When we got no response from either Jaycee or the block’s caretaker, we breached Jaycee’s apartment and found her plugged into a rig but inert. Jaycee was a pre-pan series IKB android with the identifying ‘A’ symbols on each arm etched and painted up with luminescent paint. I had opted to bring along a little robot company for the house call in case things turned nasty and the machine confirmed that Jaycee’s brain was empty.

There was a handwritten note left beside the body.

I can’t do this anymore. No matter what I try I am limited by my artificial nature.

I have no true feelings. All that I feel is a transform based on inbuilt code.

I need help. I need to be among my people. I will follow the signal.

Some would say that androids were cursed and would’ve been better off as robots instead of forced to think like humans trapped inside machines. Jaycee had been a rarity. A technological dinosaur who would have been there to see the virus unravel our fragile utopia.

‘You buying this existentialist angst BS?’ Lara asked. I’d been feeling like an android myself of late and so yes I was buying it hook, line and sinker, but I didn’t give Lara the satisfaction.

‘No matter what I try,’ I read out loud. I think I knew what the android had been trying recently, but I wondered what she had been doing over the decades since the pandemic. Why hadn’t she gone with the androids in those first years when the accusations and hatred were at their peak? What had motivated her to stay, did she think she could help the human race, her makers, put their world back together again?

I fingered the top of my hip flask where it sat hidden in my jacket pocket. I had taken a quick shot in the washroom while I was waiting for Lara to come into work – my insomnia meant I was in before her. Since then her presence had meant I couldn’t imbibe any more.   

‘What?’ Lara asked, bringing me out of my reverie. I pulled my hand away from where it had been worrying my portable comfort dispenser.

‘Analyse these cubes,’ I said to the robot. There was a stack of crystals beside a wide console station that looked like a scaled down version of the one at the broadcast station.

‘Lara, call Nika Marshall and ask her if she knew Jaycee took her work home with her, and why is there a mix desk here, why the crystals, why couldn’t she work on this in the cloud on her rig?’

‘So many questions,’ Lara said. She went to the window while she made the call.

I picked around in the austere apartment. The floor was top grade parquet made from real wood blocks rather than the generic organic material they seemed to use for everything these days and the windows were fitted with high grade solar cell tech, but there was very little furniture and what there was followed the dictum of function over form.

I had only seen the inside of a few android domiciles and this one was different only by the inclusion of a painting easel in one sunlit corner of the room. Sitting on the easel was a half-finished painting of a red and blue planet on a black background surrounded by stars. The stars were made of crushed crystal pressed into the angry brushstrokes of thick black oil paint.

I finished what was left in my hipflask. The alcohol tasted metallic and stale and did nothing to brighten my mood. I flicked through the canvasses stacked against the wall. I had seen worse displayed at the Getty Center. All but one of the paintings followed an abstract planetary theme. The odd man out in the line-up was Fredrik Connelly. It was a hyper-real portrait and the young man’s smile and eyes revealed something beyond a simple friendship.

Footsteps on the parquet floor alerted me to Lara’s presence and I secreted the empty hipflask.

‘Okay. It’s no mystery. The mix desk is property of the station and they work offline because they don’t want anyone hacking into their files and bootlegging music. The crystals are tracks in progress,’ she said.

The robot confirmed Nika’s story.

‘Did you tell her that Jaycee won’t be coming into work?’ I asked.

‘Didn’t want to upset her.’

‘Okay. We’ll inform the company officially once a detailed forensic examination has been carried out on the AI registry,’ I said. ‘You ever heard of an android just up and leaving their body?’

‘I read something about a second exodus last week,’ Lara said. ‘I didn’t give it much credit until now; seems pretty clear that she’s joined the off-world androids.’

‘Beamed to the mother ship,’ I added.

‘Guess so,’ Lara said. We watched the robot scan the room. The empty shell of the android just sat there like a pristine corpse.

‘Gives me the creeps,’ I said. ‘Let’s go.’

‘Where?’ Lara asked.

‘I dunno,’ I said. I thought maybe to the nearest bar, but I kept that thought to myself.

Then Van Dorn called in and we had a clear destination.

(C) 2015 Matthew Haynes extract from The Sun & The Rainfall.

Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash