Flight practice was next. All the synths had to be split up into groups of 25 so that they wouldn't crash into one another as they soared around. TO was disheartened to see that DH was not in the same group as they were.
The room was a large cylinder - similar to the room where they had been incubated but smaller and even for their sensitive eyes, it was very dark: This was supposed to encourage them to use their echolocation. The synths all walked out onto the ledge that encircled the room, and one by one they dove off the ledge, spreading their wings and hopefully taking to the air before hitting the ground.
TO had taken to flight faster than the others, and had been one of the first to be able to do more than simply glide to the ground. After only a few classes they were able to soar and dive. Now, the flight practice was less like work for them and more like fun; A rest between the quiet and carefully controlled environments that the rest of the day would have for them.
They stood on the ledge, not bothering to grip the side with their long, bat-like feet, and dove. They plummeted down before drawing themselves up in a graceful swoop just moments before striking the ground. The strong and frantic flapping of their wings brought them up higher and higher as a series of quick chips from their mouth and the quick flicking of their ears alerted them to obstacles; other synths, or one of the many branchlike protrusions jutting out from the wall. They reached the highest branch and grasped it with their feet and one hand as they hung there, listening, chirping.
In a moment, when the others had spread out more, they’d do it again. They’d drop from here, dive to the bottom and soar up again at the last moment. They didn’t know why this didn’t scare them, or why they weren't more cautious; In the first week the original group of 25 had been reduced to 15 due to accidents. They would never forget the sound that the first synth had made when they failed their training; the splatter of their head on the floor. They were grateful that it had been dark- they didn’t want to see that; hearing it was bad enough.
TO located the one who called out - They were a bit further down on another branch- and glided down with ease perching next to them and clutching the branch with their feet as they squat down. They grasped the branch with a free hand just to be careful
“You called me?” they asked. Squinting in the darkness, they could make out the number on their uniform; 55H70. “What do you need?” This one in particular had never spoken to them before, and TO knew well enough now that if they were being talked to then something was needed or they had done something wrong.
Well, except for DH of course.
“You are strange.” they said. There was no judgement to their voice, no malice - they were simply stating a fact.
“But you are also competent.” 55h70 said, “You are strong. You fly well. You are clever.”
“But I am strange.”
“You are.” they said, “70H67 is likewise strange. Stranger than you in many ways. They always want to be around others. They are always talking to others. They seem to seek physical contact more than necessary.” They looked up at TO, a frown on their face as their ears flicked back with disdain, “Did you know that they gave themselves a fake name?”
“I do not know about a fake name, but they prefer to be called DH.”
The other synth made a strange clicking noise in the back of their throat as they narrowed their eyes, “Yes. Very strange.”
“I do not see that as strange.” TO said, “It is efficient. Among smaller groups-“
“Our numbers were assigned to us by the system that King Decon created. 70H67 is arrogant to a point where they believe they can alter that; where they believe that they know better than King Decon.”
TO had not considered that. King Decon was their creator, and as such how could any synth hope to be wise enough to question His decisions? TO frowned, Their ears twitching as they considered this.
“However. 70H67 is also horrifically and obviously mediocre.” 55H70 said as they looked up to TO, “You are not. You might be forgiven for a certain level of… quirk, as it were, because of your apparent natural skill. In fact, I believe that you might rise up to serve King Decon best of the group of us because of that skill.”
Wait. Could they?
Vaguely, they knew that before they had woken up, they had been taught about King Decon and His fight for unity among the galaxy. At this point, it felt more like the information was innate, something they knew on instinct. TO knew their place, and what was expected of them. The synths were all tools of King Decon. King Decon gives an order, they follow. Those orders could come from their more immediate superiors or computers, but when orders were given they were obeyed without question. Their role in all this was simply to obey.
Obeying wasn’t a problem, and it was just something TO did without thought. The problems had been their attempts to connect with others, the 30 failures, and in trying to figure out why the other synths seemed to find them so irritating all the time.
They had never considered that they might rise up, that they might be considered important, that they might be considered more than just a simple tool in this world they felt they had been thrown into. The thought gave them hope, and a little pride.
“However.” 55H70 said, “If you continue to associate with 70H67, you may not reach your full potential to serve.”
“What do you mean?”
55H70's ears tilted down as they considered the question. Clearly, they hadn’t intended on talking this long, or going into this much depth. “I mean,” they finally said, “That 70H67 is strange.”
“So you’ve said already. To great extent.”
“Very strange. There is something wrong with them. If they were simply mediocre, they wouldn't be given notice. They would simply live out their lives performing menial tasks for the glory of King Decan.” They looked up at TO, “But they are strange. They are wrong. They are… malfunctioning. If you associate with them, their behaviour could have an effect on you, or you could be judged by your proximity to them. Normal synths do not act like that one does, nor do they tolerate such behavour.”
“But you already said I myself am strange.”
“Yes. Unfortunate, given your skills, but yes. But I believe your skills will overshadow your flaws so long as you work hard and temper yourself.”
“Reduce your actions that are not so normal,” they said, “I would hate to see your potential lost, and see you sent into battle, corrected, or worse; repurposed.
Repurposed. Destroyed. Broken down to the individual parts which would be reused. A quick surgical jab to the medulla oblongata, followed by dissection and a chemical bath to break down anything that’s left so their cells could be used to manufacture lost limbs or organs for higher-ranking synths.
It was the only way that some synths could be made useful.
“If I am so competent, I do not think that King Decon would see me wasted in such a manner.”
“Perhaps.” 55H70 said, “But even if that is so, I would hate to see your competence overlooked because you choose to embrace your quirks. Do you understand?”
It was a strange thing. There was logic in what 55H70 was saying, but it felt… Wrong. They couldn’t place why it felt like that exactly, and they couldn’t discern a logical argument to their feelings, but it was just simply wrong to them.
“I do not think that 70H67 will be a problem for much longer anyway.” 55H70 said, “Either they will be corrected, or failing that, repurposed.”
“Because they talk too much?” TO asked, “Because they like being around other synths?”
“They are distracting. They disrupt the normal functioning of our system. Even in our physical development earlier today, you saw the fuss they caused. No, they will be dealt with, and you would be wise to be away from them when they are.” They gestured down to the floor far below, “If you can fly, but someone who cannot grabs onto you, then you fall. You die. You hit the floor. Do not let 70H67 pull you down. Avoid them.”
Again there was logic in what they were saying, and TO knew it to be true. Those who didn’t seem to keep up, those who were not functioning as designed were corrected or repurposed. They were taken away and if they did come back they returned with dazed looks, slower movements, and somehow they just seemed empty.
DH had been the first synth to communicate with TO, to actually talk without purpose since they had woken up and as such those truths seemed just so wrong and the idea of DH being taken away and returning like that made TO’s stomach clench.
DH was the first one who had connected with them. Was that because DH was strange? Would TO be able to connect with them if they were corrected?
“I see.” TO said, “My thanks for the advice, but I wish to ask you a question - what did DH do in our physical development that was so terrible.”
“They interfered with another’s training.”
“They tried to help them.” TO said, “And I do not see that as a problem. The problems were caused by the other one. They were going to attack DH.”
The other synth gave TO a strange look as they said DH’s name, their ears pinning back, “Perhaps you are too strange to see the problem.” they said. “Perhaps you are too strange, despite your abilities.”
“We will see, won’t we.” TO said, and without another word they let go of the branch.
The timing for this stunt had to be perfect or they would get hurt. From the very top of the flight room they fell, head first to the ground around the others that were bumbling about, trying to bully their wings into doing as they wanted them to. TO kept their wings pressed firmly against their back as they fell so they could get better speed.
Foolish, they knew. One false move and they would be like the synth that splattered against the ground.
They suddenly spread their wings and managed to pull out of their dive just before hitting the floor. They gained some height from the power of the fall, and flapped up the rest of the way until they were once again flying in circles above the others who were still not quite ready to fly all the way to the top.
TO knew that their abilities in the air were - at least in their small group- unparallelled. They imagined that if anyone were to grab onto them, they’d manage to keep the two of them airborne.
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