It was a long long time ago.
She did not know anything apart from this city, and even then she only knew its darkest, poorest and dirtiest parts. And even more importantly, she didn’t know, who she was or how she ended up here.
One day she had simply opened her eyes and discovered herself and the feelings of knowing the world, when she saw, heard and felt the surrounding space. None of it made her feel happy, but then again she had yet to learn such concepts as joy, comfort or friendship. But she learned very quickly that she was different from the rest.
She woke up on something solid, near the endless expanse of waving, rolling blue-green mass. And, whether it was the cause of her awakening or simply accompanied it, there were sounds around. Even without turning her head, she could catch moving figures of living beings at the edge of her visual field. It was they who made the sounds that for some reason, gradually turned from an incomprehensible noise into something distinguishable and understandable. But some humming in her mind and a light fog that covered her vision still prevented her from fully understanding what was going on.
“Look!” one of the creatures cried, very loudly, making her feel even more confused:”It moves and it opened its eyes!”
People. This word came from somewhere from the depths of her being. Little people. Children. For some reason she began to understand them. But something seemed to be wrong, very wrong … they seemed hostile and she couldn’t understand why. But then she realized that she had the same, or, in any case, a very similar structure. Feeling her arms and legs, she tried to take the same upright position as the little people around her. The first clumsy attempt failed, returning her to a vertical position. It seemed that her arms and legs still didn’t obey her commands.
Again the children screamed.
“A living artifact! Look, look!”
They were … several of them. Yes, it seemed that there were five of them. She realized that she could count their numbers. She ran her hand across the surface of the ground she laid on, but there were too many small rounded pebbles to count. Her consciousness had become clearer, but something still flickered before her eyes, even as the world around got us clearer and clearer. At the same time, she could… smell. The smell of the sea. Yes, that huge rolling mass of water is the sea. She also suddenly felt pressure on the side of her body. This was caused by the children who had found sticks of wood from somewhere and now one of them was poking the side of her body with it. She looked at them and still didn’t understand why they seemed to perceive her as something different from themselves. She also had no idea what to do next.
Maybe their difference lied in the fact that she was lying down and they were standing up?
Someone poked her foot and jumped away, they all jumped excitedly, then they said something to each other. She suddenly understood that there was also some other difference between the children and herself, but the essence of it escaped her.
Now all of them were making strange movements around her, poking her with sticks, but she barely felt it. The desire to understand what the difference between them and her was, to check her hypothesis, made her attempt the upright position once more. And this time she succeeded. But she stood up too abruptly, suddenly and she was trembling on her feet, Children, some from fear, some from surprise jumped back and fell silent.
She looked at them. Maybe this will change things? Maybe now they’ll accept her as one of their own? But nothing changed. Her mind felt completely cleared up now and so with a clear consciousness she looked, felt and saw her alienness reflected in their eyes. She saw their aggression, aversion, that was now mixed with fear. But why?…
And when the first pebble flew and hit her chest and she realized that she herself … was afraid. As if feeling this, the stones flew more often. And then she ran. At first awkwardly, stumbling. All she wanted to do was hide, not feel this anger.
“Don’t let her go!”
“It’s an artifact-girl!”
“She’s naked! She’s naked!”
“Anyone who hits her in the head will get candy!”
Screams and stones flew, and she ran, not knowing why or where.
Since then it became their main source of entertainment. To find her. Then she was forced to run, not seeing the road, run along the shore and the coastal part of the city, past fish stalls and workshops, through streams of large, but indifferent or frightened people. She hid in a narrow place between the houses, behind wooden boxes that smelt of fish.
They searched for her and found her. Sometimes they didn’t. It turned out that she could run longer and faster, so the “game” never ended. Sometimes some tall man, an adult, would catch her by the arm or the shoulder and ask why she was running away, but then he would let go, perplexed, allowing the “game” to continue. Of course, they called it a game, she heard them do so, but didn’t really understand. For some reason, it seemed to her that a game should be something pleasant for everyone, not people trying to hit you with stones and dirt until you run away. Sometimes she didn’t run away. There were days when it was hard to move for some reason. She sat, hiding her face in her knees and hiding behind her hands, until they grew bored.
At first, upon realizing that everyone were wearing some pieces of cloth around their bodies, she found a piece of cloth for herself as well, wrapping herself in stiff brown fabric that someone had thrown away. Later, she realized that people carry things in that kind of fabric. Once, after it rained, she saw her reflection in a puddle and realized that she was different from humans. Yes, she was like them, but she also noticed a similarity to those, that people on the streets called “robots” or used the incomprehensible word “junk” for. Junk was laid in neat piles of iron at almost every corner. Robots were different in size and shape, but they were all reddish and dirty. Tired. Some moved and fulfilled some tasks for humans, but most belonged into the category of “junk.” Robots weren’t the same colour as humans, they didn’t speak or communicate with each other and they didn’t look as… whole as humans did. They were made of different parts, just like she probably was. Then she saw her nearly white skin, for the lack of a better word she used the term used for what covered humans’ body, that she knew from somewhere in the reflection of the puddle. Along her whole body there were symmetrically stretched strips of narrow slits in places where her parts apparently joined. So who was she? A robot or a man? After all she was like humans, only a little different, but she had eyes, hair, ears, nose and even a mouth, which for some reason had not yet been able to produce such sounds, as people’s mouths did, when she moved her lips. Otherwise, she would explain to children chasing her and everyone around her that she is not the same as this useless “junk” or barely stirring robots.
People also put something in their mouths periodically and moved them. So people fed, apparently, receiving energy from doing so. She very vaguely understood this process, but she also realized that she herself very rarely needed food. Only sometimes, when she found something that people had for some reason thrown out and that seemed edible, she ate it. Still, like her, people too began to feel tired when it got dark and almost all of them disappeared from the streets. During the day, when she had recovered from the fatigue of the dark time, she felt the urge to move, to get out of dark places, crawl out of her shelter, into the light. At such moments she was usually found.
And she got used to it. Or rather, because she had never known anything else, she adopted this way of life naturally. They were people, she was the unknown. She didn’t count how many changes of the light and darkness passed like this.
Until one day something strange happened, not to the people. Something good happened that changed her life. Or rather, maybe it was the beginning of her life?
It happened when her she was finally found again in the alley between the houses, wrapped up in her protective bag. For two changes the of light and darkness, they hadn’t found her, so well had she gotten to know the dark, the deserted world between the houses. It was one of those days when it was hard to move and she had not had the time to force her body to leave the shelter. She had neither the desire nor the strength to escape.
Having seen her, or rather her feet and head sticking out from between the empty wooden boxes and head, in a three-meter-wide alley, the children did nothing new or unexpected.
“There she is!” screamed one, the smallest, but that usually meant the loudest.
Knowing what will follow, she hid her head in her lap and shielded herself with her hands.
“She won’t run away! Bomb her!”
One day, having no other paths of retreat, she had ran right through their small crowd, knocking a few of them to the ground. Since then, they hadn’t come closer for some reason.
She felt a few hits — the first stones hit the body with a dull sound, bringing nothing but a new layer of dirt. Making a lot of excited noises, shifting and moving, they were aiming for her head and someone even hit it when, through the clenched knees and clasped hands, she caught something blurred and brown flashing past her towards the boys. The hits stopped for some reason. As did the noise. But then there was a new voice, also childish, loud and formidable.
“Stop it! What are you doing, she is completely defenseless!” She slowly, carefully lifted her head and saw the girl, stretched out, standing between her and the boys.
“Get away! This is our prey!” said the tallest boy, shaking his fist. He was immediately supported by several more.
“Look, Hannah’s protecting a robot!”
The girl did not flinch, and the arrogance of the formidable hunters diminished. And their “prey”, without understanding anything, observed.
“Yes, get lost! You wretched worms only know how to bully the defenseless! You’re not real men! Go away or I’ll call my sister!”
“Yes,” the agreed second. Her voice seemed smoother and softer.
“Will you introduce us, Hannah?”
“She doesn’t know or remember anything. The boys hurt her a lot. For a long while.” Hannah answered seriously, knitting her brows together.
“I see,” answered the second, as if that sentence had given her all the information she needed:”I’ll bring hot water.”
Artifact. An unknown alien thing in the world of humans and broken robots, for the first time since she woke, she stood straight, not hiding herself from humans. She remembered that first day on the beach, that fear and desire to hide. Now for some reason there was no fear. It seemed that now everything was fine.
The woman, who had just entered the house and had laid groceries from her bag out on the kitchen table, looked at her daughter with a warm smile. When she heard Hannah’s serious adult-like voice she already knew that there was a surprise waiting for her. The girls were planning something. Hannah had always, from the moment she had learned to make more or less meaningful sounds, amazed her mother with her rationality and confidence. However, like Nanami, who was a year younger than Hannah, her composure was not one of a child. The woman, who had already been a single mother of two for five years, had no idea how these children had grown up to be like this. But she had nothing to complain over. They could be left alone and she could be certain that nothing terrible would happen. Probably…
Marissa, the mother of two extraordinary children, put down a wisp of grass that she had just pulled out of the bag and looked at Hannah, making it clear that she was ready to listen.
“We have a surprise for you.”
“Yes. Only don’t act surprised, because that might frighten her. Mi, take her there.”
“It might? Who are…”
She didn’t have to finish her question, because as she entered the room with Nanami, there was a … “O fallen cities,” the woman muttered.
No, she had been wrong. This, she had not known to expect.
“I … I’m not all that surprised,” Marissa quickly corrected herself, shaking her head for extra persuasiveness.
Yes, she heard rumors in the city about this … this robot. One of those incomprehensible artifacts of antiquity, that are sometimes found in ruins or other abandoned places. Or that the sea flushes to the shore.
“We washed her, but didn’t have time to feed her,” explained Nanami.
It was one of those situations where Marissa did not know what to say to her children. She had to confess that such situations had recently become more and more frequent. To her the girls already seemed smarter than some adults. Surely smarter than some of her colleagues at the market. But why, in the name of the ancient cities did they mistake this, albeit unusual robot for a human?
“And what does it … she eat?” Marissa asked, just to fill the awkward pause that seemed to highlight her incompetence as a parent.
She looked into the eyes of the unexpected guest, who looked back without blinking. If the expectantly demanding gazes of her daughters seemed serious and adult-like, then these eyes, large and purple, were full of a questions, with a hint of completely … human interest. As a mother, she had already, without even realizing it herself, made a decision.
Nanami and Hannah looked at each other, puzzled and turned at once to their guest.
Marissa, whose surprise, caused by everything that was happening, had already subsided a bit, was finally able to properly look at their guest. This marvel of unknown technology, with human eyes, was a little taller than girls, she could have been given ten or eleven years old. Her hair was a little bristled after all the washing, but it was completely human, shoulder-length and completely black.
Her daughters had put her in a grey t-shirt and a short folded skirt, that appeared to be Hannah’s. Her physique was indistinguishable from human’s only her skin … or coating? .. was almost completely white. And on the open parts of her legs and arms, there were slightly darker symmetrical lines. The small neat face that had a miniature nose and tightly compressed lips, was coloured only a shade warmer than the body.
“Everything,” the girl answered quietly. It was a lively, human voice.
“Everything? You mean you will eat the spoon as well?”smiled Marissa. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed how tension left her daughters. She understood then that they had feared she would throw her out.
“I don’t know?” their interrogative girl-but-not-quite answered, as if she was not sure, whether it was the correct answer.
“This was a joke, child,” Marissa said, a little uncertainly, but she smiled encouragingly and nodded towards the table.
“Sit down, I’ll warm up yesterday’s stew. What is your name?”
This time Hannah answered.
She doesn’t know. We wanted to ask you to give her a name. If she doesn’t mind it.”
Once again, everyone turned their eyes to their guest, expectantly.
“I want a name,” she answered slowly, not at all embarrassed by all the scrutiny.
“All right. What shall we name you then. Girls?”
They girls already taken a seat on a bench near the wall, their guest sitting in the middle, at a small wooden table. Calling her mother over, Nanami had already up their guest’s left sleeve.
“She has letters and numbers here, but that’s hardly a name.”
Coming closer from the stove, where she had started to prepare food, Marissa, read the capital letters written on her guest’s forearm, under her watchful gaze.
– “A”, “N”, “I”, “X” three?
“Yes,” Hannah nodded thoughtfully, frowning “It must be her number.”
“Hannah, don’t say that,” Nanami said seriously.
“She’s almost as much of a human as we are. So we will not call her by number.” Marissa was amazed by her daughter’s confidence, but, looking at the black inscription ANI-X3, she had an idea.
“On the contrary, let’s use it – we will remake the number into a name. That way we will erase it. What do you think?”
“How can we remake it? Hannah asked.
“And does she even like the idea,” added Nanami.
The guest, who sat on the bench, sitting quietly, observing and listening, nodded silently.
“Then it’s simple,” said the mother with a smile.
“Let’s combine the two parts and remove the number.” With these words, she brought together her two index fingers, squeezing a spoon in her palm and finished:”Anix.”
Leaving the children to think over the proposal and returning to the stove to stir the stew in a saucepan over the burner, she thought with a smile: “It seems that now I have three extraordinary children.”
Behind her back came an uncertain, pleasant childish voice:”I like it.”