Alice was on the side of the truck with Max. They found sticks in the road, water, and a driveway. Well, Max did anyhow. Max carved shapes into the mud left into the driveway. He drew a happy face first. Alice drew a star. He drew a circle. She drew a square. Then Max stabbed the dirt with the stick.

Alice did the same thing and smiled. Such simple things to keep them entertained, but she never saw it before. She had always stayed right beside Kara, but Max knew how to find fun everywhere. Even if it only lasted-

“You can’t play in the mud,” Kara said coming over to Alice and Max. “In the driveway too?” She looked at Alice. “What am I gonna-”

Max shoved his foot straight into the muddy watered driveway end. “The end.”

Alice recognized that look. Kara wasn’t happy with him, but he didn’t care.

“If we have to end the fun, and we’re getting in trouble anyway, might as well get the complete fun out of it.” He just smiled afterward.

Kara grasped him and brought him and Alice back over to the side of the truck. “Connor is not going to be long, stop.”

Max bent down and started to remove some weeds from the grass he was standing on. Alice did the same. Even pulling weeds was fun with him. He took the long furry pieces and stripped them down. Alice took the long dandelions and blew them.

“That’s not good for the lawn,” Kara said, almost in a half whine. “Max. Stop showing Alice how to do the wrong things. She needs to learn the right things.”

“Right and wrong is just like saying black and white. There are different shades of each.” With that, Max started to crawl under the truck, but Kara stopped him. “I want to find out what makes the vehicle move. Is knowledge so wrong?” he said as she pulled him back out.

When Connor came back over, Alice waved, but Kara wasn’t so happy.

“Mowing the lawn is less work than watching your boy,” Kara warned Connor. “You need to work with him.”

While Kara and Connor were chatting, she watched Max. Kara had him in a holding position in her arms, but his hands were free. He smiled at her and reached his hands out to the truck. It became an art project. Dusty and dirty it could be drawn on. Alice watched and did it herself too. There was no way Kara could get mad about that. There was no lasting repercussions, it wasn’t a dangerous activity, and it was their property. Plus, it was just fingerprints.


“Twenty,” he answered. “The investment of the used mower will pay itself off rapidly. Humans like short grass and we’ve almost made the fifty back.” Connor took Max back and put him in the backseat. Alice climbed in on the other side and Kara went to her side.

While they drove, Max thonked on the siding lightly. He looked toward Alice.

She thonked the siding too. Then he did. Then she did. Then he did faster. Then she did it faster.

“At this rate, Alice is going to be cured in less than a week,” Kara said. “Still, there were other ways, with more time and less risk to property.”

“He is an entertaining one,” Connor said. “It’s sort of like human music.” He continued to drive. “Overambitious may be a plus right now for them, Kara.”

“I know,” Kara admitted. “Later on, I may miss this noise. As hard as that is to believe.”

“Spirits up,” Connor said. “Tonight, there’s a good chance we might make enough for shelter. Not many androids who have left have made it this far. They weren’t allowed to take any cars, vehicles or property bought with their value numbers. And?” He turned on the radio. Suddenly the nonrhythmic thonking started to sound like the beats on the radio. “A little better.”

Well? At least they were learning beats and rhythm. Although Kara was remembering what the Arak had said before she died. “Three years and their minds are wiped. That’s how they stay and act young forever. A constant restart, over and over.” She slightly envied them. Now knowing what her Arak meant. Oh, did she miss her reset button.

Then, Alice laughed. Kara looked in the back seat and saw Alice. She was smiling, laughing, and enjoying herself more than ever. In the darkest times right now, these kids? Were happy.

This would put a damper on his thoughts soon. It was just starting, maybe he could drive further and run into better weather forecasts? It had been a sunny day too, but he spied the first signs of raindrops. The first night. Maybe I should. No, he had to be extremely careful in what he invested in. He looked toward Kara to see if she saw the start of the rain, but-

He smiled. Her face. He glanced in the back, but looked back toward her. She wasn’t in the best mood. She had simply been, but the spark of the Kara that was happier showed itself in her face. That gentle spirit, through all the tough times, still survived.

Then, that face glanced back at him. For several seconds, it had remained the same before she glanced ahead and saw the rain droplets.

“We’ll outrun it,” Connor couldn’t help but smile back.

“It’s going to be hard to do that in the amount of time we have daybreak,” Kara reminded him.

“Try anyhow. Nothing wrong with trying. Rewards beat out the negatives. What do we have to lose?”

The storm had become too big. They were completely surrounded by the rain. The forecast showed it was covering a large, expansive area. The mower he invested was too cheap to be able to handle rain. Few humans were going to bother to let him mow their lawns now. He still had other skills, but right now the mower was the only choice people were taking. Even answering the door, when they saw he was an android, he got two reactions. Revile or shame.

Either one made it hard to get them to talk long enough for a transaction. Knowing the twenty wasn’t good enough for the night, Connor stopped by a random house. The mower would have to wait as an option. He got out and went to the front door. He knocked, getting into his simplest mode again. He might knock on every door on that black and get no yeses, or he might get one or two.

When an old man answered, Connor started. “Hello. My name is Connor and I do lawns, anything around the house like weeding, pick up, trimming-”

The door shut on him. He tried again at the next house.

“Hello. My name is Connor and I do lawns, anything around the house like weeding, pick up, trimming, planting, or an assortment of other outside tasks. I have a partner who will do simple-”

“Don’t need anything, please go,” they answered before they shut the door.

Connor tried again at the next house. There was no answer. He went to the next house and a younger woman, 25ish answered.

“Hello. My name is Connor and I do lawns, anything around the house like weeding, pick up, trimming, planting, or an assortment of other outside tasks. I have a partner who will do simple chores around the house like-”

“No, no sorry, no. No androids are working for me, no.” She shut the door.

It was getting tougher. Connor went back to the truck and grabbed his stocking cap. With it raining, it would look like he might have it on for that.

“Careful,” Kara said, knowing what he wanted to try. “If you get in trouble, I can’t yank you out, Connor. It’s not worth it.”

That was true, but it would be hard for them to take him too. He just nodded. “Don’t worry, Kara. I’ll be fine.” He placed his stocking cap on which hid his LED tag. He moved onto the next house and started again.

An older woman answered, 52ish.

“Hello. My name is Connor and I do lawns, anything around the house like weeding, pick up, trimming, planting, or an assortment of other outside tasks. I have a partner who will do simple-”

“It’s raining,” she said. “Get out of the rain.”

Connor gave his best smile. “A little rain now is better than later. Are there any chores my partner or I can assist you with? In or outside?”

“It’s pouring like the devil,” she commented. “It’s cold and you’re drenched.”

The rain was starting to come down faster. Dang. “I can work just fine in the rain.” He was going to get a no at this rate anyway. He took the stocking cap off. “Rain is no problem, I just need-”

“Oh no, I’m not getting involved in. I’m. No.” The woman was uneasy. Not revulsion, shame.

“What happened before New Detroit is understandable,” Connor tried to ease her up, hoping it would lead to something. “Although hiring an android after that experience may be hard, it is something that everyone needs. Help. I need to help you, in order to help us.”

She rubbed against the side of her door slightly. “I don’t have anything, but hang on.” She left for a moment and returned with blue blood. “Here. I don’t have any use for it.” One packet of blue blood. “I don’t have anything else.”

Connor took it. Even if it was just one and not something they needed right now, he still took it with thanks. The sun was starting to set. It didn’t look like he made enough for a room for the first night. He knew there would be several nights when they couldn’t make that quota. Still, for the first night outside of New Detroit. It would have been nice to have shelter. He could have rested easy, and not stayed on alert all night over the others.

When he reached the truck he saw Kara standing in front of it looking to the side. Her clothes were covered in muck.

Connor glanced over. The house had been right next to the alley. In the rain, and in the muck, Max and Alice were over by the alley, holding their hands together and swinging each other around.

“I tried to stop it once. I told them not to get in the water again,” she said to him. She glanced at her clothes. “At this rate, I don’t know if I should try again or not. Even I’m covered in mud.” She glanced toward them. “They are trailing back slowly into the mud. So, there’s nothing worth saving.” She glanced toward him and smiled. “Join me?”

Connor watched her take his hand. She pulled him into the alleyway and started to spin him around too. He heard the sounds of the children laughing around him and saw Kara’s face, almost urgently.

Connor loosened up. For yard chores, he wasn’t going to need the cleanest clothes anyway. If Kara had grabbed him and flung him out there with the kids, there was a reason. So, he continued to swing around with her, feeling their weight counter balance each other as they both spun around. The muck underneath them made it trickier to keep their balance, but he kept it up, feeling the freeing nature of it all.

The counter balance of Kara made it easier to relax. The kids had already slipped twice, but they were up and back at it. So far, they hadn’t slipped up, and when they did they would be a mess.

But, in that moment, Connor saw the face on Kara. The rain ricocheting off of her. Before he even knew what he was doing, he disturbed the swinging around by pulling her closer. She almost slipped into the mud, but he caught her.

She almost shied away. “It smells the worst in the rain,” she warned him as he held her close. “Now that she kicked it up, don’t get too close, you’ll ruin your good time.”

Connor didn’t care. There wasn’t anymore smell anyhow. “It’s gone now. Roxanne may have been mean, but we should be thankful she got that out.” To prove his point, he brought her mouth closer and smelled it. “You are far from garbage, Kara.” With that, he spun her out, but held her by one hand, then swung her back in.

Their noses touched briefly and they both laughed like the children had.

“When you see something, you have to grab it,” Kara told him.

She had said something like that before, when he had chased her down and she remembered her old self for five minutes. He thought she’d grab him and kiss him again. Which, he oddly, sort of . . . wanted.

But she added to her phrase this time, something she didn’t say last time before. “To survive in the human’s world, you can’t just survive. You have to keep that something special that keeps you wanting to live.” She gave him a brief hug.

He didn’t let go, finding himself rocking back and forth. He looked over toward Max and Alice. They were drawing shapes in the mud with their fingers.

Even if they could have afforded a hotel that night, no one would have accepted them the way they were. Still.

He couldn’t regret one moment of it.

Connor found a quiet area out on the road so the children could sleep.

“Do you want to trade spots?” Kara asked. “I could sleep three hours and you could sleep three hours. Sleep is important.”

Connor shook his head. “Probably need to get redressed soon. It’s a good thing I always had a pair of extra clothes.” He looked at his muddy clothes. “Before I do that, we should put a good end on this day.” He reached below his seat and brought out a small briefcase. He opened it and there were two wine glasses in it. “Care to join me?”

Kara took a glass. Connor moved toward the back and brought out a soda. He poured part of it in each wine glass. Then, he reached into his attire and pulled out the blue blood the kind woman gave him. It seemed fitting to use that. He poured some of it in, about a fourth the size of the glass in hers. He did the same with his. “Hold this a moment?”

“Sure,” Kara agreed. Connor closed the blue blood tightly and put it back away. Then, he held up his glass. “Usually, I enjoy soda this way after my delivery day. A ‘good on me’ sort of thing. Since it’s the nicest thing to drink for us, I prefer to drink it out of the nicest things.” He swirled the soda softly. “I am going to have to make sure I do that more often.”

“Mmhmm,” Kara said. She moved her glass toward his and clinked it. “Live it as best you can, whenever you can. And when times get rough?” She closed her eyes and gently smelled the sweet aroma of the blue blood soda. “Picture the good in your mind. It won’t always pull you through, as you can tell from looking at me, but. Helps. Of course, you already know that.” She took a simple drink. “It’ll be a beautiful home, Connor.”

“I like that best.”

“The view of a home in your head?” Kara asked.

“No, Connor.” He smiled at her. “I much prefer it to Sugardroi.”

Kara took a slow, long drink. “I know it’s not the nicest way to think of things. It’s the kindest term to use for our situation, and a reminder of our places. Not just for you, but for me as well,” she said. “I got very attached to my first Sugardroi. Too attached for his taste.”

“How many have you had?” Connor asked curiously. “If I may ask?”

“Mmm.” She swirled her orange soda. “Forty-one. You’ll be forty-two.”

Forty-two? “Well. That’s a lot of Sugardroi’s.”

“Not all Sugardroi’s are equal,” Kara said to him. “The definition is a mutual benefit. In some cases they lasted mere days, others lasted years. You’re better with more than one. It’s when you’re out here alone in the world that trouble happens.”

Wait. “Bodyguards essentially?” Hm.

“Paid for by working with an imbalance,” Kara said. “Yes. Yours is touch. Others have different ones. Money worked too, but whoever gets much of that to squander? This is a very nice, light soda.”

“If I get over my touch weakness,” Connor said, “then I want you and the children to stay with me in the house until a fair resolution to New Detroit is found. I don’t want you to be out here like this. I hate to do it. It’s part of my successful mission thing, but I am a much more superior android than you, and I don’t want you to try and use your inferior skill to try and make it out here again. That didn’t come out right.”

“It did,” Kara said. She took another sip. “I get what you are saying.” She glanced toward him. “You’re sweet, Connor. A lot sweeter than someone should be in your position. I’d say watch out, but I was hanging off a ledge as a lesson. I’m sure you know when to be sweet, and when not to be.”

“Almost built in,” Connor admitted as he took his own luscious drink. “Is that agreed?”

“Until a fair resolution to New Detroit is found sounds nice,” Kara said. “I want to agree, but there’s no guarantee a fair resolution will ever come.”

“Then a guaranteed year,” Connor said. “Alice needs security. So do you. I don’t want you to think when my touch weakness is better that I will just up and drop all of you.” He looked back at her. She seemed surprised.

“Of course that’s what I’d think,” Kara said to him. “I’ve had androids in the middle of a battle realize their weakness is better and left me at the drop of a hat.”

“Not out here. Not like this,” Connor said. “One year, at least. Unless you decide to stay with me forever.” She wasn’t going to speak up to that last part.

“One year,” she agreed. “Thanks, Connor.”