The rain was cold, as was the morning. Not a bad thing, but also not good.
The maglevs couldn’t operate properly in inclement weather. Many commuters had to rely on alternate means of transport, but that’s another story.
The rain didn’t bother Don Mitchell.
He was out on his usual morning run. Up before 5:00 am, run five miles, then back in time for breakfast, just like the Navy taught him.
The cold didn’t bother him, either...this was nothing like BUDs Training. Active duty was never far from his mind...twenty years in, two years reserve duty, then retirement, all before he turned forty.
He was also the youngest flag officer ever in the history of the SEALs, retiring at the rank of captain.
Don liked the rain...it meant that the people he passed on the street weren’t androids. He knew about the damage water does to their skin, thanks to that rogue program that was turned loose in the population. Luckily, his personal android didn’t get infected. He often thought about her as he watched the commuter ships cross the skyline of the city.
He also thought about the night when they were out to the vidcaps. Three years into his retirement...A gang of thugs attacked them for no reason. Three didn’t get away. One ended up in the hospital on life support. Two of them got a lucky shot. The rest scattered like wharf rats. The taser pistol one of the cowards used ended Andi’s life...
Don chased the thought out of his mind. He had other things to concentrate on. He rounded the corner near his favorite bagel shop. He checked his heart rate for a moment, wiped the rain from his face, then went inside. It was warm, the bagels were fresh, and the coffee hot. Don dried his hands before going to the counter. The woman behind the counter sure looked real, but he could tell she wasn’t..
"Good morning, Captain Mitchell," she said.
Game Program One operating, he thought. He could just see the interface screen inside her torso scrolling the program along, had she been opened up. He saw that screen many times inside Andi’s own torso, when he was making minor adjustments to her many programs...He stopped again.
Play the game, he thought.
"Good morning, Bagel Lady," he responded.
Bzt bzt, whirr, clik clik, Don thought. Begin Game Program, interface: Level 2.
"Now, Captain Mitchell, how many times do I have to tell you? My name is Deanna," she said.
Game Program interface, namestring, search, humor, Don thought. He was accustomed to this particular program. Andraya’s had needed heavy overhauling before he got it right...
"And how often had I told you, my name is Don, but you can call me Skipper," he said, throwing a new twist into the game.
Deanna blinked a few times. Processing information...standby, Don thought.
"You have never told me I could call you Skipper," she finally responded.
New information stored, future reference, Mitchell, Don, namestring: Captain Mitchell, Don, Skipper, he thought. That’ll give her CPU something to figure out.
"Will you have the same food you like today...(pause)...Skipper?" Deanna asked.
"Yes, please, Deanna," Don said.
Deanna placed a cinnamon sugar bagel on a small plate, and filled a cup of coffee, three sugars and one-third cream.
"You have ordered these particular items two-hundred and seventy-three times since you began frequenting this establishment," she said.
Don smiled, more forced than real. This particular model looked so much like Andraya...
"Thank you, Andi...Deanna," he said. Oh, Christ, he thought. He countered quickly with, "Deanna, erase third word, Andi, break, after ‘you’, recent conversation, time 05:30."
Deanna blinked three times. "Third word, Andi, " she repeated, "erased from recent conversation."
Don paid for his breakfast, then found a seat near the window. As he ate, he found himself thinking back to the time he decided to get himself a android.
Ever since that hostage rescue mission in Iraq went so terribly...a fellow SEAL officer he cared about led the assault element. Her name was Andraya Krogness.
The entire assault team and forty-three innocent people slaughtered...he vowed then he’d never let another person whom he had cared about so much get that close to him. They were to have gotten married after that mission and retired from the military.
Don found himself on Guam shortly afterward, trying to climb inside a rum bottle. Then he came across the ad...
Custom Androids. You Tell Us What You Want. Reasonable Rates.
He jumped at the chance., and felt he had gained something back. He told himself he was doing this to help him get over Andraya’s death...all the base psychiatrists told him to put that incident behind him. Now, here he was, six months after losing her again...he had hoped he wouldn’t have gotten so close to the synthetic version of Andraya.
Those guys on Guam did excellent work. Everything about her was perfect...her long brown hair, her voice, her green eyes. At times, he had forgotten she wasn’t a real person. He’d even named her Andi...something the real Andraya liked...
He shook his head. He was determined to put this latest incident behind him. Six weeks in the hospital recovering from the near-fatal taser wound he received the night Andi died fortified his will. He found himself thinking about that night...they had gone to see a vidcap, "Exospheric Demons IV"...
"Oh, that was an excellent vidcap," she said as they exited the building.
"Where are we going now?"
"I figured we'd head out over to the park tonight," he said. "You do know why, don't you?"
"Yes! It's our twentieth anniversary," she said. "We always go to the park today."
"I can never surprise you, can I?" Don asked.
"Not often. It's nice when you try," Andi said.
Something, though, began to gnaw at Don's stomach, like it always did when trouble was coming. Perhaps he chose to ignore it, perhaps he just told himself it was nothing. He had one arm around Andi, and his other hand on the grip of his antique Colt .45 pistol. This particular weapon had been in his family ever since World War I, and had seen action in every conflict since. Although it wasn't as efficient as a taser cannon, it still packed quite a whallop. The ammunition was expensive as hell, but he didn't care. Plus, the shock factor of the noise added to it's lethality. They turned the corner to the park.
"It's as beautiful as I remember," Andi said.
"Anything for you, sweetheart," Don said. Then, he bumped into someone.
"Oh, excuse me," the man said, turning to Don, looking at him threateningly, but like he almost knew him.
Don stepped back. "Hey, not a problem. My fault," he said, taking a slightly defensive posture. He thought this person might have some exotic contact virus, one that his vaccinations might not handle.
"You got some money?" the man asked
"Nope, sorry," Don said. He had plenty on his debit card, but no hard currency.
"Then, I'll just take whatever you have," the man said, brandishing a knife.
Don stepped back, opening his jacket to expose his ancient Colt .45 pistol. He shook his head side to side, hoping this would scare the punk off. Andi backed away, hiding in the shadows.
"Defense Mode One," Don said to Andi. She ran to the nearest cover she could find. Sure, she could break the guy in half with her strength and agility before he even blinked. But risking exposing what she was... no, they couldn't risk it. They had planned it this way.
The punk watched Andi hide, something in his eyes. He wasn't just after a handful of money. Was he after the bounty that hung over the heads of all android companions? Don heard foot steps. Should he blow this guy away now before he's surrounded? Kill a guy with just a knife? He couldn't...maybe years ago, but not now.
"Stay there Andi, don't come out!" he shouted as the street began to fill up with more punks. They didn't have the hollowed eyes of hate freaks or skinheads. These people weren't doing this out of idealology. A dark rage began to fill Don up. To these people this was just business.
"Get the hell out of here," Don muttered to the guy with the knife.
Fearless, the lead punk signaled for the rest of his people to fan out.
Don's mind began to render the situation differently. He hadn't been near combat for years but suddenly they all became targets. He moved his archaic weapon from target to target, but they just came closer to him, some swinging chains, others with taser pistols hanging from their hips.
'Damn, they don't even know what this thing is,' Don thought.
He didn't even think about it. His finger worked on its own. He fired, the gun impossibly loud, hitting the leader in the chest. He fell to his knees letting loose one godless howl before slumping over motionless.
In the next second everything was insane. Chains swept down at him, boards crashed upon his shoulders. In flashes he would never truly remember his gun went off and targets were killed. Taser bursts exploded around him. He kicked and snapped limbs, reverting to close quarters combat.
He found himself kneeling, reeking of gunpowder, and somehow in posession of a chain. He held it around a man's thick neck, twisting it tighter and tighter until he stopped kicking. As the man slumped motionless, Don rose instantly aware of what he had done. Two of the attackers were limping away, one coughing up blood as he went. The first one laid chest torn open, eyes open staring at nothing. There was the one he had killed with the chain and another dead man, half sprawled into a dumpster his neck twisted in a hideous manner.
There was another man, laying face down, moaning lowly, blood draining away from his head. Don turned him over to reveal a face and neck burned dark purple by a taser blast.
"Not mine." He exhaled, feeling relieved. The slide on the .45 had locked back, the magazine empty. He looked at his arm, still bleeding. He wasn’t registering any pain...yet. He released the slide and re-holstered his weapon. "Dammit! Wish I hadn’t had to do that, " he said to himself.
He then looked around for Andi. "Andi, where are you?" he called. No response. "Andi? Secure from battle stations." Still nothing.
Then, he heard something...like electricity arcing.
Don felt a cold chill go through his body. "Oh, God, Andi, no, no, no, oh, please, God, no," was all he could say. The tears began to flow. He ran toward the sound, fearing the worst.
And, he was right. Several of the taser bolts blew Andi’s chest open, intermittent sparks jumping from her body. Don knelt on the grass near her. One arm was detached from her body. He cradled her head in his arms, his blood staining her long brown hair.
She looked at him and blinked her eyes. "I seem to have experienced a major malfunction," she said. "Diagnostics indicate five minutes of life remaining. System error...unable to save program. Remote backup inoperative."
Don knew this was a fatal wound. He’d never get her to a repair facility in time. He wiped his eyes. "I can’t fix you this time, honey. Your time with me is over."
She looked at his face. "Don, your eyes are wet. Are you sad?" she asked.
Funny thing she’s asking, he thought. She’s about to die, and she’s asking me if I’m sad!
"Yes, Andi. I am very sad. You will not be with me any longer after tonight."
A spark shot from her chest."Diagnostics indicate two minutes remaining. Error...remote backup inoperative," she said.
Don fought for the words he wanted to say. "Andi, do you know what love is?" he asked.
Her left eyelid began to spasm. "Love. Defined as..."
"No, no, not the dictionary version. What is love, as defined by me?" he asked.
"Love is what two people feel for each other. It is not so much as a feeling as an emotion," she said. "One minute, thirty-two seconds remaining."
"Discontinue countdown, please, " Don said. He wanted their precious few seconds remaining to last forever. "Do you feel love for me, Andi?"
"Yes, Don, I do. I cannot explain how I love you...I just do."
"If you cannot explain it, you know what it's like to feel love. I love you, Andi. Remember that."
"I will," she said. Another spark. "Default...system error. Cascade failure, all systems. Neural net failure. CPU code 404. Software error. System failure...error...life functions will cease in...
"Disregard final countdown." Don sat back on the grass, cradling Andi’s head, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I love you, Andraya Mitchell. Be happy," he said, using her full name.
"I...will," she managed to say. Her body began to twitch and spasm, as her mainframe began crashing. Don knew there was nothing he could do. Andi’s speech was slurred and broken.
Another spark. "Hello. I am Model KX-031. How may I serve you...Software reboot failure. I love you, Donald Mitchell..." Her final words after that were more of a modem squelch as she closed her eyes for the last time. Don bent to kiss her. Then, excruciating pain...from the head wound he never felt, until now. He passed out...
Don shook his head. This was a different voice talking to him. He focused his eyes on the woman standing before him. He recognized her as Lt. Lori Barnes. She was the police psychiatrist he had spoken with after he’d gotten out of the hospital.
"Oh, Lieutenant Barnes! Hello! Please, sit down," he said.
Lori sat opposite of Don. "Now, Captain, don’t make me tell you to call me by my name," she said.
"I will, when you stop calling me Captain," he said, then added, "Lori."
"Okay...Don," she countered, smiling. "A penny for your thoughts."
Don stopped. "A what for what?"
"A penny for your thoughts," Lori repeated. "It’s something my grandfather used to say a lot. It means, what’s on your mind?"
"Well..." Don began. "I was just thinking about you." Not entirely true, but this will suffice, he thought.
"Why, thank you! I don’t hear that very often. At least, not the way you said."
Don couldn’t help but smile. It was just something about her that made him feel good. If he wasn’t so depressed over losing Andi...
"You were thinking about your android...oh, what was her name? Andi, right?" Lori asked.
"How did you know?" Don said, as he took a sip of his coffee.It had gone cold.
Lori put her hand on his. He didn’t draw away. "I just knew. Believe me, it’s okay to feel a sense of loss, Don. I understand she was very special to you." I’d like to feel special to you, she thought.
"We were together for twenty years, Lori," Don started. " Twenty years. Androids just don’t last that long. Five, six years tops!"
Lori squeezed his hand. Don responded by turning his over and taking hers.
"I bought her in Guam. She was a custom job. Did I tell you about Operation Purple Dog?"
"The blown hostage rescue job?"
"Yeah. Legally, I can’t talk about it, since it’s still classified. A lady I cared about very much led the initial assault..." He looked away, tears forming in his eyes. "I had Andi built to resemble her in every way possible, to help me get over losing the real Andraya."
This is a first, Lori thought. He’s never told me there was a "real" Andraya.
"I wish I could get over Andi, Lori. It hurts so much, but she was just..." His voice began to break.
"No, she was not ‘just’ an android," Lori finished for him. "She was your best friend, and she died as she lived. In love with you."
Don wiped his eyes and cleared his throat. "Humans and androids aren’t supposed to fall in love. Supposedly, it’s not in their programming, but it happens. The base shrinks told me it will, that you tend to regard androids as real people. I’ve always regarded Andi as a real person. In my mind, Andraya wasn’t really dead, as long as I took care of Andi. But when that skinhead punk shot her, it shocked me into admitting what she really was. I’ve thought long and hard about that night...maybe those punks were after her CPU, or they were just having a bad night."
Okay, we’re on the right track, Lori thought. Help him out of his depression. Get him to talk about this.
"You know it’s fairly common for humans and androids to fall in love," she said, changing the subject.
"I know that," Don said. "The base shrinks told me that. I hoped I wouldn’t...I guess I had Andi made a little too real. Maybe I was more in love with Andraya than I thought. And..."
"And, what?" Lori asked.
"And...I know what you’re trying to do. I appreciate your helping me, but I have to deal with this on my own."
Lori looked sad. She thought they were making great progress, but Don was right. Rushing his recovery wouldn’t help. She felt something for this man that she hadn’t felt in a long time. Was it love? A strong respect? Friendship? She couldn’t tell. Her own past relationship left her pretty hurt, too. She knew how Don was feeling. Alone and hurting, looking for answers. She looked down at their hands.
"Lori, I promise you. When I sort this out, you will be the first to know," Don said.
He’s going back into his shell, she thought. "Okay, Don," was all she could make herself say.
"I’d love to spend some time with you," he said, as he gently lifted her chin. "But, as I said, I have to sort this out." He kissed her hand."Thank you for being my friend." A chill went through Lori’s body.
Nobody had ever done that to her. Strangely enough, it felt good.
Don stood up. "Can I call you later?" he asked.
Lori looked at him. Maybe this little session did some good. He never asked if he could call her before.
"Um...sure. You have my number?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I can call you at work, right?"
"Sure thing, Don. Talk to you later," she said as he walked away. She reflected on their conversation. They had never talked this much before about his losing his android. Perhaps I need to get him in to see Charlie, she thought. He could really help him get over his loss. But, she knew what he’d say. "Keep talking to him. He’ll come to terms with it in his own time. Don’t rush it. Those Navy guys are trained that way. Don’t push him so hard...you will only hurt him more."
She went to take a sip of coffee...then realized she hadn't bought any. Dammit, she thought. Got too caught up in Don’s mess. She looked over to the counter, and saw the android waitress. No wonder he likes coming here, she thought. She looks like Andi. Interesting, but he’s only delaying the inevitable.
Don stopped by the cemetery later that day. He went to Andi’s grave to talk to her. He always did when he was extremely depressed, and today was no exception. He thought about the hassle he went through to give her a traditional burial. The funeral home told him he had to bury her in a android cemetery.
"I won’t have this, goddammit! She wasn’t just any goddamned android! I’ll bury her myself in a traditional cemetery, come hell, highwater, or the second coming of Jesus Christ Himself, with or without your help!" he had said.
The funeral home politely refused, citing some obscure federal regulation forbidding android remains to be interred with human remains in the same cemetery. Don then took Andi’s body to a private cemetery and had a traditional Christian burial. All the guys from The Broken Jaw turned out to say goodbye to her. At least, this gave him something to hold on to what little remained of her...eighteen months after she died. Something to keep her memory alive. He laid a fresh red rose on the grave.
"Hello, honey. It’s been awhile." He looked up into the rain. "God, I miss you. Both of you." A rumble of thunder rolled across the sky. "We’ve had this conversation before...twenty years ago, when I told you goodbye, Andraya. I introduced you to Andi, and asked if it was okay for her to have your name. I still believe that white dove I saw was you saying it was okay. Now, Andi’s there with you, I hope...hell, I don’t know. Do androids have a soul?"
Lightning flashed as he looked at the grave again, the rose sinking into the mud. Don knelt beside the mound where Andi laid at rest, six feet under. "I know you, Andi, were a android, but you were also a real person. I’m trying to get over both of you, but that’s incredibly hard. You don’t just throw away a life like an old battery. We had twenty years together, all over the world, showing you the sights Andraya would never see again. Join the Navy, the poster said, and see the world...until goddamned punk took all that away from us!" he screamed. Tears began to flow freely as he expressed his feelings for both his dead friends. "Dammit, Andi, I loved you! Both of you!" Lightning and thunder cracked above him. The rain began to fall harder. "You were a real person to me!’ he screamed again. "Goddammit, why?" he said, as he sat down by the headstone, crying.
"I loved you," he whispered, almost inaudibly to himself. "I loved you..." His voice trailed off.
He sat in the rain for what seemed like hours, tears streaming down his face...
A lone figure was watching Don as he sat down by the grave. She got out of the car and walked over to him. She put a hand on his shoulder.
Don looked up. He saw a female face through the rain and tears.
"Need a friend?" Lori asked, as she extended her hand.
He took her hand, and stood up. He looked at her for a moment, then embraced her in a bear hug. Tears flowed freely again as Lori put her arms around her friend. "Let’s go home," she said, as she guided him to her car.
"Vehicle start. Destination, Home," she said, as she closed the doors. Don was emotionally exhausted and dozed off on the ride to Lori’s townhouse. She couldn’t help but hold his hand. She finally put a name to the feelings she had for Don. She did love him. Even if he didn’t love her back right now, she wondered if he could ever feel the same way for her. He will, she thought. Just give it time.
Hours later, Don awoke on a couch.
Where the hell am I? How did I get here? Where was here? he thought. Then, he heard a sound. Water running in the adjacent room. It shut off, then the sound of water dripping and a door opening. He looked around. This has to be Lori’s place, he thought. He vaguely remembered a face through his misery at Andi’s grave. A strong hug, then he passed out in a car. He felt his face. His eyes hurt from all the crying he had done earlier. But, strangely enough, he felt better for having done that. Eight months of bottled-up emotions had erupted to the surface. He laid back and stared at the ceiling. A plain white color...and for no apparent reason, he felt like the world had been lifted from his shoulders. He closed his eyes...
"Hello there, sleepyhead."
He literally jumped.
"Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you," Lori said.
He looked at her. Her blonde hair was damp, her body wrapped in a towel. He guessed she stood about five feet four inches barefoot.
I’ve never seen Lori like this, he thought, but, then again, I’ve only known her for a short time. Maybe I am getting over my depression...hell, I don’t know, anymore.
He looked at her again, as she was drying her hair. A familiar feeling began to creep into his depression...something for Lori now? He wasn’t sure...more than just friends, perhaps?
"How are you feeling, Don?" she asked.
Don hesitated. "Um...okay, now," he said. "I remember someone asking me if I needed a friend. Thank you for being there."
"I couldn’t leave you alone, knowing how miserable you were."
Don eyed the towel Lori was wearing. "Taking a few liberties, aren’t we?"
"I don’t wear a robe. I’m not embarrassed...are you?"
Don faked it, though, by putting his hand over his eyes. "Oh, my, yes, I am!" he joked.
"Well, your sense of humor seems okay," she remarked.
"Wait until you really get to know me," he said, a slight smirk on his face..
A gleam appeared in Lori’s eye. "Is that a proposal?" she asked.
Don looked at her. "Possibly. I’m still not too sure about my feelings yet. I want to take this one step at a time. You’re a very special lady, Lori. I’d like to be better friends, if you don’t mind."
She sat down on the couch. "Oh, I think we could be better friends." She took his hand again, much like earlier that morning at the bagel shop.
"You sure are a persistent li’l cuss, ain’t you?" he said.
"That’s why I made lieutenant so quickly," she said. She stood up and walked over to where she had some clothes lying over a chair. Don respected her privacy by turning his head as she got dressed.
"Okay, you can look now," Lori said.
Don turned around. Lori was dressed in a nice outfit; a mid-length skirt, sweater, and slippers. She pressed a button on a remote, and a fire sprang to life. She returned to where she was sitting a few moments ago.
"Well, this is nice," Don said. "You do this often?"
"Only when I want to relax...and have friends over." She took his hand again.
Don looked at her for a moment, then looked into her eyes.
"Well, don’t just sit there, Captain Mitchell. If you’re going to kiss me, I won’t stop you," Lori said as she put her arms around him.
"Far be it for me to disappoint you, Lieutenant Barnes," Don said, as he kissed her, lightly at first, then more passionate. He felt something...then, he broke the kiss.
"What’s wrong?" Lori asked.
"Nothing...I’m not sure...hell, I don’t know. I haven’t felt this way for a real person in a very long time," he said.
"You were thinking about Andraya, weren’t you?"
Don looked away for a moment, then into her eyes again. He took a deep breath. "Yes," he whispered.
"I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to," Lori said. She began to kiss him.
He pulled her close, enjoying the moment. Twenty years seemed to fade in a matter of moments.
This familiar feeling, he thought. But with a new person. I could learn to like this. I should give it another try.
He knew what it was...he felt the same way for Andraya and Andi...but he still wanted to be sure.
"Y’know something," he said when they broke. "I have a confession."
"What?" Lori asked.
"I never told you the whole story about Lieutenant Andraya Krogness."
Lori sat back. "I figured there was more than you were telling."
"Well, I’d better tell someone, and who better than a psychiatrist," Don said. "We met after she was assigned to SEAL Team 6. She’d only been with our unit about 18 minutes when I decided I wanted to date her."
"What about the first 17?"
"She knocked me on my ass."
Lori laughed. "Were you a captain then?"
"Hell no! I was a lieutenant JG then."
Lori was still giggling. "What did you do to get knocked on your ass?"
"I made a crack about how some pretty girlie thought she was as tough as a REAL Navy SEAL, and she proved it!"
"I’d have paid good money to see that!" Lori said.
"Yep. She got in my face and said, ‘I’m as tough as they come, and don’t you ever forget that, Lieutenant Mitchell!’ Then, she helped me off the floor."
"And...I took her to dinner that night. She earned my respect, and I always liked that about her. She wasn’t afraid to show her feelings or speak her mind...much like you."
"Are you comparing me to her?" Lori asked.
"Not at all. I see a lot of things Andraya was, in you now. I think back, and I see a lot of you in what Andraya was then.
"I noticed you didn’t say ‘could have been,’" Lori said.
"That wouldn’t be fair to you," Don said. "If we’re going to have some kind of relationship, I don’t ever want to start saying, ‘Well, Andraya did this, or Andraya was that, or that she would never do something else’. She is in my past...you are in my present, and hopefully, my future."
"What about your android?" she asked.
Don thought a moment. "What you said this morning. She was my best friend, and she died as she lived. In love with me. And, yes, I did love her."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Are you interrogating me, or asking me?" Don half-joked.
"I’m asking you, Don. How do you feel about that?"
He thought again for a moment. "Care to discuss this over dinner?"
Lori was shocked, but felt a smile growing on her face. She could barely believe the words she said next:
"Sure! Where are we going?" She looked at the clock. "Oh, it’s late...there’s no place open at this hour."
"Bet me?" Don said.
Lori couldn’t resist. "You’re on, Captain Mitchell!"
"As much time together as we can handle if I can name one place that’s open right now?"
"You’re still on!" she reaffirmed.
"The Broken Jaw...my buddy George Wilson owns it."
Lori frowned. "Oh, geez! I hate that place."
"A bet’s a bet...you have to pay up. And, besides, Sparks runs a respectable business. It isn’t like it has been, believe me. Just try it out...if you don’t like it, I won’t make you go there ever again."
"Okay, but first, I need to give you something," Lori said.
"What’s that?" Don asked.
"My respect," Lori said. "’And, don’t you ever forget that, Captain Mitchell!’"
Don smiled as they kissed again, holding each other close. All his troubles and cares seemed to melt away in her arms....