Cody pushed the sweat from his brow into his hair and wiped his now wet hand on the left leg of his jumpsuit which he wore like trousers with the sleeves tied at his hips for a belt. The once-white tank top that was a part of his personal uniform was so covered in grease and oil and the sweat of his torso that his hand had learned not to try and remove sweat with it.
His eyes were focused on his project; his squint remained hidden behind the glass of his goggles. Having spent over three weeks working on the arms, he wasn't about to attach them to the automatonic torso without his full attention. Not even the sparks that stung his bare arms could call him away from his task. His fingers delicately wove the wires together and needed perfect precision as he crimped the last of them.
A heavy knock came from the door to his mother's flower shop.
"Cack!" Cody muttered while he nursed the finger he had just stuck with the wire. He pulled himself away from his work and trudged to the door. He pulled the door open but when he saw the person behind it, he wanted to slam it closed again.
But he didn't. Instead he said in the lowest voice his adolescence could handle, "What are you doing here, Crow?"
"Come on, Cody. You can call me by my first name by now," his rival said with that smarmy smirk she always had around him.
"What are you doing here, Crow?"
"What do you think I am here for?" She waited and sighed. Her smile had faded. "I wanted to see how your project was going. Would it really hurt you if you called me Anastasia?"
"That is none of your business. Get out of my workshop." Of course saying her first name wouldn't physically hurt him, but it would make them sound like friends and there is no way Cody was going to allow that.
"I just wanna help. Your mom let me in so…"
"I know you won the competition. There's no need to remind me that you are better than me. I get it!" he said angrily. He wasn't yelling though. His eyes swiveled to the corner of the workshop. When he looked back at Crow, her eyes were locked on the same thing. His worthless project from last year's competition. The worst part was if he had only taken her advice it would have worked fine. This year he didn't let his pride get in the way and he added what she suggested to the last project: a gyroscope.
"I don't think I am better than you, Cody. I know I'm not." Crow's voice was almost too quiet to hear. "What you can do is beautiful."
Cody had enough of her nonsense. She wasn't going to leave. If he asked his mother to help him remove her, his mother would have invited Crow and her grandmother to dinner. He got back to putting on the left arm of android. He flipped his goggles down and got to work.
"You're making a fully functional android?" Anastasia asked from the table he kept his papers and plans on.
"Mm-hm," Cody hummed so she could hear. Every year, she did this. He knew better than to try and waste his time getting rid of her.
"Wow. With semi-sentient artificial intelligence?"
"Yep." Cody tried not to pay attention to her, but her awe at his endeavors gave him a sick kind of pride.
"If there's anyone in this city that could make a droid brain like that, it would be you. You know more about neuroengineering than Professor Mckinley and Doctor Sanders combined."
Cody set his tools down in annoyance. "Droids don't have 'brains'," he huffed. "They have a perceptronic cortex. Humans have brains."
Cody didn't need to say anything about his knowledge of neuroengineering. It was true. He was at the top of the class despite being the youngest. He looked haughtily at Anastasia. She giggled. Her mirth furthered his annoyance.
"Are you really that persnickety about slang? Are you one of those people that only refers to cyborgs as 'anthropomatons'?" Crow smiled and raised a dark eyebrow but her arms crossed defensively as she asked.
"Yeah," Cody almost snarled, "yeah, I am one of those persnickety people who calls anthropomatons by their proper name and not some scummy slang."
Crow's smile dropped. "Gears and gongs, you sound like Grandmama. Cyborg is perfectly acceptable. Besides, there is much worse…"
Cody's shoulders tensed up. He pushed his goggles off his face. "You're right there are a lot worse words for them out there, and they don't deserve to be called any of it! Do you know who people with anthropomatonic parts are? Huh? Do you?"
Crow looked tense and remained quiet.
"They're normal people," he said when it finally looked as if she was going to say something. He ran out of patience. She missed her chance to talk. "They are normal good people who have had some kinks in their clockwork. Maybe it was some strange birth defect! Maybe it was some terrible battle they fought! Maybe it was some hideous mobile accident! But something happened so that they weren't whole. They were missing a part. And then doctors and inventors and scientists gave them a new limb or a new eye or a new… whatever! Healed with the best machines. And how do we treat these people who have been through cack! People like you treat them like broken monsters and call them names."
Cody glared at the girl. Her jaw looked like it was bolted too tight. Her stance was rigid. Cody followed her eyes to her gloved right hand. She looked intently at it. Anastasia turned it to examine both the back and the palm.
"'Anthropomaton' sounds so clinical. 'Cyborg' may not be proper but at least it doesn't sounds so… inhuman," she sighed. It was a statement of opinion, but she spoke as if she had lamented a secret. Her eyes jumped up to him in a jerky fashion, and she gaped for a moment.
Just as quickly she turned to rifle through his plans again. A thick brown braid hung messily over the back of her neck, but Cody still saw the undertones of her tawny skin turn pink. His breathing had calmed, so he focused his attention on aligning two important gears. Minutes past with him tinkering and her examining.
"Cody," Crow said right in front of him. He jumped having not realized that she had moved across the room.
"What!?" Cody looked at his gears; one had broken in his hand. His stomach twisted.
"You are using 4 mm copper for the plating," she stated as if he was confused about what copper was and needed to be taught.
"I think I already know that!" Her jump-scare just cost him two hours of work.
"Is this diagram to scale?" She held up his most recent layout of his design with a perplexed look in her ugly muddy eyes.
"Of course it is! You aren't the only person in Litcog who can make a schematic you know!" Cody's voice was steadily rising. He started running through his head how he was going to manage to fix this before his friend Felix came over for dinner.
" Her center of gravity would be lower than on this diagram."
This stopped Cody's thoughts at once. "What is that supposed to mean Crow?"
"The gyroscope is too high. She won't be able to hold herself up," she explained. Her words were slow and soft like one would tread through an abandoned mine. She pointed at the schematic where the drawn in gyroscope was. Her eyes held Cody's. They dared him to say she was wrong.
Of course she wasn't wrong. This was the exact same kind of thing she foresaw a year ago. Last year, it had been a lack of a gyroscope that cost him the competition and lost him a full-ride scholarship to Crater Academy. It was now well-known that Crater was the dream school he could only afford to attend because the wealthy Crows convinced his mother to take all of the reward money she earned as a "gift".
Cody was suddenly stormed by a wave of intense heat. The fiery rage which built up inside him had been fuelled by past grievances and offenses and was lit by her comment.
"Get out," he near whispered.
"I am only trying to help," she replied looking doleful.
"I said. Get. Out! I didn't ask for your help! I never ask for your help! But every year like clockwork you come knocking on my door to tell me how much of a loser I am! As if I didn't have four second place medals on display to remind me! Stop coming to my workshop! I hate you! You might have the rest of the city falling over themselves for you, but not me! I see you for what you really are!" The metal of the broken gear dug into his hand. Cody had leaned forward across the table toward her without noticing.
Anastasia's posture changed from timid to standing tall. Her arms crossed haughtily across her small chest. Her chin cocked in the air. Her eyes shone like copper. Her eyes were what gave her away. The shine was from tears. In her eyes, she looked fearful.
"What am I then! What am I really!?"
"You are a fraud! You act as if you are above people and perfect but you are just as lowly and flawed as anyone else! You are just as fake as this!" He pointed at his half-made automaton in front of him. When he looked back, he realized that Crow was crying.
"If that's how you feel, then I better leave," she choked out. Crow turned on foot and ran out the door of his workshop and slammed it behind her. Cody could hear his mother asking her what was wrong before he heard another door slam and bell on the flower shop door ring a deranged tune as if it was angry about be tossed about so. It was a jostled annoying sound of staccato shrills and the resonance of metal against metal that contrasted terribly to the happy dinging chime when normal satisfied customers opened the door.
Cody was still furious, but he felt a bit heavy that he had made a girl cry.
"Cody Everett Fitzwilliams, what did you do to that poor girl?" his mother asked as she came through the door Anastasia had just exited through. The sweet green scents of flowers wafted in with her and removed some of the stale air. The evening light that poured from her shop revealed the dust floating about his workshop.
Cody's mother, one of the kindest women in all of Litcog, always looked out of place when she was angry. Her reddish golden curls bobbed about her head. There was a daffodil placed haphazardly behind her ear. She wore very a lively blue dress. Her irate expression didn't not match up with the rest of her image. That was what made her anger so terrifying.
"We just got into a little squabble, Mother." Cody suddenly felt drained from all his yelling. The guilt of making Crow cry weighed down on him.
"There was nothing 'little' about it. I could hear you screaming on from the other side of the shop. And I only heard your voice, young man. You blew-up on her and made her upset." The finality of his mother's tone was unsettling. Despite Cody having outgrown his mother by several inches by then, she still looked taller when she put her hands on her hips.
"I'm sorry, Mother. Geez."
"You don't need to apologize to me, Cody," she told him. "Get that confounded contraption of yours and tell Anastasia that you are idiot for ever making her feel bad!"
Cody whined, "But mother, she won't want to…"
"Now, Cody! Or I won't let you work on your project for a week!"
"You can't do that!"
"I can and I will. Go. Now." She left his workshop and went back to her own shop.
Cody huffed and flipped down his goggles. He grabbed his leather jacket and helmet and left. He sped through the streets on his monowheel. A late winter chill had lingered into the early spring evening. The metal of the city sparkled in the warm light. Reflections off the buildings danced all over the streets like fairies.
It was dusk so the traffic on the streets was dwindling away. He easily maneuvered around the other vehicles. Cody had never been to the Crow manor, but he knew the general direction of where it was. He zoomed his way to the edge of the city to Keeper's Bridge. The bridge carried the street over an abandoned scrap mine. The bridge was rarely used because it led to the near abandoned neighborhood of Scrapville. Only people who lived in the country like the Crows ever used it.
Anastasia was there. She was crossing the bridge on her hoverboard slowly. She seemed to be looking out over the expanse of the scrapyard. The only other vehicle on the bridge was an expensive looking steam-mobile. It probably belonged to another rich person who lived out past the city limits.
"Hey, Crow!" Cody yelled to her as he got closer. He was about one hundred feet away.
Anastasia looked over right shoulder in reaction to her name being called. It was evident she saw him as she cocked her head to side. Cody was sure she was surprised to see him.
Suddenly, her eyes opened wide. Even from where he stood Cody saw the whites of her eyes.
Cody realized the expensive steam-mobile had served in her direction. It all happened in a matter of seconds. Had Cody blinked he wouldn't have seen it. The large machine contacted her body with crushing force. Cody swore he saw her body ripple and bend at odd angles. Anastasia flew from the bridge and plummeted into the gorge below. A horrified scream rang out from both of the youths, victim and witness.
Cody's body reacted before his mind could believe what he saw. He motored toward the edge of gorge. The steam-mobile was long gone. When came to his senses, he was already running to the mangled, moaning, figure that lay on the ground. How he had gotten into the mine, he didn't know. He would figure that out later when he needed to get out of the mine.
Cody collapsed to his knees besides Crow when he reached her. She was alive, if only just. She was cringing and whimpering in pain.
"You'll be okay, Anastasia!" Cody tried to coo. He didn't care anymore whether or not he used her name out loud. "I am going to make sure of it."
"C-cody?" Anastasia mumbled. Her head swiveled about to look at him with big copper eyes. The evening light reflected specks of silver in her eyes as well.
"Yeah, I'm here. You're going to be okay." Cody didn't know what made him keep saying that, but it felt like the right thing to say. The light was fading quickly. Soon all there would be to light them was the half moon, the lamp on Cody's monowheel and a spattering of street lights. Cody searched her form for the damage dealt while the sun still shone. His scan stopped on something shiny under her shirt sleeve. Curious and anxious to help, he used his pocket knife to rip more of the fabric away.
The tinkering of his heart stutter to a stop, or at least that was how he felt. Beneath the sleeve of Anastasia Crow's shirt was a mechanical metal arm.
The silence of his discovery was eerie till he noticed that Anastasia grunts of pain were gone, and she was staring right at him. She was holding her breath despite her pain.
"You're a… you're a…" Cody couldn't force the words from his mouth.
"Cyborg." Anastasia ground out, "I prefer 'cyborg'." Cody just stared at her anomaly. "T-there's...more."
"More?" Cody mumbled unthinkingly.
"On my l-leg...and... my neck."
"Oh." The last of the light fleeted away and all that was left was the moonshine and the lamp and two half burnt street lights. Cody, not knowing what to do, stroked the uninjured part of her leg and ran his other hand through his mahogany hair. He listened to her grunt and moan in pain again until a new sound arrived: sirens. An overlooking neighbor must have had telephoned the authorities.
"C-cody?" Anastasia 's soft cry could barely be heard over the siren. She moved her left hand with some effort to the back of her neck. "P-put it...in y-your droid…"
She moved her hand and placed it on top of his, and her eyes shuttered close. She had lost consciousness, but he felt her heart beat. Cody could only assume that she was talking about changing the gyroscope in his android.
The medical team came and took her away. The inspectors and constables cornered him with questions about everything that happened. He mindlessly answered. They were mostly about what the steam-mobile looked like, so he had no trouble keeping Anastasia's secret. They mentioned something about 'vehicular homicide' at one point, but wouldn't tell Cody much.
Mid-way through the interrogation, Cody realized there was something in his palm that Anastasia must have placed there. Upon inspection he recognized it from his neuroengineering class. It was an information chip created to help store and transfer personalities and memories in brains. This specific design was made only for cyborgs.
"Put it in your android." he whispered aloud.