Objectoids: people with characteristics of inanimate objects, and sometimes special abilities to match them. Each one is unique and stands out from humans. Objectoids could usually be identified just by looking at them. It could be something small, such as graphite fingernails or unusually colored irises; or it could be obvious, like camera lenses for eyes or wheels on their feet. Some objectoids have what are called "extensions": objects that act as a part of their body. They carry these objects with them at all times, as an extension of themselves. These extensions are often used when they use their special abilities, but others are vital for their survival.
These people live among humans in modern society, making up a little less than 1% of the population. They are a minority, and humans make sure they know it. Words like "monster" and "garbage" are used often to put them down. Objectoids have no representation in the government, and it is unlikely they'd be hired for well-paying jobs. Most of them are harassed by bored humans, and are forced to grin and bear it. If they raised a hand against a human, the justice system would surely take the human's side.
In San Francisco, a district fondly referred to as Toy Town was formed. 40% of the state's objectoids flocked together for support and companionship, and the state of California saw it as an opportunity to profit. Toy Town is now a tourist attraction, where humans go for the novelty objectoid experience. The residents treated tourists like royalty, serving their every need with a smile, and in exchange, the job market was more open to them.
Oliver, however, did not live in Toy Town. He lived thirty minutes away from the objectoid hub with his older brother. He was a wind-up soldier objectoid, and was currently attending his first day of sixth grade. He was a small boy for his age, with black hair and dull black eyes.
He could feel his classmates' eyes on him as he sat at his desk in class. They were curious about him. Many of them had never shared a class with an objectoid, and their mothers told them to keep away from the strange beings. Oliver had a wooden rifle in his lap as he copied notes from the board. The toy was painted black, although the paint was completely chipped off at the end of the barrel. The lack of detail made it look more like a hockey stick, as it had no opening in the barrel or even a trigger. The wind-up key in Oliver's back turned slowly as it clicked rhythmically like a heartbeat. He felt acutely aware of its ticking, and was convinced everyone around him found it annoying.
The class was silent as the teacher waited for the students to copy the words on the board, and so his ticking was all that could be heard. He wanted to crawl into a hole and die, he was so embarrassed.
Why couldn't I go to a school in Toy Town? Why'd my stupid brother have to enroll me here? Better education... yeah right. Oliver gasped as he suddenly felt the warm touch of someone's fingers on his key.
Kri-i-i-ik! The loud cranking noise broke the silence as the boy behind him twisted it.
"Whoops, that's loud," the boy commented with a laugh.
"Sammy, please keep your hands to yourself. We're in the middle of a lesson," the teacher scolded him.
The room filled with quiet giggles from the other students as Sammy gave a guilty grin, "Sorry, Ms. Winslow."
Oliver felt his face redden. He heard the class's muffled laughter and was sure they were laughing at him. He was a dumb toy who couldn't keep quiet. What an idiot. What makes him think he can come sit with them in the same classroom as if they're equals? These thoughts swarmed in Oliver's mind as he buried his face in his arms on the desk and pretended to go to sleep.
Oliver sat in the library during lunch break. The other students had already formed their cliques, and Oliver had missed the very small opportunity before class had started that morning to meet people and make friends. He had gotten to class late, and so he had had no time to introduce himself to his classmates. He figured it was just as well, though, as he couldn't imagine any of the students wanting him following them around like a puppy.
"Hey," a voice called out to him quietly, as they were in a library. Oliver turned to see Sammy coming over to his table to sit across from him.
"H-hi," Oliver replied nervously. Did he come to harass me again? To laugh at me?
"What's your name?" Sammy asked.
"Oliver," Oliver answered.
"You're an objectoid, right?"
"Yeah..." Here it comes; the ridicule.
"My dad says you should all just stay in Toy Town with your own kind where you belong," Sammy said bluntly.
"Yeah..." Oliver croaked. He wished his brother thought the same way.
"I'm glad you're here, though," Sammy told him. "It's cool having an objectoid sitting in front of me. That handle on your back..." Oliver braced himself for insult. "It's really funny looking. But kinda cool." Oliver was silent. He didn't know what to say, so he simply shrugged. "You're a wind-up toy, right?" Sammy asked. Oliver nodded. "And that gun you have is an extension, isn't it?"
"Yeah... I'm a toy soldier," Oliver told him.
"That's neat. Does it actually fire?" Sammy asked.
Oliver nodded. "Only for me, though."
"Can I see it?" Sammy held out his hand. Oliver hesitated. He had wanted a friend, and this was the perfect opportunity.
Sammy seems pretty nice, so I could trust him with my rifle for a moment, right? His brother always told him to be more friendly and open, and then friends will come easier. Oliver took a deep breath, then lifted the wooden rifle from his lap and placed it gently in Sammy's hand.
"Wow, this is so cool! I've never held an objectoid extension before!" Sammy held the rifle up like he was aiming at something, then swung it around like a staff.
"Be careful with-"
"Hey, you boys! Either be quiet or play outside!" The librarian scolded them.
"'Kay!" Sammy turned and sped to the door. Oliver followed frantically, beginning to panic. Oliver chased the blonde boy out to the courtyard, where a couple of other boys were playing soccer with a slightly deflated ball. "Put your hands up!" Sammy exclaimed as he pointed the rifle at the two.
They looked at him and grinned as one of them spoke in an exaggerated tone, "Oh no! Whatever shall we do? Don't shoot us please!"
"Bang!" Sammy jerked the rifle up, and the boy fell melodramatically onto the grass.
The other boy walked over and took the gun from Sammy, "Where'd you get this?" He asked.
"Oliver gave it to me. He's an objectoid," Sammy explained.
"I didn't give it-" Oliver interjected, trying to snatch it back, but the boy turned and ran back to the other boy with it.
"It looks like a hockey stick," he commented as he hit the soccer ball with the butt of the rifle like a golf club. The other boy, black haired, ran after the ball and gave it a strong kick back in his friend's direction. The child swatted the ball out of the air with the rifle.
"Nngh!" Oliver grunted as the ball hit the rifle. "Give it back!" He whined.
"Or what? You'll call the teacher?" The black haired kid snickered.
Sammy took the rifle from his friend, "Hey, it's his gun. If he wants it back, we should give it back," he decided, tossing the wooden gun onto the ground in front of Oliver. Oliver snatched it quickly and held it in front of his chest tightly, as though he thought they might take it again.
"Tch, whatever. It's just a dirty old stick, anyway. Let's play soccer!" Sammy's friend suggested.
"Sure," Sammy turned to Oliver, "wanna play with us?" Oliver hesitated. If he said no, his chance of making friends with them would be gone.
Sure, they were rough with his rifle, but they were just playing, right? On the other hand, though, Sammy might just be asking to be polite. It'd be mortifying if he said yes and ended up ruining their fun. Oliver looked at the two boys behind Sammy. Their expressions made him feel he wasn't wanted there. Better decline. "N-no, I'm fine. I'm not very good at soccer," it wasn't a lie.
"That's ok," Sammy smiled, "we need another player to make it even. You can just be on my team. Let's go."
Before Oliver could object, Sammy grabbed his hand and dragged him to the makeshift soccer field in the courtyard.
Oliver entered the small flower shop after school where his brother, Matt, worked.
"Hey, Oliver. How was school?" Matt came out from the back room after hearing the bell on the door ring. He wore a jacket and jeans, and he was a light-haired man with a smile on his face. Matt was always smiling. He smiled when he served customers, he smiled when he played music, and he smiled when he was harassed by humans. Oliver hated his smile.
"Friends are overrated," Oliver sighed as he sat on a stool beside the counter.
"That bad, huh?" Matt smirked as he picked up a watering can and began watering the shelves of flowers.
"Why can't I go to school in Toy Town with other objectoids?" Oliver whined.
"You know why. This school is closer to home, and the education is better. Besides, if you grow up in Toy Town surrounded by objectoids, what are you gonna do when you leave to start your own life? It's important to learn how to live with humans," Matt lectured. Oliver rolled his eyes. He wanted to live in Toy Town for his whole life, but he knew if he said that aloud, Matt would have a fit. Matt used to live in Toy Town with Oliver, but they moved away two years ago. Matt never told Oliver why, but Oliver could guess. His brother used to love Toy Town, but now he rarely ever visited. "Anyway, Angie's in the back room organizing the seeds. If she sees you sitting on your butt, she's gonna shoo you out," Matt handed the watering can to Oliver, "so if you want to hang around, you should do some work."
Oliver grumbled under his breath as he placed his rifle on the counter and hopped off the stool to water the remaining flowers. Matt grabbed a broom and began sweeping the floor.
"Matt!" Only moments later, the door to the flower shop burst open to reveal a man dressed in a gray and red suit. His clothes, while nice looking, were disheveled. His blazer sat crooked on his shoulders, his tie hung loose from his neck, and his collar was sticking up on one side. His skin was pale with a slight greenish tinge, and was covered in white and yellow lines, small text, and other map markings. His hair was normally very well groomed, but now was a mess of black locks. He had dirt on his clothes and face, and a bit of blood on the edge of his mouth.
"Atlas!" Matt exclaimed as he saw the man's appearance. "What happened?"
"Just roughed up a bit, nothing major," Atlas explained with a hint of a British accent as he brushed himself off, straightening his tie as he caught his breath. "Anyway, Matt, did you hear the news? An objectoid in Idaho recently got a job as the manager of a company."
"Interesting," Matt replied, leaning against his broom, obviously not interested, but willing to humor him.
"Don't you see, Matt? We're making ground! We're a step closer to being treated equally! A small step, sure, but a step all the same!"
"Atlas Aska! You'd better not be bringing your political nonsense into my flower shop!" A woman came out from the back room. She was an older woman, with dark skin with vitiligo patches, and black hair tied back in a bun, with a flower pinned in it.
"Miss Angela, I would never seek to cause your lovely shop trouble like that," Atlas replied.
"Seeking or not, trouble is your middle name. Either clean yourself up and act like a respectable member of society, or get out," Angie told him.
Atlas dusted himself off, tightened his tie, ran a hand through his hair, then looked back at the woman. "There, happy?" She rolled her eyes.
"What's so great about some objectoid getting a job, anyway?" Oliver asked.
"I'm glad you asked, my wind-up friend," Atlas smiled. "It's not just any job. An objectoid was hired into a management job. That means humans are beginning to trust and respect us more. Today, a company manager, tomorrow, a CEO, and then before you know it..." Atlas waved his hand in the air, as though fabricating an invisible banner, "The President of the United States!"
Silence. Then, Matt laughed, "Pffhahaha! President? You're off your rocker!"
"Idealistic, sure. Optimistic, definitely. Crazy? Not a chance. I'm telling you, Matt, it'll happen. Maybe not any time soon, but-"
"It's impossible," Matt dismissed as he went to continue sweeping the floor.
Oliver smiled at Atlas. This wasn't anything new. Atlas was often talking of such ridiculous ideals. He was the kind of person that was either loved or hated. Those who thought of him fondly would describe him as optimistic, charismatic, and fun to be around. He was a dreamer, open-minded, strong-willed. A breath of fresh air in this world of inequality. Those who weren't so fond of him would describe him as foolish, overly idealistic, and irritatingly friendly. He was an idiot who spouted his ridiculous equality nonsense to anyone who would listen. He was stubborn, foolhardy, and a major smartass. His only redeeming quality was that he was great fun to harass and light enough to lift and toss into the nearest dumpster, which incidentally was what had happened to him earlier that day.
"It isn't impossible! It'll happen!" Atlas insisted.
"How did you ever come to be friends with this looney?" Angie asked Matt with a sigh.
"'Friend' is a strong word... more like old bandmates," Matt replied with an awkward smile.
"Bandmates?" Angie tipped her head.
"We used to play together in a jazz band. Matt on his saxophone and me on drums," Atlas explained.
"Atlas on a drumset… that's a scary thought," Angie commented.
"The world would go deaf," Oliver agreed.
"Hey! It happened! And I'm very good on drums, I'll have you know!" Atlas replied indignantly.
"Anyway, if you're not buying anything, why don't you go do whatever it is you do this time of day?" Angie asked Atlas. "You loitering around is bad for business."
"Alright, I can take a hint," Atlas muttered as he shoved his hands in his pockets and turned toward the door, "See ya later, Matt."
"Try not to get into any more trouble," Matt smiled as he left.
Later that day, Matt went to the mall to buy new clothes for his younger brother. With plastic bags in both hands, he went out to the courtyard to see a small crowd gathered by the fountain. Curious, he walked up to one of the bystanders and asked, "What's going on?"
"Some objectoid is getting hazed again, I think," the man responded.
"It's Atlas again," a woman added.
"Atlas?" Matt looked at her with surprise.
"Yeah, he's a GPS who's kinda infamous around these parts for getting the shit beat out of him. He keeps spouting nonsense about equality, so aggressive men are often trying to put him in his place," she explained.
Matt stood up on his toes to look out over the crowd, and saw the woman was exactly right. At the fountain, Atlas's head was currently being forced under the water, and his blazer sleeves were tied in a knot behind his back, restricting his arms.
A burly looking man was holding him by his hair, and he pulled him up after a couple moments. "What do you have to say for yourself now, huh?"
"You're making a public example out of me because you're afraid other objectoids might agree with me, aren't you?" Atlas replied as he spat out water. The man gave an irritated grimace before plunging him under again.
Matt dropped back onto his heels, grabbing the zipper on his jacket as if to make sure it was zipped up all the way. He smiled as he turned and kept walking. He had more shopping to do, and jumping to Atlas's rescue would be like asking to be lynched. This wasn't anything special. Hazings happened all the time. It was just another part of life, and Matt wasn't about to go running in to be the hero.
Atlas remained calm at first as he was held underwater. He simply had to hold his breath. But after a few moments, his lungs started to feel tight, and a thought occurred to him: He might not be pulled up. Panic swept through him all at once, and he began squirming and thrashing in an attempt to free himself, but his captor's grip was strong. Bubbles of air escaped his nose and mouth as he writhed in the water. I'm going to drown! His struggling grew weaker as he quickly ran out of oxygen, and that was when the security guard (who had been idly standing by) decided the fun was over.
"Alright, let the poor bastard go, already," he told the man as he stepped toward the fountain. "You're gonna drown 'im if you keep at it."
"Tch! Fine," the man relented, pulling Atlas out of the water and tossing him onto the floor like a wet sack. Atlas spluttered and gasped for air.
"Alright, folks, show's over," the security guard dispersed the crowd. Atlas's assailant glared down at him, lying helplessly on his side, then planted one last kick directly into his face before going about his business.
Atlas writhed on the ground, unable to even protect his new injury because of the knot in his sleeves. The security guard gave him a look of contempt before he, too, left the scene. The GPS man laid on the pavement, without enough energy to pull himself up. His lungs burned and his nose was bleeding.
He laid on his side, wallowing in self-pity, for several minutes before he felt someone tugging at the knot behind his back. He turned to see Angie undoing the cloth handcuffs.
"Miss Angela! What are you doing here?" He asked.
"Shopping. Unlike a certain someone, I don't go to the mall to get my face kicked in," Angie replied.
A man with mocha skin and black hair stood a few feet behind her, plastic bags looped around both wrists. He looked down his nose at Atlas, "Are you sure you should help this guy? People will start calling you an objectoid sympathizer. You're losing customers as it is, you should avoid such a scandal," he stated as he adjusted his glasses. Atlas raised an eyebrow at the cold man.
"That's my brother, Felix," Angie rolled her eyes, then shot a reproachful glare at him. "If people think bad of me for helping someone, I don't want them buying my flowers. Honestly, it's getting to be ridiculous."
"He's your brother?" Atlas looked at her skeptically as she finished untying his sleeves.
"Half-brother," she clarified.
"I see…" Atlas sat up and wiped the blood off his nose with his hand. He then looked at Felix. The two locked gazes for a moment until Felix looked away, an annoyed look on his face. Atlas gave a bittersweet, knowing smile. He then went to stand up, and soon found himself sitting on the floor again.
"Careful, there. Let me help," Angie grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. Atlas stumbled as he wiped more blood from his face.
"Guess I was shaken up more than I thought," he chuckled.
"... Come to the flower shop with us," Angie told him.
"No, no, I really should-"
""You really should go to a hospital, but I know that's not gonna happen. So come let me clean you up at least."
Atlas rolled his head, then relented.
Atlas sat on the check-out counter as Angie bandaged his nose. "So what're you?" He asked Felix, who was sitting on a stool doing math problems in a binder.
"Sorry?" Felix looked over his glasses at Atlas.
Atlas smiled knowingly, "Come on. I know my own kind when I see them. You're a hybrid, aren't you?"
Felix's expression suddenly became one of fear, confusion, and anger. He quickly pulled out his phone and used it as a mirror to check his face, then glared at Atlas. "How did you know?"
"There are a lot of objectoid-human hybrids who can pass as human. Humans often can't tell the difference, but objectoids can spot 'em a mile away. Know how?" Atlas tapped a finger under his eye. "The constant threat of being discovered causes you to be afraid. Nervous. You looked at me at the mall, bruised and drenched, and you saw yourself. Do you want me to tell you what you were thinking when we locked eyes?"
Felix looked disgusted at the GPS, but prompted him to continue, "Go on."
"You thought I was an idiot, a mess, a waste of oxygen. A filthy objectoid. Then, you remembered that you're just as bad. That was when you looked away, unable to meet the gaze of a man wearing his heart on his sleeve with pride. You, who threw away his identity in favor of the title 'human,' averted your gaze from someone who lives with the ridicule that comes with his species. In that moment, you felt ashamed."
Felix's look of disgust only intensified, then he cleared his throat and closed his eyes, regaining his composure. "That's an interesting theory. Unfortunately, I merely looked away because I didn't want to look at such a filthy, disgraceful person," he looked down at the binder in his lap. "To answer your question, though…" he glanced towards the door, making sure no one would hear. "I'm a calculator."
"Why are you so nice to objectoids, anyway?" Atlas asked as he and Angie shared a cup of tea after bandaging his nose.
"Are you complaining?" Angie asked.
"No, no! If it weren't for you, I'd probably still be writhing on the floor at the mall with my sleeves tied behind my back," Atlas laughed. "I'm just curious, is all. You have a business to uphold; most people in your position would be too afraid of backlash to openly aid a punished objectoid."
Angie sighed, "I used to be like that. Refusing to do business with objectoids, basically spitting in their general direction… then this brat was born," she pointed her thumb at Felix, who was still doing work at the front counter.
"Yeah, what's his story, anyway? You said he's your half-brother? He looks like he could be your son - no offense."
"My parents started early. They were in their early twenties when I was born. My mom died when I was 22, and my dad turned to prostitution to keep the depression at bay," Angie explained solemnly. "The whorehouses, in case you don't know, employ mostly objectoid women. My father ended up accidentally impregnating one of them. She of course wanted to abort, but he saw it as an opportunity. Like a message from his dead wife. A gift she left behind. He made a deal with the whore, that he'd pay her for the entire nine months it took to birth the baby, and then he'd take it off her hands. She agreed."
Atlas listened quietly, and Felix did, too, although he pretended not to be paying attention as he tapped his pencil absently on his paper.
"He kept the baby secret, so I didn't find out until Felix was already born. And I found out because my dad needed me to help take care of him. He couldn't get leave from work because it would create too many questions and rumors. So I begrudgingly agreed to watch the baby while he was at work," Angie continued. "I was outraged at my father, and disgusted at Felix, but I tell ya, there's not a human being alive who can watch over a baby every day and not let it into their hearts. Before I knew it, the contempt I had for him disappeared, and this baby that I had originally seen as a mistake became, well… my brother," Angie looked over at Felix. She caught his gaze for a split second before he looked back down at his paper, his ears reddening. "People see hybrids as the scum of the earth. As less than trash. The way I see it, they could bridge the gap between humans and objectoids. You live with a hybrid, it makes you realize all these differences that you believed to exist between humans and objectoids… well, they're not really differences at all. We're all just people, trying our best to survive."
Atlas stared into his empty cup, stained brown with tea. "I really wish more people thought the way you do," he finally said with a smirk. "Unfortunately, most objectoids are too scared to help each other. They don't want to draw attention to themselves. If we can't even help each other out, there's no way we can hope for the day that humans will help us." He sat for a moment more before his phone buzzed. He looked at it, then stood up and handed her his cup, "Well, Thank you for your insight," he looked down at his suit, dirty from the dumpster and wrinkled from the fountain water. "It's people like you that make the laundry bill feel worth it."
"You're very welcome. Maybe as a sign of gratitude, you can actually buy something some time?" Angie suggested.
Atlas laughed, "Haha, see you later. Tell Matt I said 'hi.'" And with a wave of his hand, he left.