January 18th, 2020
As the doctors, nurses, CNAs, and other hospital personnel carried out their duties within Portland's St. Vincent's Hospital, a man in a blue and silver suit weaved his way towards a room in the facility's med-surge unit. His name was Vincent Anderson, and he was there to visit an injured employee.
"Keep up, Isaac," Anderson said to a man trailing behind him. "We don't want to be here longer than we have to."
"Sure thing," his associate replied, and quickened his pace. Before long, the two of them had arrived at their destination, one of many identical hospital rooms.
Inside this room, a young woman laid in a hospital bed. Her face was swollen and bruised, and her right arm was held against her in a sling. It was clear that both her legs had been amputated below the knee. Sitting beside her was an older woman in a dark blue business suit.
"Mr. Anderson," the older woman stood up at their arrival. "We weren't expecting you to personally pay a visit."
"Afternoon, 45," Anderson replied. "Thank you for looking after our friend here."
He then approached the woman in the bed, giving her a sympathetic smile as he approached.
"You must be Rebecca Quinn," Anderson continued. "I'm Vincent Anderson. This is my associate Isaac Dillard. I do believe you work for me."
The woman on the bed gave a weak smile and slowly nodded her head.
"Yeah…" She coughed and gave a small chuckle. "Distribution Center in Three Portlands... Had a bit of accident with one of the Taita units."
"Just a small one," Anderson chuckled. "Isaac told me you chose to come here over Sacred Gear in Portlands. If you don't mind me asking, why? It would have been faster…"
"I… just felt more comfortable receiving treatment that wasn't bedazzled, or from a Witch Doctor," Rebecca replied. "Besides, the Taita incinerated my legs after severing them. Not much they could have done there that they didn't do here."
Rebecca's smile then became a worried frown.
"Am… am I fired, sir?"
"Oh of course not," Anderson said, taken aback. "You've put in over 10 years of top-notch service, and these kinds of things happen when you work with prototypes."
Rebecca's smile returned.
"Of course. My employees are my family. We're going to put you on paid leave until you feel you're ready to return. At that point, we'll set you up with a voucher for two Gyrfalcon series prosthetics. Throw in two upgrades as well. Then, once you're comfortable with your new hardware, your position will still be there."
Rebecca's mouth hung open in shock. The room fell silent, save for the tapping of Isaac taking notes on his smartphone.
"Call me Vincent," Anderson interrupted with a chuckle. "And I insist. Here at Anderson Robotics we take care of our own, no matter where they fit into the company machine."
Rebecca nodded. Tears rolled down her face as she smiled.
"Thank you, Vincent," she finally managed to say.
"Any time," Anderson replied. "I'm afraid Isaac and I will need to take our leave now. Mrs. Saker here will stay with you until your emergency contacts arrive."
Without another word, Anderson and his assistant took their leave. Isaac finished typing up his notes, walking beside his employer as they made their way through the hospital parking garage, toward an entrance into Three Portlands.
"I'm not in accounting, but I'm pretty sure your 'Get Well Soon' present is going to cost the company a pretty penny," Isaac commented. "The Gyrfalcon series are not just things to give away as party favors."
"It’s my private company," Anderson replied. "I'll do whatever the hell I want with it. My employees are my family and I will do well by them, just as they do well by me. Am I clear?"
"You're the boss," Isaac agreed with a shrug. The two men entered an elevator, and tapped an intricate pattern into the buttons. Despite being on the top floor the elevator began to ascend and carried them into Three Portlands.
August 15th, 2020
Agent Sasha Merlo stirred from her sleep. She brushed a lock of brown hair out of her eyes and looked at the digital clock on her nightstand. 2:16 AM. She grumbled under her breath as she grabbed her cell phone.
"Go for Merlo," she said sleepily, sitting up in bed.
"Sasha, it's Clarissa," came a woman's voice over the other end.
"Shaw?" Merlo asked. "It's two in the morning… what’s up?"
"It’s Anderson. We got a call from Labelle at Site-19. He's awake. We're getting called in to do interviews."
Merlo's sleepiness immediately left her.
"I'll be at Site-64 within the hour," she replied, and promptly hung up. At the same time, the lump in the bed that rested next to her began to stir.
"Getting called out to save the world again, sweetie?" Gabe Merlo asked groggily.
"I'm afraid so," Merlo sighed.
"Jessie's going to be pissed," Gabe commented with a small chuckle.
"I know… Think you can cover for me?"
"No worries. Just make it up to her when you get back. Please be safe."
"You know me," Merlo said with a tired smile and pecked her husband on the cheek as she got out of bed. "Love you."
"Love you too."
Within 30 minutes Merlo was dressed, packed, and ready to leave her apartment. Before making her way out the door, she quietly dipped into the apartment's second bedroom where a small girl slept soundly.
"Love you, Jessie," Merlo said under her breath before giving the little girl a kiss on her forehead. Without another sound, she grabbed her bags, her jacket, and made her way to her car. She had a flight to catch.
March 23rd, 2020
At a small Portland coffee shop overlooking a public park, a short, pale woman watched the foot traffic pass as she occasionally took sips from her oversized coffee mug. Her name was Jill Herring, and she was waiting to see someone she hadn't seen in nearly a decade.
"This seat taken?"
Jill looked up to see Vincent Anderson smiling at her. Her mouth hung open briefly. When she had last seen him, he had pale skin, and was bald. The man in front of her did look like Anderson, but not the Anderson she was expecting to meet with today.
"Vince…" she said softly. "You're looking good. Like, when we first met…"
Anderson nodded and sat down.
"This isn't my real body, I'm afraid. Just a puppet I'm controlling while the real me is a bit tied-down. Still, glad you like it."
Jill nodded and gave a melancholy smile.
"How have you been, Jill?" Anderson continued. "How's life treating you?"
"Can't complain. Work's the same as ever."
"Still teaching studio art at that high school?"
"That got closed down in 2008. I’ve been working at a graphic design firm since."
"Heh, that kind of work suits you," Anderson nodded in approval. He then paused, looking down at the table for a few moments before asking, "How's Erica doing?"
"She's doing very well," Jill sighed. "She'll be graduating from OSU next year. Bachelors in Computer Science. Really takes after you in that regard. Plans on moving on to her Masters."
"Does she still ask about me?"
"Occasionally. She accepted Tom as her father a long time ago, but the subject of Vincent Anderson still makes her curious from time to time. I think at some point she'll ask if I can help her track you down, but not anytime soon. She's still rather bitter…"
Jill frowned and closed her eyes briefly, then quickly attempted to hide her expression by taking a sip of coffee.
"Well, when she enters the job market, I'll always have openings on my staff. Let me know if she's interested," Anderson continued.
"Will do," Jill replied.
Anderson pulled out a paper check, and slid it across the table. Jill picked it up and examined it briefly before folding it and putting down on the table in front of her.
"I thought I told you that I'm not comfortable accepting these." Jill frowned. "Tom's not comfortable accepting these."
"And I've told you that you are more than welcome to rip them to shreds. I can get that money into your account in other ways. This is just a courtesy," Anderson replied sharply. "Are the checks I've been sending you enough, though? I can increase them if you want. Money's no object for me now…"
"The current amount is more than enough, Vince! Erica has more than enough to pay for the rest of her schooling and then some. Tom and I have already paid off our mortgage and debts. At this point it’s just piling up. The only thing I can see us using it on, is if Erica decides to buy a house, or wants to live in the city after graduation…"
"Let me know when that happens. I'd be more than willing to help."
"Of course…" Jill took another sip of her coffee, then sighed. "So, in the end, was it worth it?"
"Do you have to ask me that every time?" Anderson's brow furrowed.
"I will until you give me a straight answer. Was it worth it? Leaving us."
"Sticking around would have just put you and Erica in danger. Besides, Tom's twice the husband I ever was, and at least four times the father. You two ended up way better off."
"That's fucking bullshit, Vince!" she hissed. "You never even gave yourself a fucking chance!"
"I didn't need to," Anderson replied coolly. "This year alone I've had multiple attempts on my life. My real body is currently in the possession of the Suits. Did you want to be a part of that? Did you want Erica to be a part of that? At least this way you two are safe."
"Oh, don't even pretend you chose your path for our benefit. Everything you did was for you! You found out how to make your little toys and then jettisoned us!" Jill gave a sarcastic laugh, stood and shredded the check before Anderson's eyes. "Well, now we don't need your patronage, we don't need your support, and we sure as hell don't need you! If you ever come near my daughter or I again, I'll let the Suits know where you are, I swear to god!"
Anderson watched with a blank expression as Jill stormed away. He pulled out another check from his pocket and neatly folded it, then reached into his other pocket and pulled out a hand-written note and a small silver ball. He placed the ball on the table and watched as it sprouted needle-like legs.
"Afternoon, Benny," Anderson said to the tiny Amur drone. "Go ahead and make sure Erica gets these, will you?"
The tiny robot gave a small salute, and stuffed the two slips of paper into an internal compartment before scurrying away. Anderson watched it bolt out of site, as the waitress approached.
"I'll take an Americano, please," he ordered. "Extra shots. I need something strong right about now."
August 16th, 2020
"How long has he been awake?" Agent Merlo asked. As she spoke, she walked through the halls of Site-19's high-security humanoid storage wing. Beside her was Agent Clarissa Shaw, who effortlessly rolled herself along in a wheelchair, matching Merlo's pace. The two of them were being lead through the facility by a researcher named Rose Labelle.
"About two days now," Labelle replied, looking over her shoulder as she led them towards the cell that supposedly contained the now-conscious body of Vincent Anderson. "One moment, completely brain-dead, the next, wide awake and demanding to speak with the leader of his containment team. We sent Site-64 a message as soon as we met all our protocols."
"Are his systems operational?" Shaw inquired. "Magic? Weapons Systems? Comms?"
"We have him in an anti-thaumaturgic cell, so he's dead in the water on that front unless he can break the geis there," Labelle answered. "As for his other systems, they're operational, sure, but still heavily damaged. He's not going anywhere without serious system repairs. You two can relax. We've got him under lock and key."
"Paint us impressed," Merlo commented with a grin. "Out at Site-64 they had us trying to hold him with the containment equivalent of a cage made out of sticks."
"We do try our best," Labelle gave a small smile in return. They then arrived at a large blast door that Labelle swiftly opened with a swipe of her keycard. "Here we are."
Beyond the door was an observation room in which several of Labelle's colleagues monitored read-outs of Anderson's systems. Several anti-thaumaturgic security personnel stood in the room's corners, their expressions blank as they kept their eyes on the contents of the adjoining room. Through a large observation window, Shaw and Merlo could see their old enemy sitting on a cot, his hands and legs restrained as he stared blankly ahead. Merlo approached the window, her expression a mixture of fear and awe as she looked over Vincent Anderson from the business end of a set of one-way glass.
He seemed almost skeletal. His pale, nearly translucent skin had been replaced by scar tissue, a remnant from having most of his flesh seared off by nuclear fire during their last encounter. Only one of the camera lenses he had in place of eyes glowed with a faint green light; the other lens sat dark with a large crack running down its center. Occasionally he'd give a violent involuntary shake.
"Jesus." Shaw gave a sharp whistle, "he looks like shit."
"Looks better off now than when we originally shipped him here," Merlo replied. She turned back to Labelle. "I take it you guys received a copy of our objectives for this interview."
"We did," she replied. "We're ready whenever you are."
"Dandy," Merlo said with nod and placed a hand on Shaw's shoulder. "He's all yours. Make us proud."
Vincent Anderson looked up as Agent Shaw rolled into his cell on her wheelchair. He gave a small smile and waved as she stopped several feet away. She looked over some notes on a clipboard in her lap, adjusting her glasses before looking up.
"Afternoon, Clarissa," Anderson said. "Was, um, Merlo unavailable?"
"I'm the interrogation specialist for this task force," Shaw replied coolly. "So, I'm afraid you'll be mainly interacting with me."
"Oh? Is this an interrogation?"
"Let’s consider this an interview for now."
"Swell. Did Labelle tell you what my SCP item number was? She, uh, won't tell me."
"As far as I know, you're not going to be assigned one."
"Oh…" Anderson sighed. "That's, um, a little disappointing, to be honest. Why?"
"Because if we gave an SCP number to every wizard or cyborg we picked up we'd quickly bloat our database. You have a Person of Interest number. That’s about it."
"Ah, well… Better than, um, nothing. I suppose. How can I, uh, help you today?"
"Just going to ask you a few questions. I'd appreciate answers."
"Wouldn't we all," Anderson chuckled. "Try me."
"First off, something simple. Who’s in charge of Anderson Robotics in your absence?"
"Phineas I would think."
"Yeah, no…" Shaw replied with a tsk. "We are aware that you killed Albert Frostman in Three Portlands shortly before the incident at the Tristan Academy. Who is really in charge now?"
"Ah, well…. guess that cat's, um, out of the bag," Anderson shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know. It's a company, Clarissa. Not a kingdom. There is no line of succession. The board probably appointed someone else to be the new acting CEO in my absence. I don't know who. I've, uh, been here. Can't exactly update my news feed in this anti-magic, anti-tech cage you slapped me in."
Shaw leaned on her wheelchair's armrest as she scribbled down a few notes.
"Fair enough. Onto something a little more complex. We know about the distribution deal you have with MC&D for your Gyrfalcon series. We want the names of the MC&D reps you've been going through."
"Talk about shooting myself in the foot. Why on earth would I give you those names? That's just bad business."
Anderson gave a violent shake for several seconds. Shaw smiled and continued to write down more notes.
"Because, according to Labelle's scans of your systems, you need to make repairs, badly." Shaw gave a sly smile and Anderson began to shake again. "We're prepared to provide you with the supplies, but you have to play ball. That means MC&D names. That means identities of any other public figures you replaced with Sakers. That means letting us in on what exactly this Taita Series is."
Anderson paused for a moment at this last phrase.
"Oh yes, Vincent," Shaw continued. "We've heard whispers about the Taita Series."
"I'm willing, uh, to bargain," Anderson finally replied. "But unlike Phineas, I, um, am not going to cash all my chips at once. You'd be surprised at how few materials I need to make most of these systems work again."
"Fair enough," Shaw shrugged and closed her notepad as she began to wheel her way towards the door. "We'll give you some time to think about it. Give us a ring when you've decided what you're willing to provide."
"By the way, um, Clarissa," Anderson called out just as she was about to leave. Shaw paused, turning slightly to hear what he had to say. "I never got a chance to apologize for what I did to you at the Tristan Academy. So, uh, yeah… I'm sorry."
"You shattered my spine," Shaw commented. "Really hard for me to accept an apology for that."
"Yeah, well, you kidnapped two of my closest friends and used them as bait," Anderson snapped back. "In fact, so far, all my actions taken against the Foundation have been in retaliation for something you guys have done to us, unprovoked! I operate out of Three Portlands. You have no jurisdiction there. You guys, uh, poke a bear with a sharp stick, and then are surprised and offended that it tries to maul you."
"That all?" Shaw asked, her face turned into a scowl. Anderson waved her away.
"That's all," he replied. "Sorry for the damage, um, done. But perhaps it would humble you to remember that it might, uh, have been a teensy bit your fault."
Shaw shook her head and rolled out of the room, the blast door sealing shut behind her as Anderson began to violently shake once again.
May 6th, 2020
Two small boys, one ten and the other seven, tackled Vincent Anderson to the ground.
"How have you been?"
"Did you bring Benny?
"Did you bring us anything?"
The boys spouted question after question as Anderson wrestled them off of him, chuckling the whole while. Eventually, with swift, fluid motion, he lifted the two boys up, one in each hand, and then placed them on their feet. He ruffled their sandy hair, and pretended to ponder.
"Benny?" he asked in mock confusion. "Do I know a Benny? Small robot? Silver? Looks like this…"
Anderson held out his palm. Benny stood at its center, the little droid shaking its nubby legs in a fashion reminiscent of a 'tada!' The tiny droid leaped off his hand and scurried away across the grass, the two boys shouting in glee as they chased it. Anderson smiled and brushed loose pieces of grass off his slacks as he watched them run around.
"You really are their hero, Vince," said a voice from behind.
Anderson turned to see the familiar face of his brother, Adrian. Like Anderson, he had dark hair and tan skin, but stood half a foot shorter, and was seven years younger. Adrian had his arm wrapped around a woman with sandy hair, whom Anderson recognized as his sister-in-law, Phoebe.
"I try," Anderson said with a grin. "To be honest I think they just like me for my toys."
"Maybe," Phoebe commented, "but to be fair, your toys are pretty cool."
Anderson chuckled, and watched as his nephews jumped up and down at the base of the tree, trying to reach the small Amur drone that was taunting them from the branches.
"You look good, Vince," Adrian continued, gesturing up and down Anderson's figure "What all did you do this time?"
"Heh, If I had known my regular body was so jarring I would have made this switch a long time ago," Anderson said with a melancholy laugh. "I'm afraid this is a puppet I dressed up to look like me. I got a little tied-down in person, and so I had to send in the next best thing."
"Well, in person or remotely, the kids and us both appreciate the visit," Phoebe replied cheerfully. "Seriously, we know you're a busy guy, so these are always a treat."
"Thanks," said Anderson. "Always nice to be appreciated…"
The trio fell silent for a moment, watching as the two boys in the distance used one another as stilts, only to lose their balance and fall back to earth. Benny proceeded to drop down onto them as they lay in the grass before scurrying away towards another tree. The boys lost no time resuming their chase.
"Speaking of trips," Anderson broke the silence, "where do you two want to go for your anniversary this year?"
"Vince," Adrian began, smiling as he shook his head, "you really don't…"
"If you don't tell me, I'll ask Josh and Craig," Anderson threatened with a smile. "I bet they'll say Disneyland again."
"Could we offer a counter-proposal?" Phoebe chimed in. "Instead of paying for us to go on a trip for our anniversary… maybe you come with us? We'd love to travel with you. Adrian said you spent time in Europe when you were younger. Said you'd be a fantastic guide…"
Anderson remained in quiet thought as he watched the boys in the distance succeed in finally catching Benny, the older boy holding the tiny drone aloft in success as the younger stomped around in victory.
"Why?" Anderson finally asked.
"Why?" Adrian repeated.
"Yeah, why? What on earth do you two want me tagging along for?"
"Vince," Adrian said, taken aback. "You're my brother. You've always looked after me. If you're going to insist on sending us on these trips you might as well tag along once in a blue moon. We really don't see you outside these short visits…"
Adrian stopped as his sons returned to them, triumphantly holding Benny high as if he was a hunting trophy.
"We got'm!" the younger boy shouted. "He tried to climb a tree, but we got'm!"
"You sure did," Anderson said as he ruffled the boy's hair again, and got down on a knee. The boys gently placed the robot in his out stretched palm and watched, wide-eyed, as Benny proceeded to crawl up his arm, around his head, then down his back before vanishing into his pocket.
"So…" Anderson looked back at Phoebe. "Where did you want to go?"
August 19th, 2020
In the end, Anderson provided the SCP Foundation with a list of five names of current and former MC&D suppliers who handled the Gyrfalcon Series sales. In exchange Labelle and her team provided parts and tools he needed for repairs. Shortly after completing one of many repairs, Anderson fell asleep and reentered the coma-like state he had been in since being captured by the Foundation. Without anything else to be done, Shaw and Merlo were called back to Site-64, while the diligent members of MTF Kappa-10 began their work within the MC&D intranet to make use of Anderson's report. The adventure concluded in the same manner as all MTF Gamma-13 adventures: A brief trip to the Secret Crest Pub in Portland, followed by paperwork.
"How are you and Lily doing?" Merlo asked her friend as she placed an empty pint glass down on the table.
"That broke apart weeks ago," Shaw said with a sigh. "It was… complicated. I've started seeing Roland again."
"I'm sure Roland appreciates that," Merlo chuckled. "Still, sorry to hear about Lily. She was nice."
"She sure was." Shaw stared into her drink. "How's Gabe and Jessie anyway?"
"Can't complain. Gabe's a huge dork as always. Jessie's, well, a preschooler. So, you know, fun times there."
Shaw laughed and nodded in understanding.
"Still can't believe that the great Sasha Merlo ended up marrying one of the Site-64 accountants. You could have had anyone, but you chose the math guy."
"Screw you." Sasha grinned, "Gabe's the best. He's on the right side of the veil so I don't have to tiptoe around him. I don't have to worry about him getting dragged to the seventh circle of hell unless he manages to summon a calculator demon. Plus, he's a good father and an even better cook. I'll take my accountant over whatever it is you're doing."
"You sure shot me down quick." Shaw let out a laugh and held out her hands in mock surrender.
"I play to win."
Shaw and Merlo turned to find that they had been approached by a man in a black and red suit with long black hair tied back in a braided ponytail. He grinned at them and placed a small box on the table.
"My name is Mr. Saker," he said. "The board at Anderson Robotics wanted me to present you with this, Agent Shaw."
"We really have to stop meeting like this…" Merlo commented as she watched him slide the box across the table. "Also, Christ, do they even bother to name you guys anymore?"
"There are hundreds of us, Agent Merlo," he replied. "After a while they stop caring about names unless it’s something mission-critical. Don't need a fancy name to be a courier."
"You think we are just going to open a box from a known enemy agent?" Shaw asked.
"You think we'd be stupid enough to launch an unprovoked attack against the Foundation, in one of their fronts, for shits and giggles?"
Shaw looked at the box for several moments. She looked to Merlo who only offered a shrug. With a sigh, Shaw picked up the box and opened it. Inside was a small black strip of medical grade plastic, with several tiny mechanical probes running down its side. Shaw examined the piece of equipment and then looked quizzically at the Saker.
"It’s a new model of the Gyrfalcon series," he commented. "It will serve as a repair for your damaged spine. Should allow you to walk again. Nothing fancy."
"And this is what?" Shaw asked. "A way for AR to say sorry for what Anderson did? Just going to offer up equipment to the SCP Foundation, and hope for us to be buddy-buddy?"
"Consider it a sign of good will while you have our CEO in lock down at your Site-19."
"I'll have to turn this in to containment! They're not going to let me use this!"
"They don't have to know about it," the Saker shrugged. "Honestly, what you do with it at this point is your business. Our conscience on this matter is clear."
He gave them a nod and began to walk away.
"You two have a nice rest of your evening."
Shaw and Merlo watched the android leave in silence, then both stared at the small plastic strip that tantalizingly sat within the box between them.
"Are you thinking about it?" Merlo eventually asked.
Shaw nodded, and continued to stare at it in silence for several moments before finally asking, "Did Dan ever get around to installing that robo-arm?"
It was late in the early afternoon when Vincent Anderson knocked on the door to a nondescript apartment within a Portland suburb. He was surprised when a man with glasses and stubble answered, and not the SCP Foundation agent he was expecting.
"Afternoon," the man said, with a raised eyebrow. A child's voice could be heard from somewhere beyond the door. "May I help you?"
"Ah… yes," Anderson replied, "is this the residence of Sasha Merlo?"
"It is…" the man replied cautiously. "I'm Gabe Merlo, her husband, how may I help you?"
Anderson paused for a moment and then chuckled.
"Oh man," he said. "I had no idea she had a family…"
He pulled out a silver business card and flashed it at Gabe. The man's eyes became dilated as the card's memetic effect took hold.
"I was just stopping by to drop something off for her and one of her associates," Anderson continued. "May I come in? I'd love to talk to you."
Gabe gave a slow nod and stepped aside, allowing Anderson to enter.
"Who’s that, daddy?" a little girl who was coloring at the nearby coffee table commented. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, a style that reminded Anderson of Sasha Merlo.
"He's just a friend of mommy's," Gabe answered as he closed the door. "Feel free to have a seat, Mister…"
"Call me Vince," Anderson replied with a sly grin. "What a lovely family you have here…"
The sun was setting beginning to set when Sasha Merlo finally returned to her home and family. With a tired sigh, she opened her front door to the sound of Jessie playing and the smell of Pad Thai.
"Done saving the world, sweetie?" Gabe called from the kitchen. His bespectacled head poked around the corner with a grin.
"You know it," Merlo called. She trudged into the kitchen and had a seat at the table. Gabe gave her a quick peck on the forehead before returning to the task at hand.
"You had a visitor while you were away," said Gabe as he prepared several plates.
"What?" Merlo raised an eyebrow. "Someone from the site?"
"No, he was definitely something else. Figured he was a contact of yours from Third Portland, or whatever it’s called."
"What was his name?"
Gabe paused and thought for several moments, then chuckled as he shook his head. "You know… I don't remember. He left a card though."
Gabe put a plate of Pad Thai down before her, and then slid a silver business card into her hands. As Merlo began to read it, he left the room to bring Jessie to the table. Merlo became pale as she read the front, then quickly flipped the card over to the back.
You really have a wonderful family, Sasha. Your daughter is absolutely adorable, and Gabe is a pretty decent guy.
Thank you for your hospitality
Merlo's hands shook as realization set in. Her mouth felt dry, and her arms felt heavy as they rested on the tabletop.
"Hey Gabe," Merlo called after her husband. "Do you remember what this guy looked like?"
"Tan skin, braided ponytail, and a red and black suit," Gabe commented as he carried a still giggling Jessie into the room and set her down in a booster seat. "Why?"
"Mommy!" Jessie exclaimed, "Look what your friend let me play with! He said I could keep it until you got back!"
Merlo looked to see Jessie holding Benny in the palm of her hand. The tiny droid gave a wave, and then vanished in a puff of black smoke. Jessie laughed and clapped at the tiny display of magic.
"You okay, honey?" Gabe asked.
Merlo had become pale. Without a word, she stood up and went over to Jessie, and began to hold her daughter in a tight hug.
"Sasha?" Gabe asked again. Merlo shook her head and waved him over. As soon as he was in range, she pulled him into the hug as well.
August 22nd, 2020
Vincent Anderson sat in his office at the Anderson Robotics Headquarters. As always, there were stacks of papers to be read, things to sign, memos to browse, meetings to plan, and designs to review. However, rather than bothering himself with running his business, Anderson plugged a flash drive into the large monitor on the wall behind his desk and waited. Within several minutes, the screen began to display a different cluttered office. Sitting at the desk was an old man with a long white beard, dressed all in black save for a red tie.
"Afternoon, Phineas," Anderson said solemnly.
The man on the screen remained silent. His eyes were filled with a cold hatred as he stared straight ahead.
"I don't have to remind you that I can force your AI construct to speak, do I?" Anderson eventually asked.
"You do not," Phineas replied. "But considering how you keep me around so you can talk to an unaltered version of my AI construct, I doubt you'd actually do that. Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I recycled the Saker I was using to represent you, just as you asked. Is there anything else I can do for you? Make you more comfortable. Absolutely anything is possible in your space."
"To what benefit?" Phineas inquired. "Albert Frostman is dead. You killed him yourself. I'm just a program designed to simulate his thoughts as close as it can. I'm not real!"
"You're real enough in that virtual world of yours, and given an internet connection you'd be real enough in this world as well."
"But you won't give me internet access for obvious reasons, so I'm left king of my little pocket dimension. A real Ozymandias! Look at my works and tremble!"
The background around Phineas faded into black, leaving him standing alone in an empty void.
"You might as well delete me, because this whole charade has gone on long enough."
"I'm not going to delete you, Phineas," Anderson whispered. "I need you…"
"God, damn it, Vince! You're always so fucking selfish!" Phineas shouted. "You left your wife and daughter to pursue your dreams alone, you killed your best friend for holding a dissenting opinion on the direction you were steering the company he helped build, and now you trapped a construct of his memories in a virtual prison forever! You might not be the worst person to ever drag their sorry ass across this planet, but you are certainly a bad man!"
"I'm not selfish," Anderson weakly mumbled in reply. "I'm a generous man…"
"That's the beauty of it," Phineas sneered. "It’s still selfishness. You do these horrible things to people, then you go out on the town doing good deeds as you find them as a way to balance the karma scales and clear your conscience. In the end, there's nothing altruistic there. You're just a frustrated, lonely man who’s become so unhinged from the world he resides in that -"
Anderson pulled the flash drive from the monitor. The screen instantly blacked out.
"Good chat, old friend…"
Anderson placed his head in his hands and sat in silence. On his desk, Benny watched him with a curious eye, and gave a little hum as Anderson gently pet the top of the droid with his finger.
"I'm a generous man, right?"
The little droid nodded in agreement. A small, tired smile came to Anderson's lips.
"You always know what to say."
Anderson grabbed a silver tragedy mask that sat on his desk, and placed it on his face. He flicked it with a finger, and the expression of the mask changed to comedy. He held out his hand and allowed the tiny droid to crawl up his arm and perch on his shoulder, then stood and made his way towards the door.
"Let’s see how Ms. Quinn is settling in to her new legs," Anderson said. The little droid nodded and pointed a single leg onward.
"I bet she'll say she loves them. Everyone does. Everyone loves Anderson."