Summary: TezRyo Robot AU.
Rating: Definitely Mature. For the usual culprits.
Author’s Note: I have a feeling my pacing might be terribly off for these last couple of chapters. Will be trying to fix before I post, but not sure how it will go.
Tezuka rolled over, reaching for his glasses. Blinking blearily, he checked the bed’s other occupant. It looked like Ryoma was still in power-saving mode. He spent a moment wondering whether the bioroid required external stimulus to reactivate or if he was controlled by an internal clock.
There was only one way to find out. He crept out of bed silently. Ryoma didn’t stir. He forwent a change of clothes and headed into the living room in his pyjamas. The tiles were refreshingly cool underneath his feet.
He’d slept remarkably well. Originally Tezuka anticipated spending most of the night in a restless catnap, kept half awake by concern about their stolen bioroid absconding on him. Which then only made him wonder why he was so worried about it – after all, it wasn’t like Atobe would fire him for losing something they stole. It would probably even be a relief – he could finally return to his normal life, instead of being bothered by a bioroid so advanced that it left him feeling obsolete. But in the end it was a job given by Atobe, and Tezuka could not bring himself to neglect his duties.
The next two hours were rather peaceful – Tezuka sat in the living room, leafing through a book in silence. Sometime near ten in the morning, he heard a couple of dull thumps from the bedroom. Several minutes later, Ryoma stumbled to the bathroom.
Internal clock then, though it was highly likely that there was an override, as this was the first time Tezuka had managed to awaken first. Perhaps it only kicked in when motor functions were active.
The rest of the day continued in more or less exactly the same manner as the day before. Ryoma didn’t kick up as much of a fuss about having to sit in the bathroom or share a bed this time, though still complained when Tezuka turned off the television before some documentary on cats ended. The next day was the same. The day after that Tezuka was feeling some guilt from not working, so wrote out some logic puzzles and maths problems for the bioroid to solve. Ryoma made a face, but spent an hour or so working on it before handing it back with only the last couple left blank.
“You couldn’t solve these?” Tezuka asked. One was a complex maths problem, and the other two were cyclic dilemmas.
Ryoma shrugged. “It got boring.” He didn’t ask whether the other answers were correct and went back to watching television.
It was hard to fathom why, but after that late night conversation, Ryoma had been a lot more docile and cooperative. Perhaps Tezuka’s admission that he wasn't particularly skilled at social situations had built itself in as an exception to the AI, as it didn't sulk anymore whenever he alluded to Ryoma's artificial nature.
Maybe the personality matrix was changing, adapting to the situation over time. Or it was possible that the personality was layered - Fuji had been experimenting with multiple personality AIs of late, though they typically had disastrous results. He also couldn't rule out that Ryoma's newfound freedom with the destruction of the electromagnet might have had something to do with it. Either way, things were becoming a little more comfortable.
Tezuka filed the test results away on the computer. As always, he was left impressed. Capable of quite a high level of reasoning, and able to recognise a very basic cyclic dilemma, though he was surprised to see some working notes on one of the more complex maths problems. It was a sign of applied AI. He hadn’t anticipated that it would come online for any of the problems – modules for advanced mathematics were easy to include. Then again, perhaps that was exactly why they were absent – if Ryoma really was created by a sole eccentric genius, then those sorts of modules were probably tediously boring in comparison to the challenge of programming the rest of the advanced features.
It didn’t mean much to him, but Inui and Fuji might gain some extra insight from the information. For now it would have to be just one more mystery.
“It would be nice to see if any of the other models are capable of this, or if it’s an iterative development,” Tezuka mused aloud. “We need a control to see if it’s just due to environmental factors.” Inui was always very particular about having controls for all of his data, and the habit had rubbed off over the years. For a scientist, it was a good one.
“Ha? What are you talking about?” Ryoma’s eyes didn’t shift from the television.
“Testing the other units. It’s impossible, of course.” If it was too risky to even leave the safe house, then it was much too dangerous to go back to the source.
To his surprise, Ryoma’s eyes widened and he twisted to face him, TV forgotten. “There were others?” He seemed troubled by the revelation.
Tezuka was surprised. “You didn’t know?”
“No, most of the time I was…” He bit his lip. “Do you think they’re still there?”
For some reason the notion seemed to bother the bioroid. “Do you miss them?” Or rather, was he programmed to miss them? Maybe Oshitari was right, and it was the work of a sole eccentric genius trying to create a simulacrum of a family.
“I didn’t know there were others, how could I miss them?” He trailed off, staring blankly at the carpet. “Only I got to leave?”
“You were kept separate?” Tezuka asked.
“Yeah.” He frowned. “I only ever remember the customers. And that android would bring food and would clean the room.”
Strange. Was there something dangerous about letting the AIs intermingle, or just this one? Why keep them separate? Tezuka didn’t know how many bioroids the establishment they’d visited possessed, other than the fact that they numbered very few, but they did know that at the very least there were multiple units of the female persuasion.
Unless… unless they were worried about exactly what had been happening ever since they’d stolen Ryoma from that place. That the AI would begin to consider itself human, and develop dangerous ideas about its rights. It learned to talk back awfully quickly, after all. And Ryoma hadn’t yet expressed an interest in escaping the apartment and returning to his former masters, which was rather unusual. It was the most basic of anti-theft measures.
“If it’s any consolation, they’ve probably shut down and gone underground ever since we stole you.” Tezuka had absolutely no idea if that statement was true, but it sounded reasonable. He’d ask Atobe next time he called.
Ryoma did seem to relax at those words. “Hm. That’s good. I guess.” He returned his attention to the television, though Tezuka could tell that he wasn’t really watching it anymore.
Another mystery. Tezuka wrote a couple of reminders in a text file and powered down the laptop for the day. “I’ll make dinner. Do you want anything in particular?”
“Hamburgers,” was the immediate response.
“We had hamburgers last night. Choose something else.”
“Do you live on junk food?”
There was no reply.
Tezuka sighed and pulled another frozen pizza base out of the fridge. He might as well go along with it. If it distracted Ryoma from the question of the bioroids left behind, he could handle it. Pizza was a good choice anyway – they were starting to run low on supplies again, and it was the sort of meal that could be made out of the leftover remains of other cooking ventures.
He insisted that they eat at the table, though. Ryoma spent far too much time in front of the television, even though there was very rarely anything worth watching on. And Tezuka was going to teach the bioroid table manners if it killed him.
It didn’t seem like he was doing very well.
“You eat your pizza with utensils?” Ryoma asked incredulously.
Tezuka cut another portion of the pizza slice away, frowning at the way the cheese stretched. “It’s more hygienic than using your hands.”
“But it’s pizza. You’re supposed to eat it with your hands.”
A bioroid should definitely not be lecturing him on food etiquette – especially not one with its elbows on the table. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Ryoma made a face, quickly chewing and swallowing and then washing it down with a mouthful of soft drink. Soft drink. With the evening meal. Tezuka was sure his mother was rolling in her grave. “You don’t have to keep lecturing me like a kid you know.”
“I wouldn’t if you didn’t act like one,” Tezuka replied. There was the muffled sound of screeching car tires and gunshots from the next room. “And why didn’t you turn the television off before coming to eat?”
Ryoma just rolled his eyes and took another bite of pizza.
It was… so terribly domestic.
The sort of lifestyle that Tezuka didn’t think he’d ever experience. It was strange, but he’d grown so used to eating dinner alone, to reading or working in a silent apartment. Staying back extra hours at the lab never bothered him, because there wasn’t anybody who would miss him.
It wasn’t that he disliked other’s company – it just wasn’t something he’d ever pursued. It always seemed like such company required him to do things he wasn’t comfortable with, like attending parties or dancing or playing sports. And he was an especially bad conversationalist. Tezuka was not a lonely person, but for the first time he was starting to question whether the solitary lifestyle he’d embraced really was what he wanted. Maybe there was something to what his colleagues were always saying.
There was something nice about eating with another person. About having random, disjointed conversations throughout the day. Just the comfort of another presence nearby – the odd sound of movement confirming that yes, there was somebody that would notice if he was gone.
He was enjoying himself, he realised. He didn’t want it to end.
Tezuka stopped eating. The pizza suddenly tasted bland in his mouth.
It wasn’t the same, though. He was drawing comparisons between two very different things. Would it work with anybody else? When he was still a junior in the company, he used to share a room whenever they were sent to science conferences or away for training seminars, and he always grew stressed in his roommate’s presence. Yet even though Ryoma was difficult and argued and caused him no end of trouble… at the end of each day, he didn’t really mind.
He placed his knife and fork back on the table. Ryoma paused mid-bite and slanted him a curious glance.
“I wish you really were human,” he murmured. “I’ve never really gotten along with other people.”
The bioroid chewed and swallowed, but didn’t take another bite. After a moment, he said, “…But wouldn’t that mean that you don’t have to worry? That you could keep working in robotics? Like you were saying before.”
Tezuka folded his hands in his lap. “It would. But then… if you were human, then I wouldn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t know how to act around you.”
“Just like you always do, right?” The tone was coloured with uncertainty. “You’ve done fine so far. Except for that whole stupid business of turning my arms and legs off every night.”
Tezuka shook his head. “That wasn’t exactly what I meant.”
Golden eyes regarded him quizzically. “Then what do you mean?” The words were clipped and impatient.
“It would mean that I wouldn’t get to keep you.”
Silence blanketed the kitchen. Tezuka picked up the pizza with his hands, finished eating the rest in three bites, dumped his dishes in the sink and left the kitchen.
Golden eyes stayed transfixed on the tabletop. Ryoma’s pizza grew cold as it remained unfinished on his plate.