The food they were given at each meal was the same- little cubes of essential nutrients to keep them going through the day and to give them everything they would need while their bodies adapted to their growth and development. When they were done with their training, they knew that they would be given a different sort of food than what they had now, one that gave them more or less nutrients depending on their task.
TO didn’t especially care what kind of food they had, it all tasted terribly bland. They were getting used to it though- the memories of the delicious things they ate before had faded, and it was hard to crave something you didn’t remember.
They lined up with the other synths in the cafeteria and waited their turn. Before them, set into the far wall of the cafeteria was a series of 20 machines, each one a narrow black panel set flush with the wall. A screen placed over each one, just higher than their heads showed call numbers, and as a synth’s call number was displayed they went up to the machine and pressed the back of their hand against a small black reader that was placed near a narrow slot. The reader would read the implant in their hand, and provide them with the meal that they were assigned- The cubes- on plates that were made of nutritional fibres which could be eaten when the meal was done. They ate with their hands, and if they were thirsty they drank from the water bottle that they kept with them, filled from fountains all around the training center.
TO’s number was called, they got their meal, and sat at the closest table. It didn’t normally matter where one sat, you simply sat at the first table with an empty place on the bench, sliding down to make room for the next synth.
Silence. Relative silence anyway. Footsteps, the sound of the machines producing their food, the sound of chewing.
Why was it so unnaturally quiet to them! They didn’t understand. They didn’t understand why it seemed to bother them so much while it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. Was it because they were strange? Even though they had met someone who would talk to them, they didn’t know if they liked being strange.
Being strange was hard.
TO turned around quickly as they heard DH’s voice. They had not expected to see them while they ate, but DH had slipped before another synth who was about to sit down next to them, and claimed their seat.
Eyes. Eyes on them. TO could see everyone looking at DH, and at themselves as well. TO couldn’t remember if they had ever seen another synth go out of their way to sit in a specific spot before. There was no rule against it, but they hadn’t seen it done.
“I nearly didn’t find you.” DH said as they settled into the seat. The synth who had their seat stolen looked at DH, a very confused expression on their face as their rounded ears flicked forward, then sat down next to them, continuing on as though nothing had happened.
“I did not- Didn’t realize that you would be looking for me.” TO said. They wanted to emulate the more fluid way that DH spoke, more reminiscent of the way the older synths with a better grasp on the language spoke. their words didn’t seem to be stilted, and they wanted to copy that. DH seemed to have it figured out better and faster than TO did.
“Of course.” they said, turning to TO and giving them a smile, “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because…Because there was probably an easier seat for you to sit in?”
“But I’m far happier sitting with you.” They picked up a nutrition cube and popped it into their mouth, the light quickly glinting on their slightly pointed teeth for just a moment before they started chewing.
“I feel like this tastes wrong.” they said to TO, “I don’t know why, but it feels like it should taste better.”
Conversation. Simple conversation about food! Their first attempt at this had been on day 3, and that of course had been another failure. TO cleared their throat, the three vocal chords giving a strange, almost mechanical sound before they spoke, “I feel like I ate things that tasted better...before.” they said the last part very very softly, hoping that nobody else would hear them. The synth sitting next to them looked over, their ears flicking in confusion as they gave them that “What are you?” Look. Their ears drooped down and flushed blue with shame as they tried to distract themselves with their food. They had learned on day 1 not to speak about before. Why did they think they could speak about it now?
“I wish I was still in that.” DH said, “Still dreaming. I think the dreams were better.”
TO nearly choked on their food. In a second, DH was on their feet, their hand on TO’s back, “Are you ok?” They asked, their eyes wide with worry, their ears pinned back.
TO nodded as they drank deeply from their water bottle. They could feel DH’s hand on their back as they drank, warm, careful, almost comforting. Why did this make people mad? They took a deep breath as they finished, their ears flushed as they wiped the moisture from their lips, “I am fine.” they said quickly, keenly aware that they had made a lot of noise, had created a disruption, and that they were being stared at.
DH sat back down, removing their hand from TO’s back. “You’re sure?”
“I am certain. Sure. Yes.” They glanced away from the other synths and focused on their food.
Silence fell over them, the sound of chewing, stepping, shuffling.
“Apologies.” DH said after a while, their voice soft and low. TO looked over to them, and saw a frown on their face, their ears slightly limp, “I said something strange. I’m sorry.”
“It is fine.” TO said, Brushing it off quickly, speaking as quietly as they could. “I am unbothered.”
“You’re certain?” they said, “I... I normally try to not mention before. Nobody else seems to want to think about it.”
They glanced around, and softly whispered, “I’ve mentioned it. Others get angry.”
DH’s ears perked up, “You’re not angry then?”
“Not at all.”
The expression of relief that flooded DH’s face, the way their shoulders suddenly relaxed, the way their ears perked up and a small smile flickered over their face warmed TO in a way that they had not yet felt. Their own ears perked up as they smiled and went back to their food.
DH was happy, and as such for some reason that TO couldn’t comprehend, they themselves were happy because of it. Perhaps it was because they could now talk about things! If DH was willing to talk about before, then there were so many other things that they might be willing to discuss!
For the moment though, TO felt lost. They had wanted to just talk to another about things for the last thirty days, and now that they were able to, the possibilities caused them to freeze up. What would they talk about? They glanced at the others at their table, who were taking quick, fugitive looks at them, as though they were doing something embarrassing- as though they had stripped off their uniforms and were dancing naked at the end of the table.
What could they talk about? Was there something that perhaps wouldn’t seem too strange?
They had it.
“You are in a different flight group than I am, yes?”
“I am. Yes.”
“Are you strong in the air?”
DH shook their head, “I’m not, no. I have not broken any bones yet though!” They looked at TO with a look of pride that at that. TO remembered what the other synth had said to them, that DH was strange and while TO was strange as well, TO was also highly competent; DH was mediocre.
“I will help!” TO said, suddenly excited, “I will teach you. In Rest and Recreation later, meet me at Flight Room 2. I will help you. I will teach you!”
DH looked incredibly excited, then paused, frowning, “Nobody has offered to help. Nobody has spoken to me this long, save for...well, nobody has… tolerated me this long before without telling be to be quiet.” They tilted their head, their ears twitching with curiosity, “Why are you being so nice?”
The question threw TO off guard, “Because I want to be?” They ventured, not quite of the reason themselves.
That answer seemed good enough for DH, who nodded and went back to their food, smiling. TO continued to eat, but now they wondered to themselves.
Why did they want to help?
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell