He drew back, satisfied. The little robot sat on the desk, silent and watchful under the stark light of his room. He studied it with some pride. Creating such things was trivial to him now, but there was something comforting in the familiar motions. The simplicity of it reminded him of another life. Those fragile days and their fleeting happiness felt more distant with every breath. Once a blazing force that drove him relentlessly on, his memories no longer burned. They’d faded to a secret warmth, softened by time. Even this body felt natural now. As if he’d always been this way, a personality inhabiting a metallic shell.
Except, of course, that this body wasn’t natural at all. Once, he’d been a human. Flesh and blood. Mortal and finite, a single road travelled from beginning to end. Once, he’d been Morian.
He’d given up the name when he’d agreed to become a Construct. It didn’t feel right to walk around with his real name, the one Murray knew him by. That was the name of an older brother, someone tender and caring. Someone who built companions for lonely boys. It didn’t belong to someone who killed on command, as he surely would under Babylonian orders. And so Morian had died that day, passing the torch of his will to Lee. He wished it was as simple as that. A clean disconnect, past and present cut with surgical precision. But life wasn’t engineering. It was messy, and far less logical. He was only a consciousness in a container now, but he still carried half of his soul, and it was cut of the same fabric as the heart that loved so deeply. If Morian no longer felt right, well then, Lee wasn’t the perfect fit either.
He sighed. This line of thinking never led anywhere productive. All these years and he’d never come to an answer. Perhaps he never would. His time would have been better spent learning to shut off a certain vocal module. He returned his attention to the tiny robot. Picking it up, he moved its limbs, noting the way they creaked just a little. With a small grunt, he grabbed a jar of grease, the same jar he used on himself. Carefully, he oiled the robot’s joints until it moved as smoothly as any Construct’s.
He placed it back on the table. Shiny black eyes stared at him. He’d built countless robots since becoming a Construct. It helped him relax, but more importantly, it connected him to the human past he sometimes found himself forgetting. It frightened him. Just a little. How easy it was to forget, to take for granted the permanence of memory. He knew too well the shortcomings of consciousness recall technology. It had failed before, and it would fail again. Would one of those times be him? He’d kept meticulous records over the years, just in case, but there was no guarantee they would be preserved either. He’d seen Constructs forget wives and children, lovers and mothers. The threat of it, of losing the very essence of yourself, lurked always in the back of his mind.
Pulling open a drawer, he pulled out a core processing chip. It was the last one he had. It was a rare find, more advanced than the chips he usually used for his bots, and he’d been saving it for a special occasion. This definitely counted, though he’d rather be caught dead than admit it to anyone. Carefully, he slotted it into place inside the little robot and clicked the panel shut. Tiny eyes sparked to life. With a fluid grace, the bot padded to the edge of the table and sat, thin metal legs kicking merrily in the air.
Lee smiled. The robot was a replica of Murray’s. He’d made some slight improvements - he had an engineer’s pride, after all - but it was otherwise the exact same childish creation from all those years ago. As if on cue, the bot threw back its head in silent laughter. He hovered his hand near it and watched as it climbed onto his palm. The motion sensors were working well. Nodding to himself, Lee considered the bot. He’d always meant to give something to the Commandant, but recreating a remnant of his past hadn’t been his intention. Still, it felt right. Intimate, somehow. Like the bot was a physical manifestation of all the words he didn’t have. All the thoughts he couldn’t say.
Perhaps this was his answer then. This little robot that connected his two selves through time. Morian and Lee, past and present compacted into a mechanoid smaller than the palm of his hand. He curled his fingers gently around the robot. It curled up and entered sleep mode. Picking up a marker, he printed a neat set of numbers on the tiny mechanoid’s foot: 421-M.
This is the truth of me, he thought. I can’t say it aloud, but if I ever forget… if I ever lose myself… Remember me, Commandant.
Carefully, he placed the robot by his bedside. Though he’d already given his heart away, it seemed he still had more to give.