Dean, Part 2
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Last time on Nexus:
Dean, Part 1

"What are you doing here?" Dean asked Elli.
He liked the name.
"I was looking for a place to be alone, but then some evil robots spotted me and I had to escape. Then I ran into your people and now I'm stuck here. Pretty rude, if you ask me."
"Being alone?" repeated Dean, perplexed. "But why here? There aren't any people left, are there? Or do you have a family somewhere?"
Elli chortled without humor.
"Family… Pff… As if. I'm the only person who's free to move around here, kiddo."
"How so?" asked Dean curiously. "There are nanomachines like that all over the place here, aren't there? I haven't seen any yet, but they've been making people dead wherever they've been."
"I'm wearing a nanoshell," Elli explained, raising her right arm.
Dean realized it was shining a little.
"It keeps the deadly influences of your world from reaching me. As long as it's not torn or punctured, of course. All that comes through here is gas."
Dean came around the table and tapped his fingers against the heels of Ellis' hands.
They were soft. Not as firm as his. He tried the same with Elli's cheeks.
They were even softer, even if there was something hard underneath. Teeth, for sure.
"I know you're a machine with the mind of a three-year-old, but it's getting kinky," the woman remarked, but made no attempt to stop him from nudging her against the shoulder.
Dean decided to stop, though. He didn't want to upset Elli any more than she already was.
"Are you from far away?" he asked when he sat back down.
"Huh?" she went on, "I sure am. And I'm in an area where I can't just leave again. I can't get my door to… to my home open…"
"Oh…," Dean said sadly.
He would have liked to see the door.
"What's your home like?"
Elli looked at him as if he'd asked if he could look at her insides.
She closed her eyes for a moment before answering.
"It's whatever I want it to be, but I'm alone there…"
"And you must have been looking for a friend here!" concluded Dean cheerfully.
Elli smiled mirthlessly and replied nothing.
"Can I ask something?" asked Dean.
She raised an eyebrow in annoyance.
"Like you don't do already."
In his naiveté, Dean took that as a yes.
"Why do people dance?"
"Why they dance?", Elli affirmed.
She thougt about it.
"Because it's their way of showing they belong together," she then said.
Dean considered this answer from several angles before his thought processes presented him with a logic error.
"Why do they have to show it? Can't they just say it?"
Elli looked at Elsa, who was still standing expectantly next to Washington and two guards at the door.
"What would you rather have? When your colleagues are close to you there or when they are far away from you."
"When they're close," Dean replied.
"And it's the same with dancing."
Dean thought about it.
"Can I try that?" he then asked.
"Without music?" asked Elli.
Dean looked around at Elsa for help. She smiled and left the room.
Behind him, Dean heard a loud clapping sound.
When he turned around, he found that Elli had hit her forehead with the flat of her hand.
"Why did you do that?" asked Dean.
"Disbelief, tin can, pure disbelief."
Sighing, she stood up and did…. Yes, what was she doing? She wiggled her arms and legs….
"What are you doing?" asked Dean.
"Stretching," Elli explained. "If I don't dance along, your buddies get all mad."
Dean turned to Washington, confused. True, actually. Elli had said something earlier about being squeezed or something…. He didn't really understand.
Elsa came back with a laptop and speakers and put on a song.
An orchestra started playing.
"Ugh, waltzes…" groaned Elli. "Well, Strauss was a pleasant contemporary…. At least before he got married…"
She grabbed Dean and forced him into a ponderous waltz.
Dean had seen the steps in a movie and memorized them. It was easy for an android to repeat a movement once it had been demonstrated. However, it took him a while to adapt the sequence to Elli. He stepped on her feet several times.
"What ostrich?" he asked in confusion, after he was able to subtract his computing power from matching again1.
"Johann Strauss, we're dancing to his Emperor Waltz right now," Elli explained. "I used to be his groupie when he played in the string quartet."
"Oh…" Dean said with admiration. "Where is he now?"
"I don't know, unless the nanomachines pulled him out of the ground, he's been lying in Vienna's Central Cemetery for almost a hundred and sixty years."
Dean looked at her skeptically.
"But you look pretty young. I've seen how people age, they only live up to a hundred years."
"I exist here even though all the other humans have turned to dust, tin can," Elli noted. "I'm not your run-of-the-mill human. I travel through time and space."
Dean's eyes lit up.
"With your door?" he asked, amazed.
"Yup."
"Whoa, tell me about it, please. Did you see the dinosaurs?"

And the two danced and talked for hours. Dean pestered Elli with one question after another. Elli also taught him how to tango and foxtrot. And he quickly got better at it than she was. Soon her moves seemed almost clumsy next to his.
"Elli?" asked Dean. "What do I have to do to be human?"
Elli pondered.
"Acquire compassion. And find something you'd go through hell for."
Dean looked at her fearfully as they waltzed across the room, this time to the Viennese Waltz.
"Does that hurt?" he asked tentatively.
Elli shrugged her shoulders.
"It varies. I feel the pain to this day…. Oh… Yes… I do…"
Elli suddenly buckled.
"Oh, dear!" it escaped Dean. "Elli, what's wrong?"
He tried to pull her back up, but she apparently couldn't support her own weight.
She twitched as if her muscles had suffered minor short circuits.
"I… am exhausted…" Elli explained weakly. "Dancing for so long is quite exhausting…. I… need to lie down… Oh no…"
Washington stepped up next to Dean.
"Oh, I'm sorry about that," Dean apologized.
He didn't know what it meant to be exhausted.
Elli gripped her head with a groan.
Elsa gently put her hands around Dean.
"Come on, Dean."
He struggled.
"But, what about Elli?"
She seemed to be tormented by something, for she was stifling sobs, whispering unintelligibly and could not stop twitching.
"I'll take care of her," Washington promised, stepping up to help the woman up. She got back to her feet rather shakily and almost immediately buckled again. She didn't seem to be aware of her surroundings anymore, as her eyes flickered and seemed to follow movements that didn't exist.
"You need to go now, Dean," Washington said. "Think about what you learned today."
Dean reluctantly returned to his chamber with Elsa. But he was reluctant to find joy in his toys. He was worried about Elli.
If he listened carefully, he could hear her. She seemed to be screaming. She was in pain. But Dean couldn't open the door.

He was not allowed to see Elli the next day. Elsa tried to comfort him and offered to dance with him, but Dean didn't want to. He wanted to see Elli again. Her screams had faded, so he assumed Washington had turned her off for her own safety.
He heard strange noises from outside in return. A distant banging, but Elsa said she heard nothing.

The next day, the door was abruptly opened again. Washington came in. He looked serious.
"Dean, Elsa, please come with me."
"Are we going to Elli?" Dean asked excitedly.
"Yes…" said Washington with some delay. "She's been asking about you guys."
Dean beamed with joy. He wasn't used to anyone other than Elsa paying him such attention.
Again they walked through the corridors and halls of the old factory.
It went to the first floor, to a small room.
Elli was lying on a cot.
Dean immediately ran to her chuckling but was startled when he saw her. Her cheeks were sunken in and her lips chapped.
"What's wrong with her?" asked Dean, but then remembered a peculiarity of living things. "Is she defective?"
"She's dying of thirst," Washington explained. "She needs water to survive, but we can't get any to her through this shell. And even if we did, all the water we have is contaminated with nanomachines. She would be eaten away from the inside out."
"What happens if she dies of thirst?" asked Dean. "Does she shut down then?"
He had learned that androids only worked with special water.
"She'll die, Dean," Elsa explained gently.
Dean had heard the word before, but couldn't quite picture what it was. To him, it was a sad shutdown.
"But we can turn it back on, right?"
Elsa shook her head.
"When living things die, it's final, tin bucket," came softly and hoarse from the couch.
Elli had opened her eyes languidly.
"I'll never… Talk again. Or… Move."
Dean cringed as he heard her voice, looking helplessly at the human who was growing weaker by the minute.
"But we have to do something! We-we have to get her to her door! Then she can get water!"
"We can't, Dean," Washington declared. "This place is keeping Elli from opening her door, and we can't leave it. Evil machines are out there. They're after her. And after you, if they find out what you are."
"But why?" asked Dean. "It's our prime directive to make humans again, isn't it?"
"Yes, but these androids don't believe that," Elsa tried to explain. "They're the Anti Human Faction, they hate humans."
Washington turned to Elli.
"There's no point to any of this. Why did you have him brought here?"
"Because… This is the room that's most… Most likely to survive… an explosion."
The room shook with a tremendous rumble.
"What was that?" asked Elsa, startled. "What's going on?"
"They… Are there…", Elli only answered.
More explosions rocked the old building.
Elsa grabbed Dean by the hand.
"Dean, come on, we have to get out of here!"
Dean looked at Elli.
"What about her?"
"She'll die in a few hours anyway, Dean, we can't take her with us," Washington replied.
"No!" replied Dean firmly, loading Elli's body onto his shoulder.
For Dean, it was surprisingly light.
Washington rolled his eyes and dragged him and Elsa along with him.
The whole building was in a frenzy. Gunshots were popping and something was exploding everywhere.
On the way to the emergency exit, a TCU flew toward them. The military android crashed hard to the ground, but straightened up shortly after as if nothing had happened.
The machine that had thrown him turned toward Dean and his minders.
It was a mechanical scorpion, as big as a truck. Hanging from its tail, however, was not a stinger but a junk crane claw.
The strange construct began to stalk toward them with astonishing speed.
"RUN!" barked Washington as the TCU behind them began firing at the mechanical beast. But it was moving too fast for the bullets to hit anything but the armor plates.
Ahead of them was the emergency exit, which Washington frantically opened while the military android slammed into the wall next to them, crushed by the scorpion.
Pastureland opened up in front of them, with a few houses in the distance.
The three androids began to run, while behind them the behemoth simply broke through the wall. However, it did not expect that this would cause the building above it to start crumbling. As a result, it was buried under a lot of wall fragments.
Unnoticed by the fighters, the three disappeared into the plain.

Dean's clock told him that they had already been on the road for more than ten hours. Androids knew no exhaustion, so there had been no breaks. Elli had only asked to be carried in a fireman's carry, since Dean's jerking was getting to her neck. By now she had fallen completely silent.
They were in a forest full of conifers, nearby a river had carved a small gorge into the rock with a whirlpool spinning at the bottom.
Dean laid Elli on the ground. She was still breathing, but weakly.
"If it wasn't for her, we'd be further along," Washington noted. "But what the heck, I'll send out a distress signal. Meanwhile, you can dig a grave or something."
"Washington, please!" chided Elsa. "He's maybe just seven from a human perspective."
Dean, meanwhile, ran to the water to bring some of it to Elli, but he had nothing to carry it in. His hands didn't form a closed bowl. Putting aside the fact that the ravine dropped almost vertically, one might get down, but one couldn't get back up.
He looked around, but there was no way he could get water.
Slowly, despair spread through him.
His governess stepped up behind him.
"Elsa," Dean wailed. "Please help me!"
Elsa just shook her head sadly.
"Even if we could get water, Dean, it's contaminated. It would only kill them faster."
Dean pondered.
"The door!" he then said. "Elli said she couldn't make a door at our place. But here…"
"She won't wake up, Dean," Elsa shot down. "I'm sorry, Dean, but there are some things in life you can't change."
Dean didn't admit defeat. He walked back to Elli and shook her.
Sure enough, she opened her eyes sluggishly.
"Elli, the door!" exclaimed Dean to her excitedly.
Elli said something barely audible.
It sounded like the word "frame."
Of course, doors needed frames. But where was he going to get a frame around here? Maybe he could build one. With enough branches, it was certainly possible.
The problem, though, was that there were few lying around that he could use. Elli would have to crawl.
He needed something to connect them with though, maybe he could find some soil with the texture of play-doh somewhere.
Instead, after a bit of roaming around, he found a pair of sturdy-looking, wide feet. When Dean lifted his gaze, he realized they belonged to a TCU, who eyed him blankly.
"Oh, hello, can you help me?" Dean asked.
The military android grabbed his head with a grip similar to that of a digger claw and began dragging him behind it.
Dean tried to fight back until he realized the machine was heading straight for the camp and the abyss beyond.
Once there, Dean was slammed to the ground.
More units had appeared, several TCUs, but also some other types of androids. Washington and Elsa had been forced to their knees, behind her stood an android whose right hand had been replaced by a mean-looking diamond-covered chainsaw.
From Elli, however, the androids kept a strange distance. Dean read disgust in some of the faces.
He was getting scared.
"Elsa? What's wrong?" he asked fearfully.
"They found us, Dean," Elsa replied only strangely monotone.
Behind her, the chainsaw screeched.
"Quiet!" barked its owner.
Then the rhythmic pounding sounded.
A fir tree fell as the scorpion came to the precipice.
"Washington," he greeted.
"Claw," it came back with spiteful politeness.
Claw turned to the saw android.
"Eliminate."
The saw howled and went right through Washington's chest. He tried to fight back, but other androids rushed to hold him down as the saw worked its way inexorably through his black box. The soul of an android, Dean knew.
"No!" he cried helplessly as the chainsaw exited the front of Washington's chest again. "Stop it!"
The executioner pulled his tool out again and Washington collapsed lifelessly.
"Why are you doing this!!!" Dean asked, stunned.
"I guess you're not programmed to understand," Claw replied tersely. "After all, you want to keep defective products in operation. Kain, eliminate the other one too."
Dean's metaphorical ears perked up. The saw android was moving into position behind Elsa…
With the courage of desperation Dean got up and tried to ram the android. Unfortunately, the android was much more solidly built than he. With his normal hand he gave Dean such a blow that his face got a dent. He flew backwards and fell on top of Elli, who gasped under the impact. He just managed to stop his momentum as he rolled down, or he would have fallen over the edge.
He looked back at Elsa in despair.
"It's going to be… It's going to be okay, Dean-" was all Elsa could get out.
Then the saw excited her chest.
She fell to the ground after the chainsaw was pulled back out and didn't move.
"Him too?" asked the executioner.
"No," Claw gave back. "I think he'll do well for an experiment. Let's see how well the human machines respond to propaganda…. But now for you…"
The mechanical scorpion stalked toward Elli.
"I want you to know that the artifact you destroyed would have catapulted our technology forward by millennia. I'd love to have you publicly executed, but that seems to be taken from me already…"
Dean didn't know exactly what he meant until he saw Ellis' left foot. Its impact had ripped open the nanoshell. Her leg was gradually, but with increasing speed, turning into gray dust.
"We should stop her from getting into the Noosphere," Claw mused. "Who knows what she can do there. Crush her."
Two heavy androids approached and lifted their feet.
"PLEASE STOP!" roared Dean, getting on all fours and standing protectively over Elli. Then the kicks hit him.
Again and again.
Elli beneath him slowly opened her eyes and looked into his face, which was consumed with despair.
"It's all right, Dean," she whispered, barely audible.
The servo motor in Dean's right shoulder joint failed. He buckled.
Meanwhile, the dust worked its way up Ellis' stomach.
He would not be able to save her. But what was the Noosphere? If Elli got there, could she get back? Dean had to try.
He grabbed Elli's now much lighter body with his working arm and heaved her over the edge to safety from the feet.
"NO!" yelled Claw as she fell down the cliff and disappeared into the whirlpool.
"Should we go after her?" asked one of the machines.
"No," came from the scorpion. "Whatever, with a little luck she'll drown first. I'll take this defective unit with me."
Dean resisted, but he was grabbed with tremendous force by the junk claw on Claw's tail and lifted into the air. The whole squad started to move, no longer wasting a glance at the destroyed androids or the abyss.
If they had, they might have noticed that for a short time the whirlpool swelled so much that it took up almost all the water of the river. But the phenomenon lasted only for a few seconds.

Next time on Nexus:
Dean, Part 3

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