At the risk of sounding melodramatic; Loneliness is inescapable. It haunts everyone at all times, stalking and shadowing people like a hunter would prey. It likes to linger in the background, watching every move a person makes, slowly squirming ever closer, held at bay only by the graces of others, by the slow trickle of interest that others can give.
But when you're alone that loneliness crawls forward like a serpent. It slithers and squirms up your leg and neck to hiss and coo in your ear. Its body squeezes around your arms, holding them still as it slowly whispers words of sweet malice and exhaustion. It can tell you there's no one for you, that there's nothing to see, and, to some people, might suggest that all the ice cream on a space station will prove inadequate to soothe your aches.
Human spirit is resilient, however. It hardly succumbs to such minute injuries to the soul, provided that the loneliness does not swarm and does not cover an individual in countless searing bites. Depression is the natural result of such a scenario, and its root festers in days, sometimes months, and occasionally years of solitude and loneliness's company.
Kittybot woke submerged in a thick slurry of nanogel. Xe squirmed gently, xyr mechanical servos too weak to allow proper motion, and shuddered. Xe felt the hundreds of hands that caressed xyr titanium skeleton. With a cool and sterile gaze xe stared through the thick, blue-black muck and watched the slow rise and fall of xyr lungs beneath the faintly glimmering metal of xyr ribcage.
Xe didn't feel like being much of anything today. Xyr mind flicked through the chassis that xe had in inventory, knowing that each one was manufactured to be identical in specifications, save for gender. Xe thought about being female for a moment, then rotated the swiveling garage inside xyr brain until xe found the South Chinese tiger male stored beneath several layers of more frequented body parts. For the briefest moment Kittybot considered applying it, and even sent a mental command to xyr servicing machine before a second thought rescinded the order.
With a mental flick of the wrist, xe cycled through the programs to find xyr null body and told the machine to implant. Soft, electric and mechanical hums escaped xyr jaw as xe watched the familiar metal arms sink into the fluid surrounding xyr. One by one they clamped onto xyr skeleton, fastening themselves to xyr body so as to keep xyr rigid as synthetic piecemeal plates were moved into position against one another and xyr skeletal frame.
The gel inside xyr body played with the tiny screws in xyr chest cavity, feeding those tiny metal shards through xyr rib cage and into the composite plating that was xyr chest. Little shutters remained open on the surface, tiny hollows in xyr synthetic flesh that quickly became filled with threads of white-black wire. It coiled and flexed beneath xyr skin, writhing as the fluid inside xyr form attached each to xyr skeleton in building, mounting chains.
Kittybot rotated xyr arm as those strands fed into xyr body. Xe had to be careful, the numb weight of the components didn't allow xyr any sense of pressure, strength, or strain, but even so xe enjoyed the sensation of muscle building against xyr bone, of muted skin warping over and constricting against those strong fibers.
The sensation kept xyr from panicking when xyr sensors ceased their function. Alone, with nothing but the slow churning against xyr bones to keep xyr company, xe felt the slow, delicate pressure build against xyr skull, building and mounting as layers upon layers of suffocating warmth covered xyr face. Xe bit back an instinctive scream as xyr lungs flared against their confines, drawing in thick gulps of blue-black bile. Xe imagined xyrself to be like a mummy, wrapped in cloth and allowed to dessicate, pulling xyrself into an unliving, uncaring trance.
A flash of pain broke the silence. Xyr brain felt about to burst as it throbbed. With a gargling scream that forced the fluid from xyr lungs, the android erupted from the blue-black nanovat. Coughing, sputtering from the sudden, forced evacuation, xe wiped xyr tearing blue eyes and shivered.
Nerve integration was a hard process for many people. The latest updates, 'flash burning' the necessary neuro-conductors, had been enough to alleviate long-term symptoms for most individuals that bodyswapped or reskinned their chassis. Even so, it left a horrifying headache whenever it occurred, one that even artificial intelligence constructs could not ignore. Marketing had termed it a feature; a 'confirmation of the pain of life'. So far, everyone had agreed the statement was both true and accurate.
Kittybot slowly pulled xyrself from the black layer of muck. With every move, the viscious fluid clung to xyr arms to xyr legs, to every portion of xyr body that it could. A frustrated tug forced it to relent, the thick film removing itself from xyr flesh without residue.
Xyr fur coat positively shimmered as xe slowly pressed xyr footpads against the cold metal floor. A mental notification told xyr that xe did not have work today, and the numerous messages that piled up in xyr skull stated that there would be very little to work on. Kittybot stroked Xyr brow as xe mentally thumbed through each one, reading it in a fraction of a moment before discarding it and freeing xyr mental faculties for more important information to flow.
Clothing was the first priority. Xe strode to xyr wardrobe and pulled several articles of cloth from its aluminum confines. The nylon clung to xyr faux fur, ruffling its dry surface with every motion, building a faint sensation along the four foot android's body with every step. A static pop sent xyr sensors into a wild and haphazard fit of calibration, the sudden pulse enough to disorient xyr mind and make xyr legs kick. Xe held xyr pounding head as numbers danced in the edge of xyr vision, warning xyr that up was down and down may, at some point, have been up.
The robot held onto the aluminum dresser with xyr full weight until, at last, xyr systems said that no lasting damage had been done. Xe would have bought some genuine leather or cotton, or some other fabric that refused to build up such a charge, but materials were expensive and labor, especially for synthetics capable of performing monotonous tasks for hours, if not days on end, was cheap. The result was that the robot shuddered as xe pulled on xyr skirt and felt the static sparks build with every motion.
A second jolt knocked xyr balance out of alignment, leaving xyr flailing as she crashed to the floor. The android lay there, counting the minutes, seeing the warnings flare in xyr peripherals, before pressing into the communications servers and wirelessly sending a message for help.
Four glistening ruby eyes stared into xyr own, their watery texture complicated with an expression of worry. The inky black beast they belonged to was attached to xyr torso, and with every passing moment Kittybot could feel those diminutive fingers reach through xyr chest cavity and play with xyr internal organs.
“Can you fix it, Hale?” The android asked. Xyr voice was smooth and mellow, and xyr eyes were half lidded despite the pained expression that spread across xyr muzzle. The gooey mechanic was busy with xyr insides, and the slightest sensation was enough to send spikes of pain into random portions of xyr body.
“Certainly,” ey said. To anyone listening to the pair, the noise was merely a series of bubbles and gurgling churns, but anyone tapped into the electronic feed between them could hear the pleasant, chipper tone of eir voice. Ey was happiest when working, and whenever kittybot called in need of a favor ey would always come running to xyr rescue, with parts maintained and fabricated within the liquid core of eir being.
Ey were gifted and talented, and had used those abilities to improve ierself into eir present form. Though ey had no physical strength to speak of, save for whatever liquid pressure ey could exert, ey were strong enough to position and open the android kitten's limbs and set to work correcting several portions of circuitry burned by the static discharge. Without solder or smoke, ey slowly flicked each piece of conductive material back into its proper place, manufacturing what ey didn't possess from eir own flowing figure.
Kittybot had asked em before if such work hurt em, but eir response was always that ey could manufacture more of the tiny pieces of machinery that made up eir body at any time ey wished. Ey had even stated that ey could make it from dust collected from organics' homes if ey so chose; Such was the adaptability and malleability of eir nanoscopic components.
Hale had developed the liquid repair bay that xe now enjoyed. Xe was timid at first, fearful of what it could to do xyr, but it had eased xyr life immensely. Xe merely needed to touch the pool to receive its effects, the colonies of diminutive repair drones were more than willing to crawl up xyr arm and into xyr body to fix any damage. They were selfless, much like their creator, and though they could not be removed from their vat for an extended period they had suffered the journey numerous times, just for xyr.
But, should xe be unable to reach the vat, the culture inside would be unable to help xyr. That was the reason that Hale's head protruded so crudely from xyr torso. It was why hundreds of tiny hands played with xyr internals, fixing the tiny burns that had coursed across xyr insides.
The pain ceased in an instant and the four eyed colony withdrew upon sticky, wobbling legs. A single, languid wire of dripping fluid was all that connected em to the tiny android, and through it ey monitored xyr subsystems as they flickered to life. A quick internal and external diagnostic confirmed that every issue had been corrected, and with a little cognitive effort the goopy creature was able to isolate the errors in the kitten's registry and remove them, hopefully ensuring that no ghosts would occupy the agender machine.
Flicking eir fingers, the strand dissolved and seamlessly slipped back into the gelatinous creature's form. Eir task complete, ey gently wound around the diminutive android's body and supported xyr every movement, guiding the construct as its internal processes calibrated and recalibrated its balance and the sensations associated with gravity. With the majority of eir mass focused on Kittybot's upper torso, ey moved in slow, succinct undulations that kept xyr stable even after xe was able to move mostly on xyr own.
A warm blush spread across the android's cheeks as xyr hand gently patted the warm, gooey, and rippling vines that wreathed around xyr body. A few calculations told xyr just how much xyr small repair job cost and xe cringed at the thought. It was nowhere near the cost of organic labor, but it was still quite an amount on xyr limited budget. Self conscious and embarrassed at xyr situation, xe asked softly and shyly, “Can I have a deferment? I don't have much left in my account.”
Hale's four eyes blinked as ey stared into xyr sapphire orbs. Analyzing, thinking, eir head tilted back and a single gooey tendril stroked that malleable ebon chin. A gentle not confirmed eir thoughts and a sublime smile spread across that barely visible maw.
“I tell you what, you don't owe me a dime,” ey said sweetly and succinctly. “In fact, how about you let me buy you dinner?”
Kittybot stared for the briefest moment, xyr cheeks burning red as xe thought of a response. The only motion xe could manage was a small, timid nod and a little wiggle of xyr long, fluffy tail, the silence exacerbated by the confusion clouding xyr cybernetic brain.
The two walked on the edge of the colony's structure, in the tiny hallways typically reserved for maintenance. There they walked on the very edge of the station, upon the thick, transparent barrier that separated the two from the void.
Stars glimmered under Kittybot's feet. Xyr eyes locked with their distant figures, watching their slow drift towards the edge of xyr vision while the station continued its ceaseless rotation. Xyr monitors stated that the air around xyr was chilled, significantly so compated to xyr home, but even as icicles clung to xyr furry ears xe failed to care.
Xe was lost there, hovering on a transparent panel, watching the universe pass xyr by in its infinitesimal depth. Only the slow, soft ripples of the black creature beside xyr reminded xyr that there were people above xyr, locked inside the steel and titanium capsule, a childish movie prop hung from an invisible string upon a pencil-poked backdrop. Xe imagined the sheer amount that was out there, the possibility of so many other things doing the same as xe did now, whether from within a shuttle, a station, or resting upon the ground.
Xyr hand squeezed the grease-black fingers that weaved between xyr own. Xe was afraid of em, of eir form, but not because eir composition was so strange and nigh-alien in its flowing, shimmering appearance. Xe was afraid that if xe looked, there would be nothing there, that xe would be standing in the maintenance corridor alone.
It was an impossibility, the little android knew, but it nagged at the back of xyr brain all the same. Xe replayed the careful steps they had taken not to be caught in this restricted zone, the pre-adolescent giggles they gave as they ducked into maintenance closets and cupboards full of tools whenever they saw or sensed a security drone was approaching. In all honesty, those big, hulking frames and those lithe security bodies had to have known they were their, they were equipped with far better, military-grade equipment that the two could never hope to emulate. But even so, they chose to ignore the pair, to allow them their slow, graceful walk.
If they had done so, just to allow them this one little pleasure, it meant that their employment was on the line as well. It was dangerous to have unauthorized personnel up here, on the edge of space, where a fracture in the glass could cause them to be vented into the void.
It seemed such a waste of the danger, of the possibilities, to keep xyrself from looking at the ebon hive beside xyr. Xe needed to see em, wanted to see em, but the fear wound little threads around xyr synthetic heart, forcing it to struggle with every beat, to make a nausea spread in xyr slowly churning guts.
Xe squeaked as Hale gave xyr arm a little tug. Eir electronics whirred as a stream of data pressed into Kittybot's brain, a little invitation, a little circle winding in xyr vision, to see what ey wanted xyr to see. There, in the distant depths of that ominous black field, the gooey cat had highlighted a system with one sun and eight planets, nine if that little asteroid flying out on its edge could be considered big enough. Three letters, SOL, told xyr of its importance, and beside it fell an extended box filled with the blue jewel that xe had only read in stories.
Little bounces rocked xyr knees. Xyr hand clasped over xyr mouth to suppress a happy squeal. With rosy warmth in xyr cheeks, she lifted xyr sapphire eyes to find those four red gemstones focused upon xyr expression. Without saying a word, xe squeezed eir hand in thanks. Eir body was invisible upon that black background, eir expression unreadable when placed against that blackened void. All that xe saw were those four eyes staring back at xyr.
But the little android did not feel the discomfort xe feared. Ey were everywhere, ey surrounded xyr, swathing xyr in countless limbs as eir face crept forward and placed a single, accidentally sloppy kiss upon xyr cheek.