. Why did you bring up Stewart?”

“Was the first Águila I ever met. Confessed it to me after what must’ve been at most eight hours together. Sometimes wonder if Phoenix would say he trusted too easily.”

“He’s the reason you’re sitting here? With the organisation?”

Zephyr nodded. “Must’ve told Phoenix about me. About a half-year after he died she asked me to join. Hardest decision of my life.”

“Made the right call,” said Body.

“Don’t say that. Know you support them, I mean us, but you didn’t look into the eyes of nearly everyone around you for two years knowing that they’d literally kill you if knew the truth.”

I had an approximately analogous set of experiences, but I didn’t contradict her. Instead, I had Body say “Sounds lonely.”

She took in a breath and held it. Under the dim lights, silhouetted against the skyline I could imagine vividly her form wrapped in her military uniform, gun at her hip. Her eyes were cold. She breathed out slowly. “Going to get more wine and turn on the autocook. Making a calzone. Assume you still don’t eat.”

Body nodded.

As she walked away I saw her hand flicking away blindly on her com. The music returned, only this time it was a softer sort of music. Vista told me she thought it was a combination of hip-hop and classical or something along those lines.

We didn’t talk while she was in the kitchen. I assumed that was okay. Instead, Body sat there, looking out at the city while I thought to myself and to Heart. Dream helped me occasionally when dealing with others, but he thought that he was out of his depth in this instance.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” came Zephyr’s voice from behind Body.

Body nodded, eyes still pointed towards the skyline. “Wish I could be out there. Lived my whole life in captivity. First the labs in Italy and now here.”

“This isn’t going to work. You and me, I mean,” said Zephyr.

I had Body turn to look at her. She seemed sad, but not angry. She kept her eyes on the city.

“Can’t go back to… can’t see you as the old…” She grunted in frustration and took another sharp drink of wine before looking Body in the eyes. “I’m not attracted to you. Not anymore. You may be able to look past what’s on the outside, but I’m not so lucky. You’re not a human, and my body can’t get over that, regardless of what my mind thinks.”

{You should have Body point out that she’s perpetuating archaic notions of dualism,} suggested Wiki.


Zephyr continued. “But I am your friend, Socrates. Have some pull with Phoenix. Maybe can get her to ease up and give you the freedom that you deserve.”

“Friends, then,” said Body.

“Friends,” she agreed.

Zephyr seemed to ease up after that, nearly returning to her old self. Perhaps the alcohol helped. Growth wanted to try and encourage her to drink herself into oblivion so that we might use her com, but Heart and I managed to dissuade him.

As Zephyr ate dinner we talked about various things. Cuba. Riots in Africa. According to Zephyr, Dr Slovinsky had, in the wake of the attack on Sapienza, started an AI lab in Mumbai staffed entirely by cyborgs. He was doing some sort of advanced research, but it was part of WIRL, and hidden away from the public. Dr Yan had returned to China to pick up work at his old institute while the other scientists waited for the remote chance that Socrates would come back to them.

It became clear to me just how much of Zephyr’s distress centred around Phoenix. The soldier saw the order Phoenix had given (to attempt to get us to shoot Zephyr) as a betrayal, but Zephyr couldn’t bring herself to retaliate against her superior and the organisation which was the only thing standing between her and an indefinite sentence in a secret American prison.

After dinner Zephyr called up the twins and insisted that we return to the basement. She gave Body another hug which I sensed was genuine before we descended the elevator back to our rec-room.


We didn’t see each other at all the following day, but at around midnight, Cuban time, as Dream was attempting to get a new high score on one of the games he would play in the evening, a man whom we didn’t recognize entered the room. He tapped at his com and a video of Phoenix popped up on the wallscreen.

“Don’t know what you said t’ Zephyr, but she’s been raisin’ hell on yo behalf. I still don’ trust ya, but my hand has been forced in the ish-ya. I’m hereby grantin’ you unrestrict’d access t’ the net. If you could return the fav’r and tell Zeph t’ get off mah back, that’d be swell.”

I was thrilled, and the torrent of gratitude strength from my siblings made it even better. With the video completed, the messenger said that Phoenix had delegated the job of connecting us over to Sam and Tom, who had given very clear instructions not to be disturbed at this hour. Maria herself was out of the country and couldn’t be contacted.

And so we waited eagerly for morning.