After their second meal, all the synths in training sat at desks and completed a series of puzzles on the hologram interface of their computers. Though this again was quiet and individual work, TO enjoyed it. They liked puzzles, even if they hated the silence. They liked the word problems, the logic problems, and the mathematical equations that they had to solve or prove. There were spatial problems, mazes, and even a simulation that threw them into puzzles or situations that needed fast responses.
TO enjoyed it all, but today they were not able to focus. They had their own puzzle to figure out: Why did they want to help DH?
Well, the answer that came to their mind went back to what the other synth had told them. DH was strange, and would be corrected, or repurposed. TO liked DH as they were because they talked to them, and TO had wanted someone to talk to for a while now. If they were corrected, they would not talk to them again, at least not like they did. If they were repurposed, they would not talk again ever.
They wanted to help them so that they would be good enough and competent enough, that DH's strangeness would be overlooked as it apparently was with TO. Sure, TO themself got strange looks often, and they were chided for trying to start up conversation, but no other synths had tried to attack them and they had been given nothing but positive comments from their Overseers.
They wanted to help them so that they would not be corrected or taken away, and TO would have their company in the future.
Company. Companionship? A friend? That felt like a good enough reason to TO, but they knew that it would be considered a strange one. Synths did not have friends, they had other synths that they worked well with, or who they did not work well with. There was ideally no emotional connection between it.
They failed the same puzzle for the third time and frowned as they reset the simulation. It was an easy puzzle, and they knew they could solve it if they were not so distracted, and perhaps a little distressed.
If they associated with DH, then according to 55H70, that would make them stand out more. Even during meal time they had seen that; DH’s actions had drawn the attention of the entire table! Would their strangeness draw unwanted attention to them? Would they themselves be considered a nuisance, a problem, be considered more trouble than they were worth if they were causing distractions?
Would they be corrected?
Would they be happier if they were corrected?
That thought hadn’t occurred to them before. They didn’t know what exactly happened when they were corrected, they only knew how different –how empty– others appeared when it happened. If they themselves were corrected, would they be content, like all the other synths seemed to be? Would they no longer have this overwhelming need to talk, to connect?
Would they no longer feel so lonely?
Maybe they should request to be corrected, if that would make them happier. Yes, they could go to their Overseer, and tell them that they needed correction, that something was wrong with them that they felt unhappy and discontent. Normally their personal happiness wouldn’t be a consideration since a synth shouldn’t be concerned for their own happiness, but for how they could serve King Decon. Wouldn't their discontent improve the argument for them needing to be corrected?
They reached out and hovered their hand over one of the holographic blocks that they had to move around. They had started with a tower of 5 blocks, and 5 pillars. They had to move the pile from the pillar on one end to the pillar on the other, but they could only move one block at a time, and they couldn’t put a bigger block over a smaller one. They knew it was simple. They knew the solution was right there. Maybe this would be easier if they got corrected as well. Maybe everything would be.
For them, but not for DH.
TO suddenly considered what would happen if they came back from being corrected, and DH started talking to them as they did at meal time. Maybe they would react like the other synths had to DH, with confusion and disdain. DH had looked so happy when they said they weren’t angry with them…
TO rested their head in their hands, frustrated. To anyone watching they wouldn’t be surprised at the gesture, it would just look like they were stuck and frustrated with the puzzle.
What do I want?
The thought almost startled TO. Want. They weren't supposed to want anything other than to serve King Decan, but if TO said that all they wanted was to serve, it felt practiced and flimsy. It felt like what they knew they should say, but not the truth.
The answer came quickly and unbidden, as quickly as the question had come to them in the first place. I want to spend time with DH. I don’t want DH to be sad. I want someone to talk to, someone who understands what’s in my head, and DH is the only one who has so far.
It was a selfish reason, and therefore not a good one- or at least not one that the Overseers would understand. Not one they could give to anyone if they asked them why they were helping DH, why they were spending time with them.
But… they didn’t need to know the truth, right? They needn't tell anyone the real reason why they were spending time with DH. They were doing it because helping a fellow synth would mean helping King Decan in the long run, right? A synth that was capable was worth far more than one that needed to be repurposed.
They looked back up at the hologram, and the answer was there, obvious and easy. They smiled as they started moving the blocks around, stacking them and moving them as they slowly managed to shift them from one pillar to the other.
They would help DH. DH would become capable, and they wouldn’t be taken away for correction or to be repurposed. If anyone happened to be concerned, then they could simply state that helping DH was, in the end, helping King Decan.
And in return, TO would have a friend.
For the synths, each 30 hour day was divided into three sections. 10 hours of physical training, 10 hours of mental training, and 10 hours for rest and recreation. There were of course the necessary meal breaks included at the beginning of each of those time periods. During their rest and recreation time they were encouraged to be productive when they were not sleeping. There were games they were given access to, ones to improve their logic, coordination, reflexes, and problem-solving. They were also allowed to use complex combat simulation games which helped them develop some basic combat skills before their training started in earnest. They could research if they wanted to. Hobbies - at least useful ones like programming and robotics- were encouraged.
TO generally spent this time doing one of two things- either they were in the shared dormitory, listening for any chatter as they read through scientific journals while trying to figure out how to communicate with the others, or they were in an empty flight room enjoying the freedom of flight. They didn't mind solitude, but the loneliness they suffered among other synths was almost unbearable.
This day, as soon as they finished their third meal, they ran to the flight room.
They had expected to see DH during the meal, expected them to come up to them and talk some more, but they hadn’t. To TO's surprise, their absence had filled them with concern- had something happened? Had someone complained about DH and as a result they had they been taken away to be corrected?
Had TO themself been too talkative, too emotional, and had DH decided to ignore them after all?
Their worries melted away as they approached the flight room. DH was there leaning against the wall, waiting for them. They heard TO approach, their ears flicking as they picked up the sound of their footsteps, and their face broke out into a wide smile as they saw TO.
“I wondered if you would come.” They admitted, “I thought perhaps you would have changed your mind.”
“Some do.” They looked away, rubbing their arms under the cloak of their wings, their ears drooping, “Sometimes… Sometimes people simply stop communicating with me. Even when I try -...” They shook their head, “I know I’m difficult to be around. I thank you for your patience, but many people chose to distance themselves from me after a short time.”
TO frowned, “Why would they do that?”
They shrugged, “I have a reputation, I’m told. I’m strange.”
TO’s mind went to55H70, who had warned them off of being around DH. Their ears pinned back as their eyes narrowed. Had they not been the first synth that they had warned off?
“I have, in fact, been told of your reputation.” TO said, “55H70 told me some things during my flight training earlier. Do you know them?”
The effect of saying that number was immediate; DH’s ears fell limp as they looked away, their eyes closed, their wings tightening around them.
“... I understand.“ They spoke so softly that even with their excellent hearing, TO had difficulty making out the words.
“You don't need to explain it to me.” they said, “I'll leave you alone. I’m used to it. You’re a good one, and I don’t want to see you corrected, or-“
TO narrowed their eyes as they stood before DH, putting a hand on their shoulder and turning DH towards them. DH looked at TO in confusion, looked at their hand on their shoulder, and at the sudden anger in their face, the pinning back of their ears, the way their wings puffed out slightly around their shoulders.
“No.” TO said firmly. “Has this happened before?”
“Y-yes?” DH said, “Yes. I may find one who will tolerate me for short periods, or even one who seems like they might enjoy conversing with me - not like you, but just ones who are polite, and at least listen.” They looked away, “But.. then sometimes, only hours later, they tell me I am dangerous. That they don’t wish to be repurposed, that they don’t need correction. Sometimes they apologize, sometimes they’re gentle, but it’s the same. Don’t talk to me. Don’t associate with me. Stay away from me.” They looked up at TO, and TO could see tears forming in the very corner of Dh's eyes, only just held back.
They had never seen another synth cry before.
“The one that attacked me in the physical training room, they were one I thought I could converse with. That lasted longer than normal, but … I suppose they just didn’t want to outright tell me to leave them alone. They got more distant, started pushing me away, then they attacked me. I didn’t understand. But now that you mention 55H70, it makes sense. I saw them conversing together briefly the other day, an … If they told you I have a reputation, I assume they warned others as well.”
TO gave a derisive snort, Cowardly.” They declared, “If they did not want to associate with you, they should have said as much.”
“They should have?”
“Yes. They caused the commotion in the training room, not you. They are to blame, not you. And from the sounds of it, they need correction, not you.
DH raised their hand as though they were scratching their nose, but very subtly tried to wipe away a tear that was starting to fall from their eyes, “And... you?”
“You… You aren’t going to tell me that you don’t want me around? That you don’t want my company? If you don’t, I’d rather know now-“
TO shook their head, put their arm over DH’s shoulders, and led them into the flight room, “I have no issues with your company, your chatter, or your mannerisms. though please, when you sit next to me at meal time, keep your voice down? I do dislike being stared at.”
DH’s ears were slowly starting to perk up as their eyes widened, “You.. Watt? Is it alright for me to sit with you again?”
“I was waiting for you earlier.” they said, “But no matter for now. You struggle with flight. I am very strong in the air. I will teach you how to fly very well, but in return…”
“Yes?” DH looked at them, suddenly focused, ready to take on any task TO gave them. Their excitement made TO smile. They seemed so happy, so egar that TO thought they could have asked DH to go spit in King Decon’s face and they would do it.
“You have a far more fluid, more casual way of speaking. Please teach me.”
DH laughed, and TO realized that it was the first time they had heard another synth laugh. To their surprise they felt their own laughter bubble up from their throat as their ears twitched with mirth.
“I will! You teach me how to fly, and I’ll teach you how to speak better!”
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell