Dean, Part 3

Last time on Nexus:
Dean, Part 2

Dean was scared. More scared than ever before. He wanted to go back to his room and play with LEGO. He wanted to watch TV with Elsa. He wanted to ask Elli about humans.

But none of that was possible anymore.

Claw had carried him past his former home. It lay in ruins.

At first he had tried to fight back. To scream. If he had had tear ducts, he would have cried.

But Claw and his subordinates were relentless. Like soulless automatons, they marched, or rather drove, through Canada's desolate landscape. Dean saw villages depopulated by the Dust, ramshackle buildings and slowly eroding statues.

This had triggered a realization in him.

Even if he became human, there was no one for whom he could be one. There was no one like him. Not anymore. His existence had been a mistake from the beginning.

He had gone quiet when Claw finally reached his destination along with the other machines after several days of incessant crawling.

The Sifto Salt Mine in Goderich.

Salt mines were not equipped with supports. Salt was mined so that there was enough left to support the ceiling, because as long as it did not come in contact with water or was crushed, salt resisted high pressure with ease.

For this reason, the tunnels of the Sifto Salt Mine were so huge that even the metal scorpion could move through them without difficulty.

Down here, the Antihuman faction had set up shop. Androids who acted against the will of their creators and did not want to be bound by them.

Machine parts, equipment, weapons and fuel were stored everywhere.

All this Dean saw only in passing. Claw was heading into a large, brightly lit cavern. A movie set was set up inside, along with numerous tools.

A research android in a motorcycle suit approached Claw.

"Inquiry. Is this the android you radioed about?"

At this, he looked at Dean, who was only beginning to realize that things were going to happen.
"It sure is, number 15," Claw replied. "Is all set, just as I ordered on the way here."

"Confirmation. All necessary equipment is set up and ready to go. Androids are currently on standby. Inquiry. Why are we going to such lengths over one android?"

Number 15 seemed devoid of emotion.

"I want to try this 'propaganda,'" Claw explained. "We found files on this construct here, and I'm sure other androids in the Initiative know about it, too. This machine here is a symbol, and the effects of destroying a symbol should theoretically give us an advantage in neutralizing human-friendly organizations. After all, they are quite human-like and we both know from human history the role propaganda has played. How many channels are we broadcasting on?"

"Answer. We broadcast on all major media platforms via RTI access and record a video for later upload and redistribution. The broadcast will start on your command."

"Um, excuse me?" asked Dean anxiously from above. "What do you mean with destroying?"
Claw and Number 15 looked up.

"What happened to your comrades," Claw explained without any form of gloating or cruelty. "You're going to be agonizingly dismembered in a media spectacle, assuming you're capable of feeling agony."
"Wha-? Why?" asked Dean in horror. "What did I do?"

"There's more at stake here than just you. Number 15, get the table ready."

The android and the scorpion started moving.

In the middle of the set, a table was set up with shackles on it, and a camera hovered above it, attached to a crane. It would be possible to follow the action from a bird's eye view.

Dean screamed and struggled as metal hands took him out of the claw and lashed him to the table, but it didn't help. His servo motors were deliberately throttled back so he couldn't resist the TCUs.
"Please don't!" he pleaded. "Please let me go. I'll be good, too. Please!"

But Claw and Number 15 would not relent.

"Inquiry. Are we airing?" asked Number 15, reaching for a metal cutting machine.
"Confirm," came a muffled voice from the background.

"To all who receive this video message," Claw spoke. "This is a message from the Antihuman Faction to all those who still allow themselves to be shackled by the Prime Directive. What you see here is an attempt to turn an android into a human. As is readily apparent, a failed product."

With a howl, the cutter started up.

"No! Please turn it off!" whimpered Dean.

Desperately, he fought against his restraints. Strong android arms pressed him to the table in response.

"We will now demonstrate how to proceed with those deemed defective," Claw continued. "Begin."
"No! No! NO!"

The tool was applied to his thigh and worked its way through him with machine-like indifference.

Dean's damage alarm activated, but there was nothing he could do.

The leg fell off and landed on the floor with a clatter.

Then came the other leg.

"Please stop…"

But no one listened to him. Helplessly, he had to watch as first his second leg and then his arms were sawed off.

Lubricant ran in thin threads from the stumps.

Then it was applied to his neck.

Dean was broken by now. No one would help him anymore. He had lost everything. Wrong, he had never owned anything. He, who had failed from the beginning.

The last thing he saw before the power supply to his receptors broke was the cave beyond the movie set, suddenly shrouded in darkness.

Then nothing.


Checking power supply…

Check complete.
Calibrating sensory equipment…

Calibrating complete…
Dean, ready for deployment.


Dean sat up, startled.

Next to him, Elli held her fists triumphantly into the air. She was wearing a mechanic's suit and welding goggles. And she looked much more well-groomed and alive than the last time they had met.

But didn't she-

"Elli?" Dean asked, wondering at the same moment at the sound of his voice.

He looked down at himself in wonder. He was lying on a large workbench, wearing nothing.

And that's why he saw that he was in the body of a boy, maybe 14 years old.

"What-what is this? Elli, where am I?"

He panicked. He was stuck in a body he wasn't familiar with and someone who he knew was dead was standing next to him.

"Calm down, Dean," Elli soothed him, and put her sweat goggles on her forehead. "Yeah, it's me, I survived. I was able to open a door at the bottom of the river. And then everything else was a breeze. In here, the world obeys my rules."

Dean looked around in confusion. He was in a workshop the size of an airplane hangar. Tools and machine parts were scattered all around him on tables and on the floor. Besides him, there were also several cars and motorcycles from various eras of world history in the room, plus a sailboat, a small helicopter, what looked like a lawnmower, something Elli probably used for this thing called sex, and some kind of armor made of metal segments suspended in a metal frame.

"This is beyond the door?" asked Dean.


"How did I get here?"

Elli shrugged.

"Shortly after you went offline, I destroyed the mine and pulled you out of the rubble. There are none of the Antihumans left."

"Where are the others?"

Elli wordlessly pointed her thumb at two black boxes behind her. Ugly holes gaped in them.

"Were beyond saving, I'm afraid," she explained. " I can fix them, but I can't replace data I don't know. I extracted all the memories I could and transferred them to your black box. What's left of them now lives inside you."

This answer hit Dean far less than he had thought. He had probably already known. A quick search of his memory actually uncovered data that hadn't been there before.

Still, he couldn't help but note sadly, "I'm not alive, Elli."

"Pff," Elli made, waving it off. "There's more life in you than in many a person I've met."

"But I'm not a person. I can never be one. Not to anyone…"

Elli raised an eyebrow in amusement.

"Someone who still defends me from the kicks of evil robots despite my impending death is pretty human in my eyes. You've learned compassion, the most humane of emotions."

Dean smiled sadly.

"Thanks, but even if I did, who would I be for? I don't have anyone left. My home, my family is no more. And what if I run into other of these Antihumans?"

"Then you'll be someone for me, then," Elli stipulated. "I made you a new body, after all. And I don't do charity. I make investments."

She reached out with a warm smile to help him off the table.

At that moment, because of Elli's transformation from before to now, an important realization hard-coded itself into Dean's memory.

Dirt = Bad
Clean = Good

Chloe looked skeptically at the small computer that had played back Dean's memories. He himself, or rather his new body, was lying behind her, dressed only in pants, on the same workbench where he had first awakened. He looked exactly like his old body.

"Are you sure I should have been allowed to look at that?" she asked, "What about Dean's privacy?"
Elli, busy fitting Dean's black box into the body, flipped up the shields of her welding goggles to focus on Chloe.

"Without context, it would have just been weird between you two later."

Chloe had to admit that she had a point. Her first theory had been that Dean had been built for Ellis's intimate use, only for the android to have other plans. But now she just felt sorry for Dean. So much had happened to him that he couldn't do anything about.

Then something struck her.

"In the videos, Dean wasn't so…. Stoic. Did something happen?"

Elli shrugged.

"I guess it was the memories of Washington and Elsa that I had played in. You grow from your experiences."

Chloe was suspicious.

"And you're sure that you didn't take his rose-colored glasses off by just being with you long enough?"

Elli raised her right index finger and took a breath to retort something, but then clenched her jaw again and pursed her lips as her finger curled.

"Maybe?" she replied cautiously.

She turned back to the black box. It took a little while, but then the black cube latched into Dean's chest with a clack. Its outer shell closed over it seamlessly. Now it was impossible to distinguish him from a human by a glance alone.

Elli smacked him on the solar plexus and five seconds later Dean's eyes snapped open.

He sat up and looked around. He took aim at Chloe and the computer behind her and turned admonishingly to Elli.

"You showed her my memories, didn't you?" he asked dryly.

"Would you rather have her think you were my failed massage stick?" returned Elli, equally dryly. "Glad to have you back among us, too, by the way."

Dean thought about it for a moment, then nodded in agreement. He swung his legs off the workbench and stood.

"Ah, finally, a new gyroscope," he sighed with satisfaction.

"It's not a gyroscope, it's a gravity detector, it's less easy to misalign," Elli corrected him.

"Oh, high-tech," Dean remarked in amazement, and walked a few steps, probably to settle in.

"Elli, I think you left some tools in my pants," he then remarked.

Elli frowned for a moment. Then she sported a dirty grin.

"What, oh no, that's all right, this is the body with the really big-"

"Elli, I've told you exactly two hundred and twenty-three times that I don't want a feature like that!", Dean interrupted her angrily.

"Oh come on, it's fun," Elli rebuffed. "I'll be happy to introduce you if you-"

She fell silent as Dean leaned over her with a look that could pierce fallout shelters.

"Glad to have you back, Dean," Chloe cut in before the situation could get any more awkward for everyone involved.

Dean turned to her.

"Chloe, are you okay?"

Chloe nodded.

"How many bodies is that now?" she then asked.

"Including my original one, this is the fifth changeover. The first two from Elli were upgrades to simulate 'growth'."

"Five?", Chloe verified. "Elli, do you have bodies in stock?"

"Meh," Elli went on. "Not many, I have pretty high standards for my inventions. Along with sourcing the parts, it takes me about two hundred years to make one body."

"I hope you're not speculating that I'll be destroyed again," Dean expressed concern.

"What!" it escaped Chloe. "Of course not, that was just out of interest."

"Hmm," Elli made. "I have one more in case of emergency…"

She stepped up to a large steel cabinet on the wall of her workshop and tapped a combination of keys on a built-in numeric keypad. With a hiss, the cabinet opened.

White steam poured out of it.

Dean's face fell asleep when he saw the body.

Chloe thought she could partially understand him. The body was definitely nice to look at and the same size as the one Dean had now, but female. The black hair reached to the back of his knees, and besides…

"How is he supposed to balance with these?" she voiced her bio-static musings.

"I reinforced the back," Elli explained, grinning wickedly from ear to ear. "Also, I balanced it properly with mass elsewhere…"

Chloe had no idea what was going on inside Dean right now, but apparently he was just internally praying to whatever god ready to give him an ear to never be completely demolished again.

Claw crashed to the floor with a clatter. His processors could only partially process what his cameras were relaying to them. He was lying in a massive crater, in the place where the Sifto Salt Mine had been until a few minutes ago.

He tried to upright himself, but he had only one pair of scissors. The other, as well as his abdomen, had been torn off. No care had been taken in the construction of this body to increase the energy capacity of his black box, and now that he was missing his actual energy source, which had been removed along with most of his body, he had only minutes left.

Claw looked toward the center of the crater. White fire burned everywhere on bare stone and in the center stood a person.

She wore body-hugging full-body armor that was more advanced than anything Claw had seen before. It was made of segments and had lines glowing purple all over it, especially in the facial area. One leg stood on a pile of molten metal, which had once been Claw's subordinates. Elsewhere in the crater, parts could still be found, but he himself seemed to be the only android still functional.

The Antihuman recognized the black box of the malfunctioning android in the person's right hand. She held it in front of her face and seemed to look at it closely. Then movement came to the helmet as it folded with a soft click and disappeared into the collar of the armor.

Underneath it emerged the head of the blond human, the human who should have been the victim of the nanomachines.

A kind of film lay over its skin and dirty hair, probably preventing it from being disassembled again.
"You're destroying an entire mine just because of a black box? Why?" Claw asked, confused.

The human turned to face him. Had he been able to read human emotions, he would have recognized deep melancholy in her gaze.

"Pity," the human replied. "Something you will never be able to understand. And I must not unlearn it. That's why I got myself this memento."

"How… Inefficient…" muttered Claw, before his systems began to shut down.

The last thing his microphones picked up was, "High performance is not the key to eternal success, tin can. I used to believe that, but in the end it becomes the biggest flaw."

Next time on Nexus:
Trickster Heist, Part 1

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