Summer was sure this conversation would not go well. But, like many things that haven’t gone smoothly in her life, she told herself it was necessary.
She waited until Alycia was home, and asked to come in.
“I wanted to let you know that, um, well, a few things,” she began lamely.
“You’re doing your evasive serious voice,” Alycia remarked. “Must be important.”
Summer rubbed the tips of her fingers together nervously. “Yes, well, it is. First, um, I’ve resolved something about myself.”
“I’m going to live openly as a robot, from now on. That means telling my coworkers. That means, I dunno, embracing the identity openly. I’m not going to make a big deal of it. But around people I know, like at a job, I suppose.”
Alycia listened patiently. “And Radiance? Do you still have a secret identity?”
“Hmm, I thought about that. I think… Well, I think I’m gonna go public with that. The way Leo did. I’ve already cleared this with Aria, because people think we’re twins, and anything I come out as, affects her, sooo…”
Alycia’s next words caught Summer off guard. “You’re moving out.”
“Ye-yes. I wanted to tell you why, though.”
“For my safety and comfort, I assume,” Alycia said.
Summer nodded. “Well, and also, if or when nosy people come round the house because they’ve tracked me down, that they don’t out you and your background. So–”
“So you think you’re protecting me,” Alycia said, finishing the sentence.
“I’m trying. But at the same time, you know…” Summer’s hands kept rubbing themselves together in apprehension. “I get something about this. I want to apologize. Because I know if I do this, you’re gonna feel like, you know, you’re being left behind, abandoned, and I really don’t want you to feel like I’m doing that to you. I want to stay in touch somehow, but not endanger you, because I’ll be public and you don’t really wanna do that–”
Alycia held up a hand. “Summer, you’re babbling.”
The other girl ran hands through her dark hair, drawing it back into a ponytail. Deftly she grabbed for a scrunchy and bound it in place. And then she smiled, and Summer let out a sigh of relief.
“I am going to feel abandoned. I can’t help it. But I can master it. You’ve done a lot to rehabilitate my experience with robots. This is important to you. So go do it. Don’t worry about me.”
She stood up, and started pulling brushes and bottles of paint off storage racks, and packing them away in a fishing tackle box. “Did I tell you about the new thing?”
“Jason and I. We’re…” It was Alycia’s turn to stumble. “We were kind of on the ropes, relationship wise. So we’ve started doing a new thing together. Art. Did you ever read ‘Das Glasperlenspiel’ by Hermann Hesse? ‘The Glass Bead Game’ in English?”
“Err, no,” Summer managed with a weak smile.
“It’s utopian fiction. Not my usual taste. In some sense it’s a parody of biographical works, and honestly utopia often strikes me as parodic by nature. But Hesse’s anti-Fascist views and his ideas about an intellectual society dedicated to building a synthesis of art and science resonate with me. It’s sort of what hypergeniuses do in real life. Jason and I realized that we’ve got too much damage in our past to build a relationship based on that. So… I think you could say we’re exploring creating something new, together. We’re creating a synthesis of photography, painting, music, poetry, sculpture, all kinds of arts. Sort of like multimedia storytelling. We’re creating a little garden for our weary souls, if you’ll forgive a trite poetic metaphor. A place our old lives aren’t welcome to intrude.”
Summer beamed. “That sounds amazing, Alycia.”
“I’m telling you this to let you know I won’t be alone.” Alycia smiled weakly. “But also because you’re my friend, and friends share. And because, well, you’re finding yourself too, and I wanted to let you know you aren’t alone in that.”
Summer wanted to hug her roommate in gratitude. Alycia saw the incoming motion and waved it away. They settled for what had become a compromise between them at times like this - a firm, but brief, hand grip, more than a handshake, just enough physical contact to acknowledge an emotional connection.
Where should she live? Where could she live?
She could live anywhere, honestly.
She remembered Pneuma’s time away from Leo. At that time, she’d had a thoroughly mechanical body, instantly recognizable as a robot. At that time, living openly would have been a necessity, not a choice.
She’d stayed under bridges, and in junkyards. She’d climbed buildings and watched people from the rooftops, concealed among the HVAC units and antenna clusters and other machinery. She’d put on a coat, or cloak, or tarp - anything that would cover her - and crouched in the rain, watching people regard her with the same dehumanizing gaze as any other homeless person.
She’d been as free as she could have ever been. But she’d gone back to Leo.
Not this time.
Walking the city streets, she judged her options. Studio apartments. Abandoned buildings. Alleys.
She settled for using her holograms to create a weatherproof shack at the end of one particularly dark alleyway. Her drones, when they ran low on energy, would swap out for fresh ones. As long as the shack didn’t have to tank an explosion or something, it would last indefinitely.
Inside the shack, she projected her VR workroom into reality. A bed over here, a virtual computer terminal over there, and enough ambient heat from her drones to give the sensation of home.
She threw herself down on the illusionary bed, and slept, and dreamed.