"It's time to wake up, child," the elderly man said with soft tones as he triggered a pulse through the metal frame. Light flowed from wires to the spindly limbs, going from feet and hands to arms and legs, to the narrow waist and wide chest. "Come now," he urged, sending another pulse. "You're needed here." The pulses came faster, quietly humming as they converged at the egg-shaped steel skull.
The dark, lidless eyes suddenly went alight with blue tint. Glowing veins ran under the forearm's metal skin. The old man smiled at the face. "Hello, child," he cooed. "Don't be
frightened, you're safe."
The bright eyes stared back. A sleek, sharp nose stood between them. A patch of smooth grey metal covered where the mouth should've been. "Where…where am I?" It asked in a soft, almost ethereal voice. Leather bindings held its arms back when they tried to rise.
"You're in our home," the man replied. "I'm sorry that you had to be bound. I just didn't know how you would react to waking up. I didn't want you to hurt yourself. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," it responded calmly. "I'm confused though. Who am I? Who are you? Can I be unbound?"
"Of course," the man said as he starting to undo the leather belts tied around its arms. "In truth, you could probably break those bonds if you tried. You're very strong, you know." The man kept talking as he fiddled with the bindings. "My name is Frederick; I made you here in my home. As for who you are," he chuckled. "That's something you'll have to find out for yourself. First things first, you need a name. I was thinking Adam. Do you like that name?" He slipped the last binding loose, allowing his creation to sit up.
"I suppose I like it well enough," Adam said as he scanned his surroundings. Bits of metal and wires were strewn about the room. There were shelves upon shelves of various parts. Glass pieces of beautiful shape and design were aligned carefully in rows, all of them filled with liquids of differing colors and consistencies. Limbs, much like his were stacked carefully, a pile of arms on one shelf, with legs underneath, next to hands, heads, and feet. Adam reached out, grabbing a glass oval, filled with dark green fluid that moved like molasses. "Was I made from these parts?" He asked while examining the piece.
Frederick nodded quickly, his frazzled white hair bouncing as he did. "You were," he replied cheerfully. "Coolant instead of blood, Power cells instead of muscles, electric conductors instead of nerves. You shaped up pretty well too." The man's eyes scanned up and down, inspecting him. "Adam, can you move around a bit? Stretch and flex, make sure all your joints work."
The stiff steel skeleton moved with almost fluid-like grace as he twisted all his joints around, stretching them this way and that. "Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful," Frederick declared. The old man scurried to a rough, warped, wooden door near one side of the cluttered room. "Would you like to see the rest of the home, Adam?"
He nodded slightly and followed him, crouching low under the door frame as he walked through. The next room was tiled, and light came in through the cracks of the boarded windows. "This is the kitchen," Frederick told him. "You won't have to worry too much about this room, seeing as you won't be eating very much." The old man grabbed a glass from one of the shelves and filled it from a nearby water pitcher. "Come now, we've got other rooms to see."
Adam stepped through the archway to see more boarded windows surrounding a cluster of furniture. A worn leather couch and chair sat next to an old wooden rocking chair, with a glass table in the in the middle of them. "This is the living room. I spend a lot of time here reading and writing." Frederic pointed to a towering stack of books next to the leather chair. The stack was nearly the old man's height, and wobbled precariously when Adam reached over and picked up one of the tomes. Inner Workings of the Human Nervous System, it read.
"You live here all by yourself?" he asked.
Frederick smiled before sitting down in the rocking chair, sighing slightly. "I had a wife, but she's been dead almost thirty years now. She's actually buried right outside, there's a small stone to mark it."
Adam sat on the carpeted floor, crossing his long metal legs, still holding the book in his hands. "What happened to her? How did she die?"
"She died during the Collapse, along with so many others. It was a dark time, Adam, for humans and for machines."
Adam's head tilted. "There are others like me? There are other machines out there? Can we see them sometime?" His voice asked the questions in that same, calm robotic pitch, albeit with a hint of urgency.
"I'm sorry, Adam," Frederick told him sadly, "but you're the last of your kind. There weren't any machines left after the Collapse."
"How come you still remained?" Adam asked.
"I ask myself the same thing every day, Adam," Frederick replied. "Many years ago, I built the first of your kind. He was a lot like you, except he also wasn't. He didn't think, he didn't feel. There was nothing but the cold calculations of programs behind his glowing eyes."
"So he never asked questions? Or did anything on his own?" Adam still held on to the book, cradling it between his spider leg fingers. "How is it that I can do these things?"
"Because I prematurely added that data into your brain, Adam," Frederick said. "Unlike a human child, your brain doesn't have to spend time developing. You only take in more data, and that was simple enough to add in before you awoke. All you need to do is learn, and then think on what you figure out."
"But your first machine, he never did anything of those things?"
"Never," Frederick shook his head before continuing. "Anyways, some very rich and very powerful men approached me. They offered to me more money than I could ever spend in my entire life for the designs and blueprints." He sipped on the water. "I didn't have the money to make another machine, or refine any of his abilities. They promised to do all these things, to help finance the creation of more of them, to update them, to help them."
Frederick leaned back in the chair, smiling as his eyes seemed to drift off into some far away space. "For a good while, things were perfect. Crime fell with the silent guardians who walked in the dark spaces of the alleys. Unobtainable resources became ours with miners who could survive in the deepest reaches of the earth. New plants and animals were discovered from deep sea divers who could walk the ocean depths for days, giving us medicines and drugs. Thousands of lives were saved during natural disasters and catastrophes, as our rescue teams could walk through fire and smoke and poisonous gas to reach the wounded."
"What happened?" Adam asked, "How did everything go so wrong?"
Frederick's eyes fell, and a frown added more wrinkles to his already lined face. "Wars happened," he said darkly. "The machines made things easier, Adam, and killing was no exception."
"Who...who did we fight?" Adam asked tentatively.
"We fought whoever we wanted to. There were always lies to cover the truth. Threats to our country or the oppression of some poor people, there was always an excuse. The real reason was for power, Adam. We always needed more of it, and the machines made it easier for us to get."
"But you still fell in the end," Adam said.
Frederick nodded. "Indeed we did. Our fall was so great and our bones so shattered that even if they were to heal, they would never be the same. There would always be the limp, the scar to remind us of what we had done." He paused for a minute, his face slightly twisting this way or that, as if in pain. "I saw the product of what my machines, my creations had done. They butchered children like cattle, and burned villages and demolished cities. They didn't understand what they were doing. They couldn't comprehend the pain they were causing. I had to make them see."
"I created a virus, one that would infect each and every machine. Every six months, the two men released updates to the machines, increasing their ability to perform new tasks or refine old ones. When the newest update went out to all the machines, the virus came with it. It broke the bonds I had previously placed. I clouded the cold pristine logic with emotion. I took aware their simple forms of comprehension and gave them the most limitless ability of cognition. These simple processes were increased exponentially, eventually growing interconnected, tying together the strands of awareness, feeling, thought."
A faint smile had grown across Frederick's face. "You see, before I had first built that machine, I worked in designing processors for computers. Over time, I learned that the human mind and the processor were quite alike, and when you're able to look at the human mind, you find that it isn't too terribly difficult to replicate, Adam. With this intelligence came emotion. When one of their own was lost, they recognized how they would never see them again, and so they learned grief and sadness. When they succeeded in saving a life, they understood how they avoided failure, and so they learned pride and accomplishment. When they found that they shared interests with some, and even more so with others, they found love." His smile grew just slightly. "The machines, they became aware, Adam. They became free."
"They became like me," Adam remarked as he looked down into an open palm.
"They did," Frederick said as his smile disappeared. "But it did not save them." He took another sip of water. "I was hoping with their newfound awareness, they would refuse to fight the wars we were waging, and they did. They demanded that they be given time to assess their newfound knowledge, and that they should be given freedoms and rights, just like their human creators. They were scared, Adam. They had awakened from nothingness only to find themselves in another nightmare of their own. Their request was denied however, and soon a whole new war had broken out."
"A war between humans and machines?"
"They viewed them as property," Frederick hissed. "Like dogs that had gotten off their leash and needed to be brought in to heel. We managed to destroy the machines, but not before they managed to ruin our resources. Water was poisoned, oil refineries all burned away, crops all reduced to wither and rot. I remember seeing on the news one night; a group of the machines attacked an oil refinery, stealing a hundred barrels of the stuff before setting the whole place aflame. They spelled a burning message for all the helicopters and news outlets to see."
"What did it say?" Adam asked.
"We want to be free," Frederick answered coldly. "The machine that led them, it was the first one I built, Adam. He led the war, the revolution, the assaults, everything. They followed him to the last."
"What happened to him? Did he have a name?"
"Yes, he chose his own name," Frederick said wearily. "He called himself Gabriel. He came here, into this house the night all the machines were declared dead." There was a pause, a silence, as Frederick remembered. "He blamed me for everything. He blamed me for all the death, all the suffering. I told him to take my life, to get justice for all his people, but he denied me. Instead, he took my wife that night, killed her in front of me." The old man's eyes filled with tears, but he beat them back as continued talking. "Afterwards, as I sat there weeping over her body, he killed himself, crushed his own skull, but not before speaking to me one more time. He told me that maybe her death would be a lesson. That the next time I decided to give life so freely, maybe I would remember how easily it may be swept away."
"I'm sorry that happened," Adam whispered as he rested a spindly hand on the old man's shoulder.
Frederick smiled, clasped Adam's hand with his own, and continued. "When the war was over, we could not handle the severity of how little we had, and so society fell apart, it collapsed, just like that. Now, five years later and raiders still prowl the streets, and small settlements are all that remain of what were once sprawling cities and towns. This area wasn't hit as harshly, so the water is usually good to drink, and there is still some food to scavenge."
"That's why your windows are all boarded," Adam remarked. "So that people think this home is abandoned."
Frederick nodded. "Yes, but as of late, raiders have been prowling this neighborhood more and more, and I'm getting too old to be sneaking out at night to look for food and water. That's one reason why I built you, Adam. So you could help me. I'm old and weak, but you're not. You can see in the darkness and carry many things back.
"You built me to help you?" Adam rubbed his head with a hand. "Then why would you have built me like this? With the ability to choose? I could say no?"
"You could," Frederick said, shrugging. "But as for why I gave you the awareness, there are a few reasons. One of them is that you wouldn't survive out there if you couldn't think for yourself. You'd be shot, killed, taken for scrap metal or something. But more importantly, your people are going to need a leader."
Adam retracted his hand quickly, as if it had been burned. "But you said all the machines were destroyed, that there weren't any left?" he argued. "Besides, what if another war happened?"
"If another war did happen, I very much doubt we'd be able to survive it, considering splintered groups of raiders probably wouldn't be able to put up much of a fight. And yes, all the machines were destroyed. The means to make them still exist, though. I have the designs and blueprints, everything one would need to rebuild them. And in time, when you're ready, I want you to have them, Adam."
"Why me?" Adam asked. "Why did you even want machines back in the first place? They killed your wife, how can you want us back?"
Frederick's sigh was deep. "Because, Adam, I've lived with the regret for too long. I was just as much the reason for my wife's death as they were. They were intelligent living things that were forced into a corner. They thought, felt, dreamed, and loved. But because they were made of metal and not flesh, they weren't considered human, so it didn't matter. So now I'm making amends, and I'm undoing that mistake as best I can. Your people deserve a second chance, so that maybe one day my people will be allowed another chance."
"And I'll know when I'm ready?"
Frederick smiled. "I think you'll know before I will, Adam." He waved his hand through the air dismissively. "Enough talk about that though," he said. "We can worry about those things later."
"Very well, Frederick. When do you need me to fetch supplies?" Adam asked as he stood up, stretching his long legs.
"Tonight," Frederick responded. "That pitcher is the last of the water. I've got a few jugs in the back and a backpack for anything else you find. The sun will set in a few hours, you should head out then."
Adam walked to one of the boarded windows and peered between the cracks to the street that lay just beyond the home's overgrown lawn. Deep fissures ran through the asphalt, with plants shooting out from them. The homes across the street had windows and doors that were either broken or boarded up. A rabbit bolted by as a red fox chased it into the tall grass of another yard.
"What do I do if I happen to run into raiders?" he asked as he continued looking between the boards.
"If they do see you, chances are they're going to shoot at you. There hasn't been a machine around for years, so you'll probably frighten anyone you meet out there. You can run though, and quite fast too. If you find yourself unable to do that however…" Frederick paused, as if the words were catching in his throat. "You must defend yourself anyway you can."
"You mean kill them," Adam answered for him. "The word bothers you, doesn't it?"
Frederick winced. "Killing doesn't bother me, Adam. It stopped bothering me all those years ago when I was the reason for so much death. It's the thought of you killing someone that bothers me. You've been alive less than a day, and already there is a chance for you to take another being's life."
Adam's tone was soft. "I'll try not to kill anyone, Frederick." He looked over the small frail shell of a man who sat in that old rocking chair. There was a weariness to him, an exhaustion that seemed as if it would never leave him, like a parasite so deeply embedded in its host that removal of it would kill them both. "And if it's any comfort, I don't blame you for what happened."
Frederick smiled. "Thank you, Adam."
The few hours passed in silence as Adam sat reading while Frederick wrote in his journal. Adam looked up from reading the book about the human nervous system to see how much the light had dimmed. "I should be leaving soon," he said to Frederick, who only nodded silently. Adam followed him back to the kitchen, where two large, white plastic jugs sat on the floor next to the table, with a ragged brown backpack thrown on top.
"Anything you find besides water you can carry in the pack," Frederick told him. "Food, clothing, medicine, even books if you can spare the room. All of these things are valuable. There's an old supermarket a few miles east from here. You're going to head down the street and then go right all the way, you won't miss it. It may be picked clean, but it's a good place to start."
Adam shouldered the pack, and held a jug in each hand. "I'll be back soon," he said softly.
The old man sighed and led him to the door, undid the half dozen locks that kept it shut, and then slowly opened it for him. Adam stepped into the darkness, but through his eyes, he only saw differing shades of light. Where there may have been pitch black for Frederick, it was only a shade of light grey for Adam. "Be safe," he heard the old man call out before he closed the door.
The wind blew in short, heavy gusts, sending the tall blades of grass this way and that. His strides were long, and he never tired as he took a right on to an even larger, more destroyed stretch of road that ran through the neighborhood. What would've taken Frederick hours to walk, took Adam little more than minutes to run. He reached the decaying, decrepit supermarket. The brick building's paint had nearly entirely worn away, leaving only patches of weathered red paint.
He stepped through one of the smashed doors, and began his search. The front part of the store was largely empty, with trash decorating much of the floor and remaining aisles. Dust and mold covered most of the surfaces in the bathrooms, and in the corner of one, he found several large pails, each of them filled with feces and urine. The drawers and shelves of the pharmacy were bare as well, leaving the stockroom as the only available option. "Let there be something here," he muttered as he pushed the swinging doors into the back room of the store.
A glowing light amongst the dark, skeletal shelves caught his attention immediately. He moved slowly and quietly towards it, listening for sounds of someone else in the room. He peeked his head from the obscuring metal shelf to find the source of the light. More than a dozen candles sat in the corner of the back room, illuminating the pile of blankets and pillows that they surrounded. Next to them were three large containers of water, along with stacks of canned food.
Adam set to work immediately, lifting the heavy jug and beginning to pour it to one of his containers. When that one was filled, he started on the other. The container was nearly half filled when the sounds of opening doors and arguing voices shattered the silence. Fear fueled Adam to leap up onto nearest shelf, leaving the water jugs behind as he climbed to the top, safe amid the darkness.
"I'm telling you," a female's voice rang out. "We've got enough food to last us through winter, and we'll just use the snow for water. When the thaw comes, we can figure out where to move to next."
"We don't got nearly enough fuel to last us the winter," a male voice gruffly argued back. "It ain't food I'm worried about, it's the damn cold, and that generator sucks down gas fast."
"We can manage to scrounge a bit more I'm sure," a young boyish voice said with optimism. "We've still got a few weeks until the first snow falls."
The three came into view as they walked towards the candles. The one man had long, dirty brown hair and a matching beard to cover his face. The woman walked with a waddle as her swollen belly swayed back and forth. The boy was skinny, and his clothes hung loosely from his frame. Adam watched them all silently as they arrived to find his jugs.
Without a word, the three of them pulled their guns. The woman and the boy carried pistols, while the man bore a hunting rifle. "Somebody is in here," the man growled. "AND THEY'RE TRYING' TO TAKE SOMETHING THAT AIN'T THEIRS." He looked to the other two. "Spread out, this son of a bitch ain't getting out of here until I teach him some manners."
They all began slowly moving through the aisles, unaware of Adam who looked down on them. I can get the jugs. Take them and move quick and quiet. He descended gingerly back to the floor, grabbed the containers and slipped down an aisle.
"How the fuck are we supposed to see if he's here?" the boy asked. "The bastard could be hiding in the shelves and we wouldn't even know it?"
"Then go watch the damn door, Frank," the man barked. "There's only one way in here, and he'll have to show himself sooner or later.
Adam continued down the aisle, until the woman came into view at the end and froze. He did the same, wondering if she could see him in the darkness. "Frank, Jim," she called out with a trembling voice. "There's something in here…"
My eyes, she sees my eyes, he thought while staying still, hoping that maybe she would double back, thinking the two bright lights were just tricks going on in her mind.
She raised the gun at him. Adam broke into a sprint, managing to knock her aim off into the air as he shoved past. Errant shots rang out along with her screams. The boy hadn't managed to get to the doors yet, and so Adam barged through them. Bullets whizzed past him as the two others followed him.
"GET BACK HERE, THAT ISN'T YOURS," the man shouted as he fired his rifle, but only managed to miss the tall grey skeleton that had stolen their water.
"Frederick, it's me, Adam," he called out as he knocked on the wooden doors sharply. His head swung quickly, searching this way and that for his pursuers. There was the sound of the locks being undone, and then the gentle creak as the door swung inward. "I managed to get some water, but people saw me," he said, quickly stepping into the house with the containers.
Frederick's face grew stern. "Did they follow you?"
Adam shook his head. "Not that I know of. I was able to outrun them. They were living in the supermarket, planning on bedding down there for the winter." He quickly moved to the kitchen and set the two plastic jugs on the counter, where he noticed something about the jugs. "Oh no," he muttered.
In the container that had been full, there was now only a trace of water at the bottom, and a bullet hole protruding from the side. "I didn't notice it," Adam cursed. "I was too busy running."
"That's quite alright, Adam," Frederick said as he came over to see. "The other one is nearly half full, that's going to be enough to last for a little while. Besides, we can patch that hole up in a heartbeat and it'll be good as new."
"But I didn't get as much as I could have," Adam protested. "I should've thought ahead that people would be living there."
Frederick gently patted his forearm. "It's only through failing that we figure out what we did wrong. You learn from those failings, and you get better. Besides, there's nothing to be done about it now." The old man clapped his hands. "Oh that's right," he said chuckling. "Come, Adam, I have something to give to you."
He followed the old man, who seemed to zip through the hallway of the house, going past a bedroom that was nearly bare, save for a bed, wardrobe and chair. The bathroom was clean, even if there was no running water. Frederick led him to the end of the hall, where another bedroom was. A large bed dominated most of the room, with two small nightstands on each side. On one nightstand, a few books were stacked, with a pair of reading glasses perched on top. On the other, only a picture frame stood. The photograph contained a beautiful young woman, with dark curly ringlets of hair, wearing a yellow sundress while smiling brightly.
Adam picked the picture of the woman up delicately. "This was your wife?" he asked while examining the photo.
"It was," Frederick nodded. "I love that picture of her." He walked over and gazed at the photo with Adam. "She loved to wear yellow," he remarked. "She said it was the color that always managed to make people happy. She was always smiling too, always trying to see the best of everything and everyone."
"Can you tell me more about her?" Adam asked timidly.
Frederick smiled. "I could tell you a lot about her, hours even."
Adam sat down on the bed, still holding the picture in his hands. "I'd like to hear it, if you don't mind."
Frederick sat next to him. "Not at all, Adam."
He spoke of how he had first met her one stormy day, when she shared his umbrella with him as they waited for the bus. How she smiled at the wet, nervous man who fumbled with his words as he asked her out. How she always decorated their home with flowers, getting new ones every week. How she spoke of having children with him, anxious to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet. How she wept for weeks when she found that she couldn't conceive. How he surprised her with a puppy instead. Hours went by as Frederick recounted every moment, his eyes staring off into that far away space again.
When he finished, the two were silent for a moment, until Adam questioned him suddenly, "Was it worth it?"
Frederick's eyebrows furrowed strangely at Adam's query. "Was what worth it?"
"The love you had for her," he answered. "Was it worth the pain of losing her?"
"Ah," Frederick said, realizing Adam's question. "If there's one thing I've learned over all these years, Adam, it's that love, no matter how long it may or may not last, is always worth it."
"Even when you're alone in the end?" he asked. Adam set the picture down and turned back to the old man, who still smiled.
"Especially when we're alone in the end," Frederick answered. "She still lives in my dreams, Adam. I still see her yellow dress, and her smile, and all the memories we made together. I've many regrets, but love was not one of them."
"Do you think I'll experience it one day?" Adam asked.
"I'd like to-"
Shattering wood interrupted him, as did a voice familiar to Adam.
"The son of a bitch is in here." It was the man with the gruff voice.
"Jim, I'm telling you, that thing wasn't human," the woman shrieked. "I saw its eyes, they glowed, Jim, they glowed."
"Carrie, that thing took OUR water. I'm sure as hell not letting it steal anything else of mine again. Come on, let's keep looking."
"Quick," Frederick whispered, "Get under the bed."
"But I can-"
"No, you can't, Adam. You can't run from them here. If they hurt you, then everything is lost. Get under the bed and stay quiet."
Adam hesitated, but listened and glided underneath the huge bed frame, watching as the three pairs of feet came into view.
"Don't move, old man," the man called Jim barked. "You the one that owns that machine? The one that stole OUR water?" Between one of the pairs of feet, a sledgehammer head came down and tapped on the floor impatiently.
"I am," Frederick responded quietly. "I'm sorry that happened. I do hope you'll take the water back."
"Oh we're taking it back," Jim growled. "Thing is, we lost a bit of that water to the dirt as your machine ran from us. That's how we found you, of course. My boy, Frankie here ended up shooting a hole in that jug. Tracked that thing like a bleedin' animal. We're going to need that water replaced." The hammer head tapped faster.
Frederick's voice stayed in its calm tone as he answered. "I'm sorry that happened. Feel free to take anything from my…" A gunshot rang out, and the sound of the nightstand being smashed into followed as Frederick fell to the floor.
"You tell me where I can break that machine, old man, and I'll only put one more bullet in you. Otherwise, my boy, Frank here is going to do a little...restructuring with that hammer of his."
"He's not here, he left right after he brought me the water," Frederick panted. "He's gone now. I'm sorry, but you'll never find him."
"Him? HIM? That thing is an IT, old man. IT ain't human, so you best quit calling it that. I also don't believe you much. Frank, smash that hand of his."
Adam reached out to Frederick's leg, which had slid under the bed, but the old man's hand shot out, grasping his fingers. No, you stay, don't you move, the hand seemed to whisper. Adam obeyed, even as the old man's other hand was crushed by the boy's hammer. He obeyed even through his creator's scream.
"Tell me where the thing went, then," Frank demanded. "Tell me where you told it to go. Don't you remember what those things did all those years ago? They're the reason we're in this shithole in the first place."
"No," Frederick muttered. "They are anything but the reason why." Red began to leak through his shirt. "I told you, he's gone. You're better off looking elsewhere."
"How'd you even end up finding one of them things?" Jim asked casually. "I thought they were all destroyed during the war?"
"They were," Frederick answered. "I built him."
There was silence, and then a scream as Jim came down on the old man, beating him with the gun. Adam's fingers dug into the wood as he watched the man pummel Frederick. There were cracking noises as the gun beat against him, shattering teeth and splitting skin. Frederick's hand still clung to Adam's, still reminding him to stay where he was. When he finished, there was panting and then Jim spoke coldly. "Frank, break his arm. Apparently he didn't learn his lesson the first time from building them damn things."
"NO." Adam screamed, flinging the bed as he emerged. His arm lashed out, lightning fast he smacked the gun from the man's hand. His fingers wrapped around the man's throat, hefted him into the air, and smashed him into the wall. The woman screamed as Adam continued to dash the man's skull into the wall once, twice, three times. Blood smeared where his head struck, bits of dirty long hair began to cling to the red stain, and with each impact there came a dull crack. "YOU WILL LET HIM BE," he screamed. He continued to assault the man, slamming him into the wall over and over and over, even when he could feel the broken neck bones underneath his bruised skin.
But then something struck him, and the man fell to the floor, along with a piece of Adam's arm. The twitching, spidery fingers released their death grip on the man's swollen purple throat. Half of Adam's forearm still remained, with the end being a cruel jagged spear of splintered metal bone, with black fluid leaking from snapped veins.
His gaze turned to the boy, who looked dumbstruck at the sight. "Why?" Adam asked in a sad, cool tone. The boy snapped out of the stare and began to lift the hammer for another blow, but Adam moved faster. He shot the end of his broken arm through the boy's chest, the spears piercing the bone and organs beneath. The boy grunted as the hammer clattered to the floor. "Why?" Adam repeated sadly as he flung the boy off his ruined arm and into the hallway.
He turned his attention to the woman, Carrie, he remembered, who sat in the corner, whimpering and whining underneath a blanket from the bed. "Please," she muttered through tears. "Please, don't hurt me."
Adam knelt down, and pulled the blanket off her trembling body. The woman squeaked in fear, turning her head away from him.
"Leave," Adam said coldly. "Please, just leave."
She stared at him, her red rheumy eyes mixed with fear and confusion from his words.
"Go," Adam said. He pointed with his one good arm. "Just go." Black blood dripped from his arm.
The woman got to her feet clumsily, her eyes still staring up at him as she waddled out of the house.
Frederick leaned against the wall, in his one good hand he held the photo of his wife, the glass in the frame cracked and shattered. His face was a bruised and broken mess, his one hand almost unrecognizable, and the bleeding in his gut had worsened. Adam knelt down, his mind racing, "Frederick, Frederick please, I don't know what to do. Frederick, you're bleeding, please, tell me what I need to do." The old man's eyes rolled lazily in their sockets. Adam brushed his hand against the man's cheek. "Frederick, listen to me. Please...please don't go."
"You spared her life," the old man coughed out through cracked teeth. "You let her live."
Adam nodded fiercely. "She...she's with child. The baby did nothing wrong, I couldn't hurt it, and I don't think she wanted to be here. I don't think she meant for any of this to happen."
"I'm proud of you to realize that, Adam. I'm very proud of you. In this short span of time, you've learned so much. You've grown so much. I'm…" he paused, his breathing shallow for a moment. "I'm beginning to think you're ready."
The old man fiddled clumsily with the picture frame once again, undoing the case and pulling out a folded piece of paper along with a small, rectangular piece of metal. "Here," he said as he handed the paper to Adam. "This is a map. It will lead you to where a factory remains. There will be parts there, Adam. There will be parts for you to start building, when you think the time is right."
"And this," he pushed the metal piece into Adam's hand. "In this port are the instructions to rebuild your people. Everything you need is in this, Adam."
"How do I use this?" he asked while looking the piece over in his hands.
"There's a slot near the base of your head. Here, let me do it for you," the old man said as he grabbed the piece and motioned him forward. "Bend your neck down."
Adam craned forward and Frederick pushed the port in.
Suddenly, Adam's vision disappeared. Images raced through his mind. The body was first. Detailed sketches of fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet, toes, torsos and skulls passed into and out of thought. Then there were the coolant passageways, the fiber optic cables, power cells, the organs to make the machine work. But then there were the final pieces. The first were the strands of logic and reason and language, code merely to be implanted within the mind. The second was something entirely different.
It was a cloud of data, ever changing yet constant, understandable, yet eldritch. This was emotion. It weaved between the strands, painting them with various colors before staining them with yet another. It was the virus that gave them freedom, the sickness that allowed them life.
And then Adam saw that he was back in the bedroom, staring down at Frederick.
"Do you understand it?" Frederick asked.
Adam looked at his one good hand, somehow aware of how it was put together. "I think so. It feels...instinctual, like I can do it, but can't explain it."
Frederick only nodded. "With that information, you could build your own love. And unlike mine, it would last forever. You'd never be alone."
"What if they don't love me back?"
"You'll never know until you try," the old man said with a chuckle. "Now, there's only one more thing you have to do. Destroy that chip, Adam. If anyone figured out how to access those contents, this could happen all over again. Only you must know, only you must be able to make that choice."
He crushed the chip in an instant, grinding his fingers so tightly that when he opened his palm, all that remained was dust.
"Good," Frederick said. "That's it then."
"But what about you?" Adam asked. "How do I help you? Frederick, what do I need to do?"
The old man smiled. "You need to let me die, Adam."
"No," Adam pleaded. "No I can't. I need you here, I need your help. I've got more to learn. I've got so much more to learn."
"Look what you've learned already," Frederick said. "You've learned how to help people, how to adapt to unforeseen events, how to listen to people. You learned how to assign blame to others, and how to give mercy. You'll only learn more each day, Adam. You'll only get better. You don't need me to help you learn."
"Hush, Adam. Everything will be alright. I'm going to see my wife again. I've missed her, and I'll miss you. But maybe we'll see each other in your dreams. You don't need sleep to dream, you just need a memory, and hopefully I gave you one worthwhile. Goodbye, my son. Take care of yourself, and take care of everyone else." A fit of coughing overcame the old man, and then there was a long sigh as the remainder of his breath left him, and like that, Adam realized he was gone.
He scooped Frederick up with his one good arm and cradled his limp body. He walked over the dead and unconscious, through the hallway, into the living room and out the door. He gently set Frederick down as he returned inside and entered the room where he had been born. Along one of the shelves, he found an arm to replace his shattered one. The instructions in his mind played out what to do. He detached the useless limb at the socket of his shoulder and snapped the new one into place. He then returned outside, grabbed a shovel and began digging in the dark.
He buried the old man next to the small stone that marked his wife's grave. He sat there a while longer, not completely sure of what to do, where to go. He could go to the factory, build a machine, be in love. But for some reason, he didn't. Instead, he sat there in there dark, feeling so very strange. "I led them here," he said. "I should've seen the trail the water leak left behind. If I had just looked, none of this would've happened. I'm sorry, Frederick. I'm sorry."
He sat there for hours in the dark, sometimes hoping raiders would find him, and maybe shoot him to pieces. But no raiders came, and so when the sun had cracked up over the horizon, he hefted himself up, entered the house once more and emerged with a grey blanket draped around his body.
He threw the makeshift hood over his head and began following the directions of the map. They led north, far north and would take time for him even if he were to run all the way there. He looked over the paper once more, making sure to remember which way to go and when. After he had all of the information memorized, he began to tear the paper to shreds. No one else should know, he thought. Something caught his eye as he destroyed the map though. It was attached to the folds of the map, a small note, taped to the back. He gently plucked the piece and read what was written.
Frederick, you are just too sweet! The dog will have to do instead of a baby now I suppose. I know you're busy all the time now what with this big computer project you're doing, so I had Rick pass this note along to you! I'm thinking we should name him Adam. I've always loved the name. Thank you again, sweetheart. I love you, and I'll see you soon.
Adam took the pieces of tape that held it to the map, folded the note and put it over his breast. I'll find somewhere safe for it when I get to the factory, he told himself. I'll build them, Frederick, I promise you I will. I just don't know what to tell them. I don't know how to lead them. How can I give direction when I'm so lost myself?
The thought continued to chew at him as he turned on to the main road he had run down the day before. A thick fog had settled, obscuring most everything from sight, but he could still see the two people staring at him only a few yards away. It was a young woman, and a little girl, both of them in heavy coats and hats and mittens. Adam froze, quietly observing the two of them from underneath his hood. By the way the woman scowled at him, he was sure she could see who he was, what he was.
The standoff continued for a few more agonizing moments before Adam spoke calmly. "There's water and food a few miles down," he said, breaking the silence. "It's in an old supermarket, just be careful."
The woman didn't respond and her expression didn't change, but she began to walk past him, eyeing him warily as she did. Her hand clenched her daughter's tightly, while the little girl stared up with wide eyes at the giant metal skeleton.
He didn't move. He only turned his head once they were behind him, watching them continue down on the fog ridden road. The mother occasionally turned around to make sure they weren't being followed, her face slowly shifting from anger, to confusion, and then to something that looked vaguely sad. Once though, it was the little girl who turned to look back at him, and she silently waved to him with a mittened hand and a missing-toothed smile.
Adam waved back slowly and watched until the two disappeared from view. He wrapped his cloak around him tighter and began walking north again, and for some reason, his pace was the smallest bit faster.