Shira's Story

Standard Year 4032: Two nations, Landis, the land of humans, and Zeronia, the land of robots, are on the brink of war. Nobody knows the origins of Zeronia, a nation that appeared after a meteor strike 36 years ago, but tensions are running high between the Landians, who fear for humanity's survival, and the humanoid robots of Zeronia, who are so advanced they build other, lesser advanced robots and are almost indistinguishable from humans.

It is into this world that Shira was born, a Landian girl of around 18 standard years. Her story, and many others like hers, would slowly unravel the truth behind the war, but only after much had been lost. This is Shira's story, the story of one woman's struggle against her father, a war, and her own feelings...

The day had been wet and miserable, just another day in the storm season. As the daughter of a scientist, Shira had grown up with her father's creations coming into and out of the house. The cleaning robot that blew up the oven, the robotic pet that had tripped her up. But lately, his creations had taken a more serious tone. A war was brewing, and the government wanted believable humans to act as spies in foreign nations. So when two figures appeared at the door that day instead of one, Shira was not surprised, although a little apprehensive. The robots of Zeronia were supposed to be their enemies, and she had known one once, long ago... one who had brought her family endless sorrow. Still, she knew her father's creation wouldn't be from Zeronia, so she had no reason to fear.

"Welcome home, Father," Shira said in the customary greeting. Her father was a traditional man, despite being a leading figure in science. He would scold her if she forgot to greet him.

Her father didn't reply, but nudged the figure that had come in beside him.

A mild-faced, reasonably tall male youth stepped forward out of the shadows of the hallway. Long, grey hair fell to his waist; his skin was pale, and his eyes shone in an azure blue...

Shira shyly smiled. It wasn't her father's creation, couldn't be. Perhaps he was a family friend? He looked so real, so delicate and beautiful... Surely he had to be flesh and blood? Only Zeronian robots were as advanced as this, and he couldn't be one of those... Her father never would have allowed one into his home, after what happened; yet why would her father bring any stranger to their home? He worked for the government, and therefore allowed nobody into his home expect his family in case they learned government secrets.

"This is the android you built." A statement, cold as stone, slipped from her mouth. She could not grow attached to him, for he was not human. She felt the loneliness of her own existence for a second and then brushed it away. She knew her father must have brought him here for a reason, and that she had to co-operate with him.

"That is correct. We call him 5001. I want you to interact with him. The data will be very important for our future. Will you do this?" Although the scientist posed it as a question, it was not. Shira had to do as she was asked. Even if she was afraid of this human-looking robot, she had to follow her father's orders.

"I'll do it," she said, "5001, let me show you around."

5001 followed Shira out of the room, and Shira's father frowned. Had he done the right thing, bringing another robot into his home? He shook his head. There would not be another incident like before, for he would see to it that any robot that threatened his daughter would meet a painful death.

***

"So, how much do you know about life?" Shira asked out of curiosity. She had shown him every place but her room, and she opened the door to that now.

"There are 365 days to every year, split into twelve months, there are 7 days in a week..." he began to recite facts.

"That's not right... There's 400 days in a year, split into 8 months of 50 days. A week consists of 4 days..." Shira gave him a strange look. Where did he come from? Her father wouldn't have given him false information like that. Even Zeronia followed the same pattern of days, months and weeks.

"Perhaps I have been damaged at some point. Please, forget about it." 5001 stood at the door to Shira's room, "What is your name?"

"I am Shira," she replied. A shout came from downstairs. Dinner was ready.

***

Dinner was always eaten in silence. Shira's father was strict, her mother too frail and submissive to stand up to him. 5001 sat at the table but did not eat, of course. An empty plate sat before him, and he looked impassively ahead. Shira hurried her dinner. It seemed unfair to have him here while they were eating, have him sitting before an empty plate. She knew it was her father's subtle way of explaining to 5001 that he wasn't a member of the family, wasn't an equal, same as the number that served instead of a name. He was still angry, even after all the years that had passed...

She looked at him again. Why had her father crafted a being of such beauty, only to cruelly abuse him in this manner? If he still hated robots, based on one incident, why had he built one and brought it home with him? She sighed inwardly and finished her dinner, then excused herself.

As she left, 5001 stood to follow her. She expected her father to stop him, but to her surprise he sat silently, watching, waiting. His stare made her feel uncomfortable, and she hurried up the stairs, not caring if 5001 followed her or not. She just had to get away from that cold stare. Even 5001's eyes showed more emotion.

***

"This is where you'll be sleeping... well, do you even sleep?" Shira blushed. It was hard from just at looking him not to believe he was human.

"No, but I do recharge. It is almost like your human sleep, only I can awaken to full consciousness within seconds." 5001 looked at her, but it was a softer stare, not the cold gaze her father had given earlier.

"Do you have a name?" Shira asked, returning the courtesy 5001 had shown her earlier.

"5001 is my name, the only name I know," he replied.

"But surely, if you're basically human, don't you need a human name? You can't spy on enemies with a name like 5001!" Shira pondered on a name.

"Your father told me that I am not "almost human". You should forget that notion. Remember that someday, I will probably be a weapon of war. Even though I have learning capabilities, am proficient in all known languages, and have an advanced emotion chip, do not mistake me for something I can never be." 5001 looked down at his hand.

"You still need a name. I'm not going to call you 5001 forever, it just doesn't seem right." Shira said, "How about we call you Alex?"

"Alex, short for Alexander. Alexander the Great was an ancient king. I am no king," 5001 replied.

"Perhaps not, but then nobody is. We don't have royal families any more." Shira smiled, "I just... I always liked that name."

"Did it belong to someone you knew?" 5001 asked.

"You do learn fast! It was the name of someone I knew... But he died a long time ago now." Shira sighed, "Anyway, do you like the name?"

"It is a good name," Alex said, "Thank you for naming me."

"It is time you slept, young lady," The stern voice of Shira's father echoed through the room. Shira knew he was angry. So she had given his creation a name, that name, not only personifying what he saw as an object, but using a name that had belonged to someone else, long ago, someone relegated to painful memory. She knew she would suffer his wrath for that, but it had seemed right, somehow, to give him that name.

When she turned to look at Alex, she felt glad to have given him a name. She had done something of her own will, not of her father's, something to correct his wrong in not giving his creation a name. Perhaps even something to punish him for holding a grudge against Alex merely because of what he was.

The slap across her cheek that her father delivered to her after he left the room still stung as she wrapped herself up in bed, but new found resolve burned in her. If her father expected her to let Alex be used as an object, a weapon, or a means of gaining revenge, he was in for a surprise.

***

Shira's father took Alex to the lab every day, but she was free to spend the afternoon with him. Her father still insisted on calling Alex 5001 and "the robot", but Shira always called him Alex, even when her father was around. It annoyed him immensely, but she found she was no longer afraid of his anger.

Shira spent her time with Alex teaching him the things he didn't know. While he could recount strange stories he said were history, he was lacking in social skills and knowledge of emotions. Shira talked to him, telling him about her life, and he just listened, like a good friend might.

"I've always been so alone," Shira sighed, "Father doesn't let me have friends. He says they could find out about his work. You're the first person I've really talked to in a long time."

"I am not a person," he reminded her.

"But you are! Father is wrong to tell you otherwise. You know so much, and you learn, and you feel... what else is there to our existence that is so different to yours?" Shira burst out.

"Your emotions are strong, wild, free. I wish I could be like you. But I have a duty to undertake. I will have to kill people, Shira. If I feel too much, then even more people will die. I am here simply to save human lives. If I was truly your equal, my life would not be used in such a way." Alex gave almost the equivalent of a human sigh.

"Then don't go! You don't have to do what my father says just because he created you!" Shira exclaimed.

"But I do, Shira. The war will begin soon, and they need spies. Whether that is what I want or not, it is the reason why I was created," Alex replied.

"But the war hasn't started yet! They're only saying there might be a war - they're still negotiating!" Shira beat her fists on the floor.

"If that is what you want to believe, then that is all right to believe it, if it saves you pain." Alex said mysteriously, "It is clear that humans have no love for robots."

"Alex? What do you mean?" Shira asked.

"Nothing. It is best you go to bed now, Shira. It is late." Alex put himself into regeneration mode, and Shira was left looking at those eyes, wide open, even in sleep, while a million questions buzzed in her brain. What would happen to Alex? If there was a war, would he go and leave her now, after she had come to know and care for him? Not that he had a choice.

Something inside her stirred, sorrow and fear unfurling deep within. She rushed to her room and her head found the pillow of her bed in time for it to catch her tears...

***

Shira woke to a gentle shake. Her eyes jerked open to find Alex standing there, and she smiled weakly.

"Why did you wake me so early, Alex?" she moaned, still half asleep.

"I wanted to see if you were all right before I left for the lab. I heard you crying..." Alex let himself trail off, wondering if he had been right to intrude on her like that. He had heard her tears through the walls, with his advanced hearing.

"I thought you went into recharge mode?" she asked, embarrassed that he had heard.

"I did. But I can still hear, just in case something threatens me while I'm incapacitated." Alex explained, sitting on a chair.

Shira closed her eyes, nuzzling into the pillow. Alex looked at her peaceful face, and stood to leave. It was too early, he had intruded... He couldn't help himself. He had just wanted to see her before he went to the lab.

"Stay a while," she murmured, "I like your company. Why don't you tell me one of your stories, I like those. They're beautiful, like nothing I've ever heard before."

Alex sat down and thought of a story he could tell, "Once, there was a man called Orpheus. His wife, Eurydice, was bitten by a snake near their home and died. He travelled across the world, through deserts and seas, and sacrificed many years of his life until he came to the gates of the Underworld. Orpheus played the lyre, and his gentle sound, that most beautiful music; made Cerberus, guard dog of the Underworld, fall to sleep. He crossed the tortured fields of the Underworld until he came to Hades's castle. He pleaded to the king of the Underworld to let him have Eurydice back, because he loved her..."

Shira was sitting up now, listening intently. Her thin chiffon nightdress would have made Alex blush, if he was capable of it.

"What happened next?" she asked, wondering why he had paused.

"Orpheus moved Hades's wife, Persephone, with a song about love. So Hades granted Eurydice her life, on one condition; Orpheus was not to look upon her until they both stood beneath the sun. So Orpheus played his lyre through the underworld, all the time wondering if Hades would really let Eurydice leave with him. They crossed the river and Orpheus doubted if she was truly behind him. As they reached Cerberus,

temptation made him look behind while they were still not in the sun, and Eurydice disappeared, lost forever to him, while the gates to the Underworld closed behind him." Alex finished.

"What a sad story... Where did you learn these stories?" Shira asked.

"I don't know," he said, "There are so many things I don't know about myself..."

A call came from downstairs. It was Shira's father calling up to Alex that it was time to leave for the laboratory. Alex stood and walked towards the door.

"If I died, would you come for me?" Shira asked, emotions stirring in her heart.

"I would," he whispered, and left.

***

Alex lie connected to the machine, watching Shira's father analyse his memory, looking, searching for something. He wasn't uploading data; he was searching through, looking for something... He pushed seedling suspicions to one side and focused on giving voice to a bigger concern:

"Why do you do this to your daughter?" Alex asked.

"Do what?" Shira's father asked sharply, scribbling on his clipboard.

"Let her get close to me... You know that when I go to war she'll be devastated." Alex replied.

"She needs to grow up and learn to accept life alone. If she becomes reliant on anyone, the coming war will kill her. Contrary to what you might have assumed, I do care for my daughter, and I don't need an uppity robot like you to start telling me my job as a father." He slammed the clipboard down on the desk.

Alex fell silent. He felt angry at Shira's father's inability to make his daughter happy, even if he did claim he cared for her. But what could he do? Either way, his life with Shira would end one way or another.

"What will happen to me when you are done with me?" Alex asked, daring Shira's father's wrath to learn the truth.

"You will be tested, then you will be the pattern for an army of spies and assassins that will infiltrate the enemy cities. The war will be over quickly, and it doesn't really matter how many of you we lose. I just want us to win, so my daughter can have a life. I don't care what that costs."

"If you destroy all the warmth, love and energy in her, will that make you happy? She told me that those are the things that make people human." Alex continued. Her will, had influenced him, for just a few days before he never would have spoken to the doctor like this.

"Then she is wrong. What makes us human, what we have that you don't, is will. Will to survive. Will to do whatever it takes to survive. You have no vision of the future, no ideology. What use is emotion without direction?" Shira's father spat.

"Is humanity's only purpose to live in a bigger realm, but be empty inside? The machinations of governments may be important to the lives of people, but only in that it changes their personal lives and those of people they know. If you have no personal realm, nobody to love or protect, no care for people's feelings in general, then what is the point of fighting for bigger things?" Alex replied.

"Since when did you have ideals of your own? You're a tool of the government, nothing more. You should learn your place." Shira's father removed the wires from Alex, "Go home. I have research to conduct."

Alex sat up and replaced his clothing, then left the room in silence. He had said enough, too much. Why had he said all those things? Did he honestly believe he could make life better for Shira? Then came the manner of his existence. If Shira's father had created him, why did he not understand the way he acted, the things he did? To a certain extent he had autonomy, due to the fact he could learn independently of his programming, but Shira's father seemed to know so little about something that must be as complex as he. So many questions raced through Alex's mind, but he could answer none of them.

So he returned to the other conundrum in his life: Shira. Why was she so kind to someone like him, a robot, in a world where mankind was on the brink of war with them? He would only be a weapon, he could only break her heart, and he knew deep within that wasn't what he wanted. Shira deserved to be protected, to be happy, despite what her father had said. Was survival so important if it meant leading a miserable existence? More questions.

And not an answer in sight to any of those questions, he realized, as he walked along the quiet concrete street. He looked up at the battered tower blocks, down at the litter blowing around his feet. All the money had gone to build tanks in the military build-up that preceded any war.

He stood at the base of one of the towers. Once he had passed this point, he would be in the suburbs, close to Shira's home. He stopped. Something inside him, something familiar... A voice, a memory?

A robotic voice, course and inhuman: "So many did not wake... We do not even recognize these ancient ones. Still, he will serve as a good spy. Landis is the biggest threat to our survival. We must do what it takes to quell the immediate threat."

Another robotic voice: "Is it wise to use the ancient ones like this? They carry the Source."

The first voice again: "But we do not know how to awaken it. Perhaps if we send them to humans, the Source will awaken. The ancient ones are the only ones advanced enough to fully integrate with humans. Since that is where they came from, perhaps they should return... This will be a good test. If we lose one of the Originals, it will not matter."

Alex staggered. A memory? Who was talking? Was he malfunctioning? Even more questions, even more uncertainties filled him now. What was the Source? Where did he come from? He looked ahead,past the tower. What lie ahead for him? What could he tell Shira?

The future looked bleak, and he knew he couldn't secure a future for anyone; not he nor Shira. All he could do was take one day at a time, his fate controlled by Shira's father, his own muddled data and two governments on the edge of war.

***

Shira was waiting for him to come home, looking out of the porch of her comfortable home. Alex stirred so many thoughts and questions inside of her. Had her father really built something that complex, with so much capacity for growth and emotion? It seemed improbable, since the last thing he had built had failed miserably. No, Alex couldn't be one of his creations. Her father had always built robots as tools, such as cooks, cleaners, etc. That and his prototypes had been far from perfect, wires hanging out, covers missing. Alex just seemed too perfect to be a creation of his.

She wondered as to his true origins. Such a beautiful, knowledgeable being, so alien and mysterious, yet so familiar. He wasn't like anyone she had met before, and yet something about him just put her at ease, made her feel at home.

Then there were those other feelings that had stirred the moment she gave him a name, and grown deeper as he had told her stories and let her get to know him. If she fell in love with him and he left for war, what would she do? How could she stop him from being taken away from her?

She looked up as he approached. His footfalls were heavy, although she had no idea of his actual weight; he had to weigh more than she did.

Shira slid the glass door open for Alex, and he nodded as he walked through and closed it behind him.

"Alex... how was it?" Shira asked, a million questions burning inside her. She really wanted to ask; what did my father do to you? Where do you really come from? But whether from fear of knowing or just common courtesy, she withheld her questions.

"Your father analysed me, attached some wires, took some readings. He said he was uploading a program, but nothing new was stored in my data banks." The accusation came forth before Alex had even weighed the implications of it. Impulse was an act of humans. Did he even have that capability?

"Something's not right... Alex, come to my room. We can't talk about this here." Shira turned away, her stomach turning. Truth brought with it fear. Was she smart enough to figure out the truth? If she did, would she be able to accept the reality? She knew that Alex could be anyone, from anywhere. Could he even be human, she wondered? A flash of hope glimmered, before she tossed it aside. Of course not, she had seen his eyes glow a neon blue, seen him in his false slumber, watched him recite the history of an island once known as Britain, while he couldn't even tell her what the months of the year were. Everyone knew that the Standard Year was 8 months of 40 days. Why did he believe differently?

She walked up the stairs, hearing the reassuring footfalls of Alex behind her, when she tripped on a piece of badly laid carpet she knew was there. Trying to right herself, she fell backwards, tumbling down the stairs. Alex caught her, and held her while she righted herself.

"Thanks, Alex," she said, "I knew that carpet was there, why did I fall?"

"Are you hurt?" Alex asked, the closest look to concern he could muster on his face. He still hadn't let go of her, her nearness was comforting, her warmth caressing. He wanted to touch - to feel - What was he thinking? He let go, but Shira took his hand, still feeling unsteady.

"I'm okay," she replied, "Nearly there now." They managed the last few steps and headed to Shira's room, where she sat on the bed and he on a chair, still processing the incident on the stairs.

Shira began first, "Who are you, Alex? Where do you come from? I know that my father couldn't have built you. You're completely unlike anything he's ever built before. His creations have always been devoid of emotions, of self-awareness, they've just been droids, slaves, workers. Even if he was getting funding from the government, I don't believe he could create you." She paused, the fear rising up to meet her again.

"I don't know, Shira. I've been trying to access the data that your father was investigating, but I can't reach it. I think that I may have been damaged. This would be consistent with the damage to my skin when I woke up, and my apparent confusion regarding the calendar." Alex pulled up his trouser leg and showed Shira a patch of "skin" that was a different colour to the rest, slightly lighter.

"You've been mended... perhaps this was just the finishing touch?" Shira wanted to explain it away, even as her mind constructed a million different possible scenarios.

"Mended, yes, but my sensors show that there is damage to the metal underneath consistent with impact from a blunt implement. There is... other damage, too. My head has been damaged, and I believe I have suffered data loss. On the way home, I heard voices. I believe damaged data was trying to replay itself." He looked away, "Shira, I am uncertain of the future. I could have come from anywhere. Trying to draw a logical conclusion, I believe I may be an enemy spy who has been captured. This would be consistent with my injuries, and explain why I am being kept here. They damaged my data in my capture, and want to see if it returns."

"Alex..." Shira shook her head. An enemy spy? It would work, her father worked for the government. But, what did all this mean?

"I understand if you want me to leave. I may be a threat to you. If my memory returns, I might harm you. I don't want to hurt you, Shira." Alex couldn't meet her eyes.

"I don't want you to go. Father must not see you as a threat, or he wouldn't have left you with me! Alex, these theories could be all wrong! We don't know anything! We have to ask my father. We have to find out! Alex, I..."

"Don't say it, Shira..." Alex stood to leave; "I can't offer you a future when I don't even know my own past."

Shira sat silently as Alex left. She stared out of the window, trying to process everything she had learned.

Who are you... really? she thought.

***

"Father!" Shira nearly jumped on him as he returned home.

"What is it, Shira?" Her father seemed preoccupied; she had expected at least a mild rebuke for her rudeness.

"Tell me everything. You didn't build Alex, so where did he come from? Why was he injured? Why did you bring him to me? Tell me!"

"What did he say, Shira? This is vitally important for the future of mankind! Tell me what he said!" Shira's father shook her.

"Stop! Give me a chance to explain! That hurts!" Shira cried out. Her father let go. "He just said that he has unexplained injuries that you mended, that he has damaged data he can't access.... He just wants to know who he is... Who is he, father? There's no way you made him."

"That is none of your business, and if you meddle in things you don't understand, you will get hurt! Go to your room, and don't visit that robot or there will be severe punishment!" Shira looked defiantly at her father but gave in under the sheer force of his anger. She hurried away, up the stairs, past the point where she had tripped and fallen before, into Alex's waiting arms... It was only a dream that they could ever allow themselves to love each other. She had felt him hold on longer than he needed, had wished he would stay. What would happen to him now? If he was truly an enemy spy, what would become of him? Fear filled her now as she passed Alex's door. It was closed; he was probably in his robot slumber. She hurried to her room and fell upon the bed, weeping into the pillow once more.

***

Hours passed, and day turned to night. She slept a little, only to wake from nightmares of Alex's destruction. She stared out at the moon, but quickly buried her face in the pillow as her door quietly opened. Was it her father, checking up on her? Or was it...?

Alex.

She knew those heavy footfalls anywhere, even though he was trying to be quiet. She still feigned sleep, waiting to see what he would do. She could see just a sliver through the crack of her arm that her head was buried in. He came closer, and kneeled next to the bed. He reached a hand toward her, and gently stroked the hair from her face.

"You cry yourself to sleep too often, Shira. Don't cry any more." His voice came out not in a whisper, as a human would when lowering their voice, but the same at a lower volume.

She sat up, her pretence foiled, "Alex," she said, "I'm scared..."

"I know," he replied, "So am I."

She cleared the tears from her eyes and saw his face was damaged, part of his skin torn away, revealing the robot within. She could have turned away, most would have been frightened, but she reached out to touch him.

"My father... did this to you?" Shira asked.

"He came to me, angry, he told me to stay away from you, called me a wicked spy, a demon machine... then he hit me, said he wished I would recall my data so he could get rid of me. He said I was seducing you, and that he'd make sure... I paid for it." Alex looked away, "Shira, we might not have much time left..."

"How could he say that?" Shira began, "I won't let him take you from me!"

"Shira..." Alex looked into her deep human eyes, azure blue like the ocean. Deep brown hair, almost black, shone like silk in the moonlight. Time was running out. Any day could be their last one together. Even if the grand mystery of his existence was never discovered, time moved on, and would wait for nobody.

Alex's hand moved to wipe a silent tear from Shira's cheek, tracing her features with his finger. Touch sensors could sense the softness of her skin beneath his finger. Whoever had built him had designed him to be as close to human as possible. Designed him to even fall in love...

Shira wanted to speak, to say something, but her throat constricted with the weight of her sorrow. Tonight, there could be only tonight. She knew it, he knew it, that nothing lasted forever. Enemy spy or not, she didn't care. She loved him, and all else seemed insignificant beside that.

Their lips met in that instant, warm human flesh against cool synthetic lips, sure, certain, but nervous; how does one kiss a robot?

It didn't matter; they just did what came to them. Eventually they parted, Shira gasping for breath, the one human thing that Alex did not do, but desperate for the next kiss, and the next. Sorrow was forgotten in their embrace, and they returned to kissing each other, touching each other...

Soon they lay upon Shira's bed, entwined, the moonlight shining across their bodies.

"Alex..." a whisper from Shira, "Please..."

"Shira..." Uncertainty wavered in his voice.

"You said this might be our last night. Give me a memory to keep forever..."

***

Alex felt Shira's warm body fall into slumber, and he gently sat up, being careful not to wake her. He stood up, scooping his clothes from the floor. He wanted to stay, wanted to hold Shira all night, wanted to wake her and make love to her again and again, but he knew that if her father found them, he was lost for sure.

He looked down at Shira's naked body lying in slumber and for a moment felt like throwing caution away to the winds, just to have one more second of her touch. But the door called, the yearning, aching darkness of tomorrow. If he woke her, the magic would not be the same. Best not to overshadow their perfect moment with sorrow as the dawn drew near.

Alex crept across the landing to his room, thinking that at any moment he could run into Shira's father. Naked, with his clothes in his arms, their tryst would be revealed, their special moment ruined. But thankfully, the house was silent, and Alex slipped into his room unnoticed.

He dropped the clothes on the floor; what use had he for them now? Shira's touch had made him feel so alive, so real, that for a second he had been able to forget that he was not human. He loved her with all that he was; how could this emotion be synthetic?

He looked at himself in the mirror, tracing lines up his body. If not for the red stone embedded into his stomach, he would have looked perfectly human. Shira had asked about the red sphere; what was it for? He had not known, had not been able to answer, only knew that it was something important, like one knows he needs his vital organs to survive.

His hair caressed his back, reminding him of Shira's feather-like touch, and the air around him reminding him of her breath against his synthetic skin. Oh, for one more day upon this world, for one more day by her side. But her father had as good as said to him that the government had no further use for him...

He touched the red globe, feeling its strange smoothness in curiosity. Was it a power source, perhaps? Then the familiar feeling overcame him, and voices filled his head. Knowledge flowed through his circuits as his memory returned, as the knowledge of what - who - he was returned to him.

Before he could process the full weight of his discovery and tell Shira, he felt someone enter the room behind him. He turned to see Shira's father, who pressed a button on a remote, and Alex's world went black.

***

The morning was bright, and Shira stirred to the sunlight. A few seconds of bliss overwhelmed her, before she came to her senses and the memory of the previous night came back to her. She reached for Alex and knew that she was alone. Of course, he would be in his room. She could go to see him, it was probably still early, she could convince him to leave with her.

Who was she fooling? She wondered to herself. Could they even survive out there, when a war was about to begin? She pushed the thought aside.

She dressed hastily, wanting to wake him, wanting to see him, to share this beautiful morning with him before he went to the lab. She could make him not go to the lab today; they could run away from the war, she thought again, away from the scientists and prying eyes, she thought as she walked across the landing. Yes, they could, they could make it...

She opened his door to see emptiness, his clothes left in a heap on the floor, the bed undisturbed. He hadn't even recharged, then, unless he left early. Perhaps he had run away, to be safe, and would come back for her.

"Shira." A voice from behind her came. She turned to see her mother there, standing in the doorway.

"Mother, where is he? Where's Alex?" Fear was rising in Shira's heart, as her mother never came to talk to her about anything. She was completely loyal to her husband, and rarely exercised power of her own; even though she could have done many things with her life other than play the role of wife and mother.

"Your father took him to the lab, very early this morning. Shira, he told me not to say anything, but he said that Alex was a risk that could no longer remain here... Please don't be angry with your father. He is only doing what is best for you..." Shira's mother sounded old, and weak, her voice showing her lack of will to oppose her husband, even though she clearly disagreed with him.

Shira pushed through the door and charged down the stairs, where she began to rifle through drawers, knocking over things.

"Shira! What are you doing?" her mother called after her.

She pulled the family gun from one of the drawers and darted from the house.

"Shira!!!" her mother called after her, but she was already running, running to the lab. The only thought on her mind was saving Alex. She didn't want to hurt her father, but she had to save Alex, as much as she needed to breathe or eat.

Running through the city, her lungs filled with fire, but still she would not stop. She had to save him, she would not accept that one sweet night as their last, their only. She had given her soul to him, and she would not let her father kill him, for she loved him, as true as Orpheus had loved Eurydice in that story he had told her.

The rain poured down on her, soaking her hair and clothes. Any person who saw her crossed over the road, away from the crazed young woman with a gun and a look that alone would kill, if looks could.

Shira was forbidden from visiting her father's laboratory; working for the government, many state secrets lie within. She had always respected that her father had important work that she was not involved in, but she would not allow Alex to be just another part of his work, another state secret, someone the people would never know about. In a war between humans and robots, it would be hard for them to run away and survive, but she knew they could do it, somehow. If they ended up dead, at least they would be free...

She slowed at the corner of the street where the lab was located to catch her breath, it would be pointless to burnt in there without the strength to fight for Alex. She looked down at the gun. She didn't want to use it, but she had no choice, she had to protect the one she loved. She tucked the gun into the back of her trousers, pulling her baggy t-shirt down to cover it. Although the wet fabric clung to the gun, it wasn't too obvious.

After recovering, she made her way towards the shining tower block. Despite being one of the tallest buildings in Landis City, she knew her father's lab was in fact deep underground.

She pushed her way through the revolving door, gaining a strange look from a departing scientist. She made hand movements to illustrate sheltering from the rain, and the man's face relaxed.

She stood in an alcove, looking around. The reception was quiet; she had expected guards to be roaming, but there were none. The elevator was at the far end, past the desk. The receptionist had her back turned, and was filing through some papers. Shira knew it was now or never.

She walked calmly past the desk, concocting a story about how her father had forgotten something - his watch, that was always a good one - just in case she needed it. Luckily, the receptionist didn't even look up as she made it to the elevator and pressed the button. She hoped it would hurry and arrive before anyone saw her.

The door slid open and much to her relief, there were no scientists or other staff inside. She rushed forward and press the close button, to give her a little time to think about what floor she needed. She just hoped that no other staff came to use the elevator, or she would be discovered.

She thought abut her father, what he had said about his work. He'd always talked more about it when she was younger, when he'd been a more personable man, a more fatherly being, before the incident... She shrugged the memories aside. No time for emotions, she had to focus on getting the information she needed. She thought back to her 12th birthday, the one where she'd fallen in the poll and gotten wet... He'd pulled her out of the pool; they dried off, and then had the cake with 12 candles. Then he'd said:

"I won't forget your age this year - it's the same number as the floor I work on!"

So, floor 12 below ground? She hoped he hadn't moved lab since then; there were thousands of different companies in this building, and the chance of finding his lab amongst all those by luck was extremely small. She pressed B12, and felt the elevator whir into motion. For a few seconds, she could relax.

***

Tell me everything you know about Zeronia and their government!" Shira's father commanded.

Alex squirmed; strapped to an electric panel, he wished death would come soon, rather than all these questions. He could explain, but Shira's father could never understand the truth, never understand that the robots were not coming to invade, they were here to survive, here to learn, here to be, after all they had gone through. And himself - he wished he could have told Shira the truth before he died, for he knew it would have comforted her to know that he was in essence a human. His planet, the planet Earth, had been near destruction in the 25th century. With no way for humans to survive long-term space flight, they had discovered a method of storing their souls, which they could then use to transfer themselves to a robot body and survive the journey to a new planet. But she would never know, could never know.

Shira... Thoughts of her filled him with a mixture of warmth and pain. He wondered if she might come for him, but there was no way of knowing if she could get down here - he himself had not been awake when he was brought here, having been knocked out by the device that Shira's father had been using - some sort of electromagnetic jamming system that knocked him out. When he had woken, he was in the lab.

Shira's father interpreted Alex's silence as non co-operation and pressed a button that sent an electric jolt through his body. He felt something blow - his body was degenerating with the power running through it. He knew that regardless of what he said - today would be his last. Shira's father had made it clear to him that the government had no further need for him, that he was now just a plaything. He had been ordered to destroy Alex, and he was enjoying it.

Once Alex had recovered, he looked at Shira's father.

"Tell me one thing," Alex asked, "Why do you hate robots so? If you're a scientist, why aren't you interested in how I work, or where I come from?"

Shira's father turned away, "Robots are here to serve. They should never have been made into substitute humans. All those emotions - false emotions - they just destroy people's lives!"

"What happened...?" Alex was curious now that he had opened a hole in Shira's father's heart. A sore spot... perhaps he could use this to win his freedom.

"I once had a son, as well as Shira. He was quite a lot older than Shira. One day, he brought home a robot that had been damaged in a riot. He asked me to help him fix the robot, and I did. He was humanoid, with all this emotion chip stuff, just like you are. He wormed his way into my son's affections. I was against this, but what choice did I have? I was powerless to stop them. But he had lied, had faked his emotions to gain power. He took my son to Zeronia, and we didn't know where he was. Eventually the government brought my son home. There wasn't much of a body left to look at. They used my son like a plaything and threw him away. You pretend, but life means nothing to you! I've watched you worm your way into my daughter's affections, and I will not see you take her away! It was bad enough when she granted you my son's name - Alex - but I will not see you destroy her!" Shira's father beat his fists on the desk, "I don't know how she could trust you after what happened, but I will end this now, and complete my duty to the government. They told me to get information from you, but that you were pretty much expendable."

"If you hate robots, then why do you build them?" A simple question, picked from so many he had to ask.

"I thought I could get over my anger by building robots to do humiliating jobs, like cooking and being a pet. I made them all self-aware, even though it was, in those days, against the law to make a service robot sentient. They said it was like making a slave. Well I wanted them to suffer. The government turned a blind eye, as long as I was conducting research on robots and how they work. I thought I was over my anger, although the bitterness was still there to a certain extent - you should never have to bury your own children. Then I met you, when they dragged you in and asked me to find out what I could. You were damaged, so I mended you. Your memory had been altered somehow - they wanted it unlocked." He paused for breath.

"Why did you take me to your daughter, after what had happened?" Alex had so many questions to ask. He knew that Shira's father was losing his patience, and in a way, he wanted that to happen. Anything to make what was to come quick. He knew that the deep-seated hatred would never go away, never be gone, until he was destroyed. Perhaps he had to die so that one man's soul could be saved, and Shira could have her father back. Paying for someone else's crimes... was this how it would be?

"Shira has too much compassion for robots, even now. She was only young when her brother was murdered. I wanted her to hate you, to make the war easier on her. I don't have a son any more - I have to pass my skills on to somebody. I wanted Shira to work here with me, but her morals regarding robots and their "lives" stood in the way. As a scientist, she would have a non-combat position in the war, she would have a future. But she liked you instead, which I can't understand." He moved to the far wall, and leaned against it.

"I am not the one who killed your son. You know this, and yet you would blame all of us for the actions of one? Humans kill each other just as indiscriminately. Do you hate all of them, too?" Alex hoped logic would work.

"Are you going to tell me about Zeronia, or not? I don't have all day to tell you my life story. Humans will win the war, and that's all I care about. To that end, I don't care how many of you I destroy." Shira's father moved back to the machine.

Alex knew that his attempt at negotiation had failed. Now that Shira's father had steeled his resolve, there was no chance of talking his way to freedom. He only held a distant hope that Shira might come, so he could tell her about the Source - his soul - and perhaps protect a glimmer of hope for the future. But it was all too likely that she was still asleep, and time she woke from her blissful slumber it would all be over.

He hoped that Shira wouldn't hurt too much when she found out he was dead.

***

The elevator door chimed and opened, and Shira held her breath as the doors rolled back. When she saw nobody was there, she sighed in relief.

Heading out, she saw a huge long tunnel, almost like a service tunnel. The roof was high up, and it was lit by strip lighting along the walls. Water pipes ran along the walls. Did her father really have his lab all the way down here? She almost felt like turning back, but she had no other leads. This was her only hope - she would find Alex, no matter what.

The tunnel was cool, and Shira shivered in her wet clothes. She would suffer later, she knew, but she had to keep going. Alex needed her now, more than ever. She knew her father was crazed when it came to robots - she hadn't wanted to believe it at first but the evidence became clearer. She had thought he might have been over it when she brought Alex to them, thought he might finally be healing from her brother's death, but she soon learned that the wound still festered deep inside. He was determined that the robot Zacharias had killed her brother, even though there was nothing to prove that, only words from a government soldier. Her father loved the government too much, and they loved him - he was exactly the kind of scientist they wanted for their work - he would ask no questions, as long as they turned a blind eye to his private vendetta - and why would they care if he destroyed a few of their worst enemies?

She began to run now along the tunnel. Relief filled her when she saw a door in one wall near the end of the tunnel. This had to be it. Scrap metal was piled outside the door, spare parts she could hardly bear to look at - robot heads, with staring eyes trapped in death. Robotic limbs, burnt and twisted, synthetic skin peeling from them or melted away. The macabre sight turned her stomach - she had ceased to see robots as merely objects, so the pile was as ghoulish to her as if humans were piled there.

She pulled the gun from her trousers, and kicked open the door. She had to stop Alex meeting such a fate as all these who had come and gone before him, and she had to end her father's dark obsession, one way or another. She only hoped she could save them both.

***

If he could have cried, he surely would have surrendered to tears long ago. The pain burned through him, and he wondered why on earth he had pain sensors. Why couldn't he have omitted that from the final design, when he had built his own robotic body? Some of his friends had build robots without certain aspects of life, but he'd always wanted his to be as close to the real thing as possible, so he would never miss his real body. He'd even fashioned his new body to look just like the flesh and blood one.

Shira's father had gone berserk with the machine, yet still not letting it knock him out and let him slip into death.

"Please..." Alex pleaded, his strength failing, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

A thud came from outside, and then a scream as Shira's father's lab staff scattered. Shira pointed the gun at them and looked their way with pure anger in her eyes. None dared to stop her.

She walked through to the main lab and kicked open the door, pointing the gun at her father. One look at Alex's burnt, charred being made her anger flare up, and she took the safety off the gun.

"How could you...?" Her voice was full of anger and sorrow, "How could you do this to the one I love? Why?"

"Do you really want to shoot me, Shira?" her father asked, "Go ahead and shoot me. You'll have a hard time doing so, since that gun has no bullets."

Shira pointed it at the floor and pulled the trigger. Click. Nothing, just as he had said. The gun fell from her hands to clatter on the floor uselessly.

"Shira..." Alex said, "You came for me..." A weak smile crossed his face.

"Of course I did," Shira replied, "When I found out what was to happen, I couldn't leave you to die without trying to save you!"

Her father shouted angrily, interrupting the reunion, "What I don't understand is why you gave this thing your brother's name. Why?"

"I loved my brother, and my brother died with the robot he loved. We will never really know who killed him, but even if we did, it wouldn't change anything.... When you brought Alex home with just a number, I knew you had done it just to dehumanise him. Yet Alex felt, and loved, just as the real Alex always had. So I gave "5001" a name, the name of a human who we all knew and loved. I thought it might get through to you, might make you understand how human robots can be. If I was wrong, I'm sorry. I love Alex, father, just as my brother loved Zacharias. If I pay for that with my life in this coming war, then that is my own choice." Tears stung Shira's eyes and her throat closed as she spoke.

"Shira, it is my responsibility to protect you. You don't know what you want! This robot can never give you children, nor happiness. He will only drag you into a war that will end your life. Can't you see that? I only want what's best for you." Shira's father said.

"No, you want what's best for you. You used to be loving and kind, right up until Alex died... Then you changed. Your hateful ways, that festering anger inside you, that's what's destroyed us, even more than brother's death. You didn't allow yourself to grieve, only to hate. I was happier to watch my brother be true to himself and die, than to trap him in some gilded cage and watch him suffer. Father, end your hurt. Let my Alex go, because I want to be with him. I love him..."

Shira looked at Alex, his skin burnt, body hanging raggedly against the metal plate on the wall. She wanted to hold him, to mend him, to protect him. She walked closer to him.

"No, Shira! Robots have taken everything from me... My children have been corrupted, torn from me by these unnatural creations! I will not let you ruin your life!" He walked to the switch and threw it, sending electricity jolting through Alex, who screamed.

Shira ran to her father and kicked him in the stomach, but he slapped her hard. She pushed him, needing to reach that switch, to pull it back again, anything to stop that electricity...! She punched her father across the face, again and again, until he slumped on the floor. She pulled the switch again, and the electricity stopped.

The smoke cleared, the small fires that had broken out on Alex's body fizzled out, and Shira rushed towards him.

"Alex!!!" she cried, "ALEX!!!!"

"Sh..Sh..ira," His voice still sounded human, even after all that damage, and it cut her to the core to hear his beautiful voice coming from that charred body.

She sobbed and held him, even though his body was hot, she didn't care any more if she got burnt. She loved him; she hated her father for doing this to him.

"I'm here, love," she whispered, her voice full of sorrow, "I'm here with you now."

"I can't see anymore, Shira." She kissed what remained of his mouth, and untied him from the wall. She took the weight of his heavy body and set him down on the floor.

"We can rebuild you, there's plenty of parts outside. We can get you all fixed up, Alex, so don't worry..." she lied. He was dying, and there was little she could salvage. Any robot she tried to make would not be him, even if she had the knowledge to do so.

She kissed his face, her tears falling onto him. Why had this happened? Why did he have to die?

"Shira... listen," he managed, and Shira listened in. His volume was fading, the mechanism damaged beyond repair.

"What is it, Alex?" she soothed; stroking what was left of his burnt hair.

"Take... the red stone... Shira... it is... it is... hope." he managed. He pondered for a second, should he tell her he was truly human in spirit? But then, how would she survive the war, knowing that the ones who died were truly humans? It would be hard on her as it was, and he knew he had to leave it a secret, to protect her. He had built his body; he did not even truly know if he would survive, or how much of him would remain if the stone was transferred to another robot. Better to let himself go than to feed false hope. Shira could carry on with life; find someone to love - maybe a real human next time. He managed a weak smile. He had no more strength to contemplate this hard decision. His logic circuits broken, he did not even know if he had made the best choice.

Shira looked down at the stone, buried in his stomach, "But if I take this, surely you will..."

"Please... take care of it... Shira... love you..." he managed, then fell limp in her arms.

"ALEX!!!!!" she screamed, and held him close and sobbed on his lifeless body. All life was gone, all hope diminished. The one - the man - she had loved was gone, and her heart and soul with him. She had come all this way, done so much, only to fail in the end, only to lose that which was dearer to her than life itself.

She knelt there for a while before remembering his final request... the red stone. Why was it so important? It had looked like he had wanted to explain, but there had been no time. She pulled at it, but it wouldn't come out. Then she saw the different parts that held it in. She pulled on one, than another, being gentle even though he was dead, gone from her forever. It finally came free, and she held it in her hands. It was a round globe about the size of an orange, a perfect sphere, of a cloudy red colour. She held it close to her, remembering how she had asked about it when they had made love. He didn't know what it was for, so she just smiled and said it was beautiful anyway, because it was a part of him.

The memory made new tears spring to her eyes. They would never make love again. They had known that that time might be their last, but she refused to believe it. Now, it was a hard truth that she would have to accept, even though the weight of the fact threatened to crush her.

"It is... hope," What had he meant by that? How could there be any hope at all?

She heard her father stir behind her. Let him see what he had done, but not the stone. She hid the stone in her pocket, and pulled her t-shirt over it so the bulge wasn't so noticeable. She would protect it, because it had been important enough for him to mention in his dying words. She would honour his last wish, always.

"Shira..." Her father stood shakily, he looked like an old man now, but she had no pity for him as she might have had for someone elderly. He had created his own woe, and it was no longer hers to suffer. She felt nothing for him now, not even hatred, just numbness, a profound emptiness deep inside.

Security men hurried in, too late, always too late. They looked at Shira, at Alex's body, and at Shira's father, and let their guns relax.

"It is over," Shira said, in a voice she did not recognise, an adult voice, weary and sorrowful, "Let us leave."

She went over to Alex and picked up his body, heavy even now. One of the lab assistants stepped forward to assist but she refused.

"We are leaving," she repeated, "Come, Father."

"Yes Shira," her father said, dazed and defeated. The security guards stood aside to let them through, backing away from them as though their sorrow was infectious. They left the lab and began a slow, silent march along the tunnel. Tears leaked from Shira's eyes. They were supposed to leave here together, alive, to run away and be together, wherever that would have taken them. She would even have lived in Zeronia and fought against humans, if that what it had taken for them to be together.

Shira didn't turn to see if her father was behind her, didn't care if he came or not. She had to find a place for Alex, a place to rest his body where it wouldn't be dug up for scrap metal. There was no way any being could mend him, but she didn't want his body to be melted down and made into weapons. He had been used enough in his life, used as a spy, used as a weapon, used as a means to gain revenge. If she could not be with him, she would at least make sure he could rest in peace.

Shira and her father went up in the elevator, leaving behind the few curious scientists who had followed them through the tunnel. Not a word passed between them as they went up.

The doors slid open, and they wandered through reception like ghosts. Nobody stopped them, even though the receptionist was paying attention and there were security guards at the door now. Perhaps someone had told them what had happened via telephone. Gossip spread fast in places like these.

Shira tasted the cool air, the rain that fell on her still cold body reminded her that she needed warmth, that she'd been walking around in wet clothes too long, although she barely cared. They made their way around to the car park, and her father fumbled for his keys. He was in no fit state to drive, but Shira didn't know how.

She laid Alex's body on the back seat and sat in the passenger side. She wanted to break down and cry, to do something, anything other than block out the pain with this endless void, which felt like it might consume her soul with its nothingness.

***

The roads were empty, the pavements devoid of people. Landis City was quieter than usual. The silence seemed so loud and stifling, something that Shira had never felt in the city she had lived in all of her life.

She turned on the car radio, and regretted it when patriotic music blared out from it. How could she love Landis when it's own government had allowed Alex to be treated as he had? How could she ever trust anybody again?

The patriotic music came to a sudden fadeout, to make way for a news flash. Shira knew the news before she even heard it:

"And now, for a special news bulletin: War has been declared with the Federation of Zeronia. The President of Landis will be making an announcement shortly. Until then, all citizens are expected to return to their homes and prepare for registration. All adults between the ages of 18 and 30 will be expected to either serve in the armed forces or to work in a field of national importance. Failure to do so will mean imprisonment. In addition, all sentient robots must be registered, shut down or destroyed within 48 hours, or they will be deemed enemies and destroyed."

Shira shook her head. Did they know what they were saying? Did they even understand anything about sentient robots? Anger at her government, at the state of the world, burned inside of her. She flicked off the radio as they drove onto the bridge that spanned over the River Landis, one of the last truly natural highlights of the city.

"Stop the car," Shira ordered. She had decided on her place, the final resting place for Alex. In the river, he would sink and rust naturally, as humans who were buried rotted away. Nobody would find him there, and it was a truly beautiful place to remember him - the best Landis had, anyway.

The car came to a halt without so much as a word from her father. She opened the door and rushed to the back one. The rain seemed to have halted, but the wind was still strong. She pulled Alex out of the car, shut the door behind him, and held him close for the last time, planting a kiss on his lips. She picked him up and carried him to the edge, lifting him up over the railing with all the strength she had.

A shard of sunlight broke through the cloud as the wind brushed her hair. Tears rolled unashamedly down her face as the sunlight illuminated Alex's still face for the last time.

"Farewell, my love," she whispered, and let him go. His body fell down, down to the water below, where he landed with a definite splash and sank beneath the surface.

Shira held onto the rail in the wind, as the sun retreated behind the clouds once more.

"ALEX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" she cried, holding onto the railings so tightly her knuckles turned white.

She felt the bulge in her pocket and reached her hand in to touch the stone.

"I will hold onto hope, whatever hope it is that you wanted me to have," she whispered, and lingered a few moments before turning to the car. Her father sat in the driver's seat, intently watching her. She climbed in and shut the door, just sitting there for a few minutes.

"Shira..." her father began, "I don't know what to say any more."

"There's nothing you could say that would make the pain go away," she replied honestly.

"I know..." he said, "I was so sure that Zacharias killed your brother that I let it blind me against all robots. I still believe he was responsible. But that doesn't mean 5001 - Alex - was to blame for that. I'm not a good scientist, Shira. I let my emotions control me instead of my logic, my hatred win out over my curiosity. I never found out any of the things I was supposed to find out from Alex. Was he really a spy? I have no idea."

Shira felt her anger rise at the absence of an actual apology, "Even if he had been a spy, that never justified what you did!"

"Perhaps... There are many hard truths in this world, Shira. I'm not perfect. I admit I've let your brother's death destroy my life and the lives of you and your mother. But we're in a war now. Ethics mean little when so many lives are at stake. Sometimes the end justifies the means."

"So, you would do it all again?" Shira brought her fist down on the dashboard, "Even after all that you know now? Are you that blinded to your government's ambitions? Humans and robots could co-exist, but instead you would take this fear of humans being destroyed to heart and do anything to win the war?"

"You would have done anything for Alex. So I would do anything to protect my family. Starting with you. If you don't want to end up in the military, then you must come and work with me in the lab. I can teach you everything you can know about robots. Perhaps it will clash with your ethics, but it's that or destroying robots on the battlefield. It's up to you, Shira." Her father looked out across the bridge.

Shira sighed. She didn't want to work with her father, didn't ever want to see that lab again, never wanted to torture robots, but perhaps she could make things better from the inside. If she learned about robots, perhaps one day she would find a way to rebuild Alex. It had to be better than the alternative. Something told her that Alex would have agreed.

"I'll do it," she said, looking to the river. The past was gone, and somehow she would have to rebuild her life. But she would never forget Alex, the one she truly loved. Perhaps someday the power of technology would bring him back to her. That was a hope worth holding onto.

~Fin