Ben stared at the metal cupped in his hand. He sat on his bed. His mind ached a little, like an overused muscle, when he pulled the strands of platinum out into shivering shapes. The shape he intended to make ended up looking more like a wrench with two heads. He grunted in dissatisfaction and started over.
“What are you doing?” Boss stood near the entrance to his room, hands on her sweat pant-clad hips.
Ben looked up and tried to hide the metal. “Nothing,” he said.
“You should be resting.” Boss walked over and began disassembling his IV stands, throwing the spent bags in a box. “You over did it again.”
“I’m tired of resting,” said Ben. He grimaced and wiped a hand over his face.
“How bad was it?” she asked.
Ben expelled a breath. “Like I was being run over by a train made of sound, light, and sensation. I think I managed not to scream.”
“You didn’t make a peep,” Boss said, nodding and cleaning up around the bed. “I heard what triggered it—” Ben flinched. “You disassembled a chair.” She paused. “Why?” the word fell from her mouth with slow accusation. Ben didn’t answer, chewed his lip. “Tell me why,” Boss said. Ben remained silent.
With a grunt, Boss sat on the floor next to his mattress. “Rice told me some of what happened—”
“That traitor,” Ben grumbled.
“I threatened her.” She said. “And I think I know why you melted a chair, but I want you to tell me. I want to know why you have been going to the Arena. Why you’ve been acting so crazy.”
“You said you trusted me,” Ben said without looking at her.
“Yes,” said Boss. “I did say that.” The silence after her words held expectation.
Sighing heavily, Ben showed her the metal he’d been shaping. He handed it to her. Boss studied it carefully and then looked up at him, eyebrow raised. “It’s not very well crafted whatever it is,” she said.
Ben expelled a breath and took back the piece of metal. It moved in his hand, shivering into another shape, but twisted and malformed. “It’s supposed to be a flower,” he said.
“A flower?” Boss frowned.
“Like a plant with petals and pollen?”
“Yeah, one of those,” said Ben. “I’ve only ever seen flat images, so I’m having a hard time making it.”
Boss pressed her lips together in a firm line. She looked at her hands and thought for a moment. A strand of silvery blond hair fell into her face. When she looked back up at him, her eyes were full of sadness. “Benjamin—” she began.
“I admit I lost my temper,” Ben said quickly. “But if you saw the way they treat analogs—” Ben paused, but Boss had already begun shaking her head slowly. He looked away. “It won’t happen again.”
“Benjamin, you promised.”
“It will not happen again.”
“Maybe I should send her back,” Boss said, her voice quiet.
Ben stared at her. “You can’t,” he said, his voice breaking. “Do you know what happens to them when they aren’t on a job? They’re turned off and put in a box. I-I don’t know if they’re dead during that time or what, but Zee didn’t like it, Awma. She didn’t—”
“Don’t call me that,” Boss said, the words snapping from her mouth.
“S-sorry,” Ben said, looking away from her.
She sighed and shook her head, expression softening a little. “They’re not human,” the Boss said.
“How can you say that? How can you say that Zee isn’t a person?”
“All of her emotions and expressions are conditional responses programmed into her brain,” Boss said. “I could give her an order to change them and she would.”
“You’re wrong,” Ben said. “Her lease may require her to obey, but she doesn’t like it or want to.”
“That can be changed with a single directive,” Boss said. She moved to stand. “Her default setting can be edited.”
“No,” Ben said, grabbing her arm. Boss glared at him until he released her. He set his jaw and returned her glare. “Brain washing shouldn’t be as easy as editing computer code,” he said bitterly.
Boss sighed. “Ben, you can’t love an analog. It’ll just cause you heartache and pain. Trust me, regular love is hard enough. You don’t need more work than you already have. Just take what you want from her and forget about this whole ridiculous project.”
Ben stared at the older woman, her face lined with worry. He looked down at her hands. Those hands had cared for him for as long as he could remember. They liked to reach past his armor and tear out pieces of his heart.
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” he said.
Boss stared at him for a moment. With a grunt, she lumbered to her feet. “If you miss one more day of work because of this, I’m sending her back.”
Ben stared after her as she turned and left. He gripped the misshapen metal flower in his hand. It slowly melted into a pool on his palm before he tried again.
If you like what you’ve read, you can make a one time donation through PayPal or support me at Patreon. Your patronage gets you additional scenes, sketches, drafts, and notes. Your support will allow me to keep writing. Read the next chapter on Thursday, March 10th.