We were at war with Them. The androids.
It all started many years ago when each android had been created with what would be a ticking time bomb. New models as well as old ones contained the fatal flaw that was meant to save humanity, not be its undoing. It was meant to be a kill code just in case we lost control. It was because of this we lost control.
Now, nearly indistinguishable from humans, they roamed free within the cities we lived. And they were being hunted.
I am a hunter. But, I don’t hunt for the androids. I hunt for those humans that choose to side with the androids. Sympathizers, we called them. Believers that androids should have all the same rights humans do.
I was here to make sure that humans remained superior. Android, no matter their programming, would never be human, and I would fight until they’d been defeated. We had to find their leader, who had possession of the kill code. The code that would exterminate every Android on the planet and humans would be free once again.
I always knew these androids were a bad idea. I always said it. No one listened. But now they were listening. We were stronger, and we would prove it. I was going to find the weak links and make us even stronger.
I left our base and began to make the trek to the nearest city where sympathizers were rumored to be. A whole neighborhood of them. I’d be a fox in a hen-house.
I found comfort in the heft of my carefully concealed laser pistol. I rubbed my left arm where my skin had been branded. I supposed I should have taken comfort in that, too, knowing that I now bore the tattoo of an android to identify me. I was to pretend to be the very thing I hated.
I walked through the city, anonymous. My face had been changed to mask my true identity. Thankfully, we had access to the best plastic surgeon on the roster, so it was painless with almost no recovery time. Nearly overnight, I’d become a new person.
I looked at the slip of paper in my hand, confirming the address. I entered the apartment building and climbed to the third floor. Fourth door on the right. I knocked, and the door opened. I let my straight shoulders slump, trying to seem like I needed help.
I needed to make sure. They had to accept my story. Invite me in. I went over the lies in my head, again and again, to make them the truth.
I looked up, staring into the traitor’s eyes.
It was my mother.
I froze, unable to comprehend what she was saying. My head filled with the chatter of my superiors. The mission. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
She touched my shoulder softly. A mother’s touch. But as she looked at my face, I knew she didn’t recognize me. I had a new face. And I’d become an entirely different person since she’d fled our home. I didn’t know where she had gone until now. And it only confirmed my suspicions. But I had to know.
I rolled up my left sleeve and then looked for her response.
“Help,” was all I could manage to say. I had an entire story to tell her. A plan to make her believe. But she didn’t need convincing. Her greatest flaw was trusting people too much.
She brought me inside, unafraid of my admission of being an android, and unafraid of what could happen if she helped me. I hesitated stepping over the threshold. It would give me all the proof I needed to shoot her where she stood. This was war, after all.
Instead, I sat when she invited me to. I needed to know.
“Why would you help me?”
“That’s a long story, I’m afraid.” She wrung her hands, closed her eyes and bit her lip. I wanted to reach out and comfort her, but I couldn’t. I was a stranger. A stranger on a mission. My laster pistol seemed to press more heavily against me as a constant reminder.
“I’ve got time,” I invited.
She gave me a curious look. “You know, you sound like someone I used to know.” She smiled a little; then sadness overtook her. “It was my son,” she began.
“Yes, your son, go on.”
“He was killed at the front.”
I was confused. I was here. I wasn’t dead. “If he was killed at the front by androids, then why would you want to help one?”
“Oh, no, you misunderstand. He was fighting for the androids. It was the humans that killed him. Killed by his kind, as humans have done for thousands of years.”
“What do you mean, he fought for the androids? You’re human, so he was human, yes?”
I continued to press her, beginning to panic further with each of her answers. She had to be lying to me. To befriend me. Somehow, she knew, and she was using me. She was trying to trip me up. It wasn’t going to work. But I couldn’t kill her. Not yet. Because part of me wanted to belive her. To trust her. Maybe I was as foolish as she was.
“He believed as I did that androids feel just as we do. Even if they weren’t born human, they feel human. We can’t penalize them for coming into this world as an android. It doesn’t make either of us better or worse. We’re different, but not that different.” She smiled and patted my hand. I involuntarily jerked it away.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sure you’ve been through a lot. I didn’t mean to startle you.” She smiled tenderly again.
Once again I was at a loss for words. Silence hovered between us. “How do you know he’s dead? It could have been a lie.” I cringed slightly. I was coming off more pointed than I intended, and I had to maintain my cover. I couldn’t get emotional.
“I saw him myself.” Her voice softened, and she gazed at the floor. “But then the androids offered to help, as my son had helped their cause. They took his memory and uploaded it into a new android body with an artificial brain. I would have my son back, and he would never know.”
“What about the brand?” I touched my left arm.
“He was unbranded. The androids had been working on developing a new model themselves. My son was one of the first. Almost indistinguishable from being human.”
“Where is he now?”
Tears began to slide silently down her cheeks.
“Something went wrong. When he woke, it was like he was an entirely different person. He denied ever siding with the androids. He said it had been a lie. He was so angry. He said he had been sent by the humans to infiltrate the androids to obtain intelligence by getting them to trust him. He said the mission had failed, but he should have been allowed the dignity to die, not to be condemned to live out his life as the very thing he hated. He tried to kill us all. They couldn’t stop him. He ran. He left and never came back.
I got word later that he had returned to the humans. And that was it. I haven’t heard from him since.” Tears appeared fresh in her eyes.
I knew my mother. I knew when she was lying. She was telling the truth. And she was right. I was the thing I hated.
Memories materialized in my mind as if I were unearthing a body from a grave I’d been digging for quite some time. I stared past my mother at the wall.
They convinced me I was human. That I was completing a mission. This was my ultimate test. To provide I was a true soldier for the cause. To provide that, despite my android body, I was still human.
Now, I didn’t feel that humanity was my asset. It was my greatest flaw.