The company did what it needed to, and then a little more. That wasn’t bad news for him by any means. True, he no longer had any work to do – they’d shuttered just after giving him a new life to pretend he lived, and that left his future a bit uncertain. He’d managed to save up enough money to get by, but there weren’t many people out there who could take his money and do safe work on his hardware.
But their closing was on paper only: robotic research was no longer worth the company’s time, with their most rousing successes being too successful, too expensive to make and too independent to control, and their failures amounting to little more than industrial detritus that might, if it makes it to production, save a second here or a second there for a human or, more likely, a demon, one of the clever ones that could figure out robotics and then use magic to glue it all together.
The problem, if you could call it that, was that he had no idea what the company was doing now. That was for them to know, and him to find out if he was ever useful to them. He didn’t even know where they’d moved to, or what they were called now. All he knew was that they sent a silicon jockey to find him every month, to do some maintenance, and somehow, the silicon jockey always did.
And that was his new normal. Sitting in his apartment with the blinds down, putting cassettes from storage into a refurb VHS, watching and rewatching the classics. He knew that at some point, he’d probably be called back to work, and he didn’t spare a thought on the idea because by the time he was, that would be his new normal.
But he did get out sometimes. After all, it’s not like he knew any corporate secrets he could spill to the grocer, and he didn’t look inhuman enough to remind people that there was a company that did robotics in town previously. What made him different was all in his head, and there wasn’t much there.
So one foggy morning, he went out to a restaurant sandwiched between two of the town’s many miniature farms. Their sign said they had the freshest ingredients, and he didn’t think that was out of desperation. It seemed like the sort of sign you’d keep up forever, as a selling point for your restaurant, when you’ve got the farms nearby to back it up.
So he sat down with a plate of salad, bright green leaves tossed in a vinaigrette with some vegetables that he’d struggle to name off the top of his head, and thick-cut fries with the skin on. It was the cheapest pair of items on their menu, and he was trying to save up money. So he got to work on his food, planning to leave a tip and head home in just a few minutes, when someone sat down across from him.
“Sorry to interrupt your lunch if I’m off the mark, but are you employee number…” An unassuming woman with long, black hair and a matching dress stopped herself, changing her initial question into something else entirely. “Do you know a robot named Mem?”
His brow furrowed, the man looked up and answered honestly. “No, I don’t. Who are you?”
Reaching into her jacket pocket, the woman took out a sketch of a figure that the man immediately recognized — a mechanical girl with red eyes, and in the corner, the mark of a pentagram behind a skull and crossbones. The mark of an organization whose particulars he was never induced to forget.
“I work as a bartender in the Poison Bar. But please, call me Chiaki.”