Chapter 24

Sigmund inspected his shirt, having been damaged in the scuffle with Al. "It's ripped too much," he declared. "It won't stay on properly." He took off the jacket, only dirtied up at most, and pulled at the shirt, ending up ripping the garment the rest of the way. "I liked it, too…" he said, putting the jacket back on.

"It is incredibly weak material," Capelli said, looking at the tattered remains. "I still don't fully understand how they protect humans."

"Well, let's not spend too much time now trying to figure it out. We've got more important things that concern us."

After burying Al, the four had started looking around the city, trying to identify any objects of use or buildings of importance. Unfortunately, the majority of structures had collapsed, or possibly been destroyed. And those that were still standing stood either empty or run down from disuse.

"If we get other units to help, we could build new ones," Sigmund posited to them. "…Right?"

"Theoretically, yes," Ivan responded. "We would need architectural knowledge, but with the help of other units, it could be done."

"Where should we start?" Leon asked. "What would we build first?"

Sigmund thought for a moment. "We'd need a bar, or at least some method of synthesizing maintenance fluid. Highest priority. And then a repair station, to help fix the Beta units." He thought again. "…We might have to ask for help from the humans."

"Speaking of the Beta units," Leon started, "how are they progressing, Ivan?"

Ivan turned to a nearby Beta unit, and broke into his swarm, inspecting the insides. A few seconds later, he reemerged.

"Still at the same rate; this one's at fifty-two percent. Their power cells seem to recharge at a much slower rate than ours; probably a byproduct of the technological standards they were created with. But they also appear to not need as much power to run at optimum capacity. They just weren't used to being drained that much. I estimate another three hours until they're able to function properly again. Though that won't mean much for a lot of them."

"That's fine," said Sigmund. "As long as they'll be able to function. We'll get them repaired as fast as we can."

"…Ivan," said Capelli, "how are they still running if they've been unable to move correctly for so long? They would have had no maintenance fluid for that whole time; they should have been completely broken, right?"

"I'm not exactly sure," Ivan replied. "From what I can tell, they don't actually need maintenance fluid. Which I always thought was impossible. But apparently they don't."

That intrigued Sigmund; and he could only assume it intrigued the others just as much. "Okay," he said. "I'll start searching nearby cities for other prototypes. Ivan, you go back to the Refuge and find a human that could assist us in building the new buildings in some way."

"Kyle's father, Jason," Leon said. "I think he'll be happy to help, or at least provide information."

"And we could also take the car back to Kyle to get more gasoline," Ivan supplied.

Sigmund nodded. "So you two will go get help from the humans, while I'll search the nearest city. Capelli…" He trailed off, unsure of what to get their little friend to do to help. "…What do you want to do?"

Capelli looked at him, somewhat inquisitively. "Whatever you would like me to do, Sigmund."

"Of course, of course. Then…perhaps you should stay here and monitor things here. Help the Beta units if they need it with anything. And maybe sort the scrap and rubble for us to use in the construction, too."

Capelli nodded, and immediately moved to the remains of a building near them to begin sorting. Sigmund watched the process for a few minutes, quite impressed with the speed at which Capelli was picking up each object, scanning it and throwing it into an appropriate pile behind him without looking.

Eventually, he looked back at Leon and Ivan. "Okay, it should take you two days to get to the Refuge if Ivan, you let Leon carry you. So I'll meet you back here in five days; okay?"

The two nodded; and Sigmund turned to leave. He picked a random direction to walk in and set off, not looking back at his friends, while they continued on with their tasks. When he got to the edge and climbed the scrap to get out of the crater, he stopped for a moment, turning around. Just like the first time, he saw nothing but an empty crater; and marvelled at how this entire city was just hidden from plain sight.

Simply amazing.

He covered good ground in only a few hours, running faster than he normally would. Yet despite it, and despite the fact that he knew his purpose, and was working towards fulfilling it, he felt…down. For the first time since meeting them, he was away from his three friends. And he didn't like it. He wanted their company again; the separation made him realise how much hey enjoyed talking to them.

Teaching them things he'd learned that they weren't able to fully grasp the concept of.

Playing their token game.

Having others to discuss decisions he needed to make.

He hoped he'd find a prototype at the next city he found. He really did.

A couple of hours later, with the sun well into its trek downward, he saw said city creep up over the horizon. Getting excited, he pushed himself to run just a little faster. It soon came closer and closer, until he already found himself at the ring of storage containers. As he entered the city streets, he noted something seemed a little…odd. Though all of the cities he had been to, sans the Refuge and Alpha Beta City, had been virtually the same, something seemed…familiar about this one.

He kept running through the streets, catching bewildered stares from other robots he passed by as they emerged from their towers, but not even caring in the slightest. He was sure of it; he felt like this had happened before.

And then, when a large metal arm appeared out in front of him, and he, without having time to react, ended up sliding a few feet ahead of him on the ground on his back, he realised it. His eyes immediately checked the breastplate of the Delta-3 that had stopped him; and the cosmetically burned ∆3 confirmed it.

It was his original city. And it was his first friend, too.

"What are you doing?" the Delta-3 asked him, crossing the few feet of space to help him up. "Why are you back here? And…" He trailed off, eyeing Sigmund for a few seconds. "…What are those on your body?"

That confused Sigmund for a few seconds, before he realised what he meant. "Oh, you mean my clothes? I got these a couple of days ago. And as for what I'm doing back here, that was unintentional. I just picked a direction and started running."

"…" The Delta-3 said nothing, staring at Sigmund for a considerable length of time. He did speak eventually, though. With a flick of his head, he turned and said, "Let's just go to the bar."

Sigmund smiled softly, and said, "Okay," before following.

Inside their usual bar, the two robots sat down. Sigmund decided not to talk, since the Delta-3 had invited him to the bar, and must have had something to say. But the Delta-3 wasn't talking either, so they just ended up processing their maintenance fluid at the same time and leaving things relatively quiet.

"…You didn't mean to come here," the Delta-3 finally said. "That's what you said, right?"

Sigmund looked up from the mug he'd been staring at for the past few minutes. "Yeah, it was pure chance that I came here; but that's not to say that I didn't mean to come here. I didn't expect it, but I'm glad I ended up here. If I knew it was the direction I took that would take me here, I'd have come this way without making any random selection."

The Delta-3 looked at Sigmund for the first time since meeting up in the streets. "Why have you got those clothes on?"

"They look cool," Sigmund said simply.

"…Where did you even get them?"

"Well, there's actually a city on the surface populated by humans. We went there and I got them at a clothing shop."

"I wouldn't have thought any humans would still be left on the surface. And who's 'we'?"

Sigmund's face brightened. "Oh, Leon, Ivan and Capelli. They're my friends that I met in the other cities."

"…What's a Leon, Ivan and Capelli?" the Delta-3 asked, utter confusion plastered on his face.

"They're my f-oh, right. Leon's an Epsilon-1, Ivan's an Iota-1 and Capelli's a Kappa-5."

"Why do you call them that, then?"

"Because those are their names. It makes them unique."

"…So do you have a name as well? And why does it matter that you're unique?"

"My name's Sigmund. And we already are unique, so I wanted us to feel more like it."

"How are you unique?"

"Well, as it turns out, the four of us are actually the prototype versions of our respective models. We were made just slightly differently than the regular units of our model type." He nodded towards the Delta-3. "You're a prototype as well."

"What?"

"The symbol on your chest. It means you're a prototype. See mine?" He pointed towards the ∑7 on his chest, as if it weren't incredibly obvious.

"Then… How am I different?"

"I don't know exactly," Sigmund said, "but I know that we are different in some small ways."

The Delta-3 sat in silence, no doubt processing this new information. Sigmund sat patiently. He had expected his friend would ask a lot of questions; and he was willing to take as much time as necessary to answer them all.

"…So have you found it yet?" the Delta-3 asked, after several minutes.

"Found what?"

"Your purpose," the Delta-3 said. "You said you'd come back here when you found it."

"I did," Sigmund said. "And I did. Earlier today, I realised what my purpose is. There's a city west of here, that's not only populated entirely by robots, but doesn't have any mining stations or towers. It was built purely to give the robots somewhere to exist without being disturbed. But it's in a state of disrepair, and the leader of the city is…dead." He looked down for a second or two, before continuing. "It's my purpose to help restore that city; and to be its new leader."

The Delta-3 looked at him with wide eyes for a few seconds. "That sounds like…an incredibly encompassing purpose. How can you tell that's really your purpose?"

Sigmund shrugged. "I can't really explain it, but I know that it is my purpose."

"So if coming here specifically wasn't your intent, then what was?"

"I was told to try and convince any other prototype units I found to join me; and I think that's a part of my purpose. None of the robots in the city already can really help us rebuild the city. So I decided to start looking for prototype units at whatever city I would find by running in one direction."

"And you ended up here."

Sigmund nodded. "Yes."

"…So now you'll try to get me to join you."

Sigmund only needed to think for a second before replying. "Not if you don't want me to. If you don't want to come with me, that's okay."

The Delta-3 stayed silent again for a few more minutes; and when he spoke again, it wasn't what Sigmund expected to hear in the slightest.

"You're not defective."

"…What?"

"You're still doing what you were built for," the Delta-3 continued. "In a different context, maybe, but you're still overseeing the successful completion of a certain operation."

"That is true, but what does that have to do with the previous subject?"

"When you left here, I reported you as a defective unit." The Delta-3 looked at the wall for a few seconds. "I shouldn't have done that."

"I don't hold it against you at all," Sigmund replied calmly. "You really thought I was."

"It was…odd, not having you around after that. I didn't think you would come back here after I'd said that to you."

Sigmund smiled. "Like I said then, you're my friend. I found my purpose; and whether intentionally or not, I've come back."

"I'll come with you," the Delta-3 said suddenly; and it took a few seconds for Sigmund to catch up and respond.

"You will? Are you sure? You don't have to."

"I want to," the larger robot said, looking Sigmund in the eye. "After you left, each day of working felt…unsatisfactory. It was different to when you were here. I'd rather follow and assist you than carry out my directive here."

"Delta…" Sigmund said softly, unsure of what would be appropriate to say.

"Besides, I'm sure you'll need my help if you're rebuilding a city," the Delta-3 said, something of a smug tone in his voice. "You hardly ever seem to get that far without me helping you; and like I'd said the last time we were here together, I don't want you to end up a pile of scrap for any reason."

Sigmund smiled. Jamison had been right after all. He thought he'd never persuade the Delta-3 to join him. "That's good to hear," he said. "And I promise you, there'll be work for you to do on the city." He looked down at his empty mug, making sure it was still empty. Then over to the Delta-3's, confirming that it too was as empty as it had been ever since he watched his friend drink it. "Well then, we should go."

The Delta-3 suddenly seemed to take on an air of uncertainty. "What; right now?"

"Yes," said Sigmund, nodding while he looked at the Delta-3 like the decision was an obvious one. Which it was. Obviously. "We've both had our maintenance fluid, and I can't stay in a storage container anymore, now I'm listed as defective. Besides, the sooner we get back to the city, the sooner we can get started on it."

The Delta-3 still didn't seem entirely certain about the prospect. Sigmund suspected that perhaps he hadn't fully thought about the consequences of leaving, such as the lack of a low power cycle and having to stop actually working each day. Something, Sigmund figured, he might have become so used to the routine of that breaking it was a foreign concept.

"Look, I know it's incredibly drastic to just leave right now," Sigmund said. "And you know I know, because that's exactly what I did. But trust me when I say that your purpose isn't here. What I'd said the last time we talked, about there being more to our existences than just following directive; I was right. You know it now too, you said so yourself. It's not just me; all of us have real purposes. At least, I was told all the prototypes do."

"…Told by whom?"

"Our creator," Sigmund replied, hesitating for a few seconds, before adding, "Our father."

"What?"

Sigmund stood up and exited the booth, facing the Delta-3. "Look, I can't stay here. I'm going back to my city, right now. If you really do want to come with me, then come with me. I can't force you to do anything, but I can't wait all night for you to make up your mind."

With that said, Sigmund turned on his heel and started towards the exit, pushing through and out onto the empty, street lamp-lit pathway. He walked over to the middle of the road slowly, hoping that any second now, the Delta-3 would come out and actually agree to join him properly. And after another minute of waiting, he decided that enough was enough. The Delta-3 clearly wanted to come, but still wasn't going to.

He started walking along the road in the opposite direction he'd entered the city in, heading back towards the crater. The walk picked up its pace a little, becoming a power walk, and then becoming a jog. However before his jog could break into a run or sprint, he heard a faint noise behind him, followed by a not-so-faint yelling of his name. "Sigmund!"

He stuttered his feet along the ground, coming to a stop before turning around. He instantly smiled, and ran right back to the bar, where the Delta-3 stood, clearly poised to run after Sigmund, should he have not heard him.

"Delta!" Sigmund called out. "You're coming, then?"

The Delta-3 nodded as Sigmund came to a complete stop a few feet away. Sigmund noted that, for the first time in memory, the Delta-3 was also smiling. "I'm coming. Like I said, following directive without your company was unsatisfying. I can't keep doing that."

Sigmund smiled. "Let's go," he simply said, not needing to address the Delta-3's reasons any further.

The two began running together in the direction of the crater, faster than either two had ever gone before. A few minutes after they cleared the ring of storage containers, the Delta-3 turned his head towards Sigmund and spoke.

"Hey, if I'm a prototype, I should get a name like you and those others do, right?"

Sigmund thought for a moment. "Yeah, you should."

"What would it be?"

"To be honest, I don't know. The humans came up with all of our names. But even if we have to ask for their help again, I know we'll think of something." He turned his head to face the Delta-3 as well. "You deserve it," he said, smiling widely. "You're not just any friend. You're my best friend."