Remnants, Part 1

Summary – Rain makes an astonishing discovery while exploring ancient ruins. (Fg, no sex, scifi)

Rain sighed and frowned at the poorly drawn map in her hands, increasingly feeling like she was utterly lost. She had followed the admittedly unclear directions as best she could; those damn ruins had to be around here somewhere. If they exist at all, she reminded herself.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. A map to some vestiges of the Ancients, recently uncovered by the shifting sands, and possibly full of priceless technological artifacts. What more could a relic hunter want?
A more reliable map, for one thing. Her contact was normally dependable, but this was second- or even third-hand info, and she had not been scrupulous enough in vetting it. She had been too eager to leave town for a while, had paid a stupid sum for the equally stupid map, and now here she was.

It was all Sapphire’s fault.

Rain’s usual relic-hunting partner — and occasional lover — had once again been making questionable and downright boneheaded life decisions, and Rain had taken it upon herself to tell the girl just how irresponsibly she was acting. The thing about Sapphire, though, was that she was about the most stubborn person to live since the Calamity, so that course of action, perhaps predictably, had not gone over very well. There had been a quarrel. Rain had felt the urge to get away for a while and had rashly set out on this adventure on her own. And now she was lost in the middle of nowhere.

Sapphire had always been the one with the good sense of direction, too.

Rain sighed again and shook her head; she didn’t want to think about Sapphire right now. Folding up the map, she put it back in her jacket pocket and decided to drive her sand bike up a nearby dune to get a better look at her surroundings and maybe take a quick break.

A brief ride later, she stood atop the small hill, taking a drink from her water flask and craning her neck around in a circle. She noted that her situation wasn’t much improved from up here. The thing about the Waste was that it looked much the same in any direction: quite a bit of sand, a few rocks, hard arid earth. All that was left of most of the world after the Calamity.

Looking around her, there was nary a point of reference in sight, and certainly no trace of any Ancient ruins. Glancing back the way she had come, she wondered if she had made a turn at the wrong “big rock.” The instructions had not been terribly specific about the size that should be considered “big.”

She had daydreamed that, this time, she would find some rare piece of tech that she could sell to live comfortably for a while. Maybe even a generator. Ironically, the settlement where she lived — charmingly named Dead End — had vast supplies of gas, but few devices to convert it to useful power. The machines the tech-heads managed to cobble together for that purpose were inefficient and tended to spit out disgusting black smoke, so a powerful and portable generator made by the Ancients would fetch a fortune from the right folk. Unfortunately, her hopes of such a discovery were fading fast at the moment.

Suddenly, she frowned at the horizon as she noticed a dark patch obscuring part of the sky, barely perceptible at this distance. The sun was about to set but… no, this didn’t look like the natural dimming of the evening. She stared at the phenomenon for a moment, until she discerned, as she had feared, the mass of shadow moving, swirling. If she knew the Waste — and after exploring it for the better part of a decade, ever since she was barely a teenager, she figured she did — that looked very much like a dust storm coming her way.

She spat. “This day just keeps getting better and better.”

The thing about dust storms out in the Waste was that… you really didn’t want to get caught in one. At best, you would be stumbling around blind, trying not to get buried alive as dust and sand did their utmost to infiltrate every nook and cranny of your clothes, and every orifice in your body. If you weren’t so lucky, well, the worst storms would simply suffocate you where you stand, or even flay the skin off your bones.

None of those options sounded very appealing to Rain. The issue, of course, was that she was about a day’s drive from any settlement that she knew of, and the storm spread right in the middle of her way home. She had to find some kind of shelter and fast. While the disturbance still seemed a long ways off, she knew very well those things could sneak up on you in the blink of an eye. Already, she imagined she could feel the wind picking up a little.

Quickly, she rummaged through the pack attached to her bike, took out her long cloak and fastened it around her shoulders, then pulled up the hood over her head and her scarf over her nose and mouth. It wouldn’t help much in the worst of the storm, but might make things more comfortable until then.

Getting back on the bike, she turned on the ignition, and thanked the gods that the finicky machine started up on the first try, for once. She rode hurriedly down the dune, the direction seeming to matter little as long as it was away from that dust cloud.

She drove past a few more dunes, eyes peeled for anything that might offer protection, though she didn’t have very high hopes of finding a sturdy house in the middle of nowhere. Here was a dried-up, stunted old tree, miraculously still standing on a patch of rocky ground, but she didn’t have time to ponder its mystery. It looked like it could barely shelter a few bugs, let alone do anything for her. She doubted it would survive the storm.

Her own chances were growing slimmer as well. The wind was now definitely much stronger, and a few particles of sand and dust had caught up with her, bouncing harmlessly off her clothes. She knew they wouldn’t remain so innocuous for very long, though.
She felt numb. It would be a really stupid end to die on such a hare-brained adventure. She selfishly wished Sapphire was there with her. Not that the girl could do anything about the storm, of course, but it somehow seemed less miserable to die alongside a friend.

As the morbid thought went through her mind, she noticed a pile of rocks on the side of a dune. She nearly ignored it — the mound seemed hardly big enough to provide much cover — but something about it caught her eye and she turned for a closer inspection. As she got nearer, she noted the rocks in question were, in fact, rectangular and flat, hardly looking natural at all. Bricks? Could this be related to the ruins she had been looking for?

Heart in her throat, she pushed her sand bike as fast as it would go, eyes fixed on the rubble. There, it looked like… yes! The corner of a building jutting out of the sand. She drove up close, got off the bike, then crawled partway up the dune to get a better look. The structure had probably been buried for a century or two, but a random shift of the sands had uncovered a small part of it. She could see a corner of the ancient roof, quite the worse for wear, with a big hole in it opening up a passage to the inside… and to shelter.

This was possibly the place she had been looking for all along, and it seemed she had found it just in the nick of time. She half-ran, half-stumbled back to her bike, grabbed her water flask and the food she had, and threw those in an empty backpack. She pulled out a tarp she kept in another bag and spread it over the bike, fastening it in place. She couldn’t very well take the vehicle with her into the building through the roof, but she could at least protect it as best she could. It wouldn’t do to have its engine full of sand when it was time to leave.

The storm was getting much worse now. Her cloak was whipped this way and that by the wind, and the dust stung her eyes, making it increasingly difficult to see. She made sure to mentally take note of the position of the bike so she could find it again if it was covered in sand, then ran to the buried structure.

The “roof” was only at waist level, so it was no trouble to climb up and stand at the edge of the hole that was to be her entrance into the building. Peeking down, she saw that a big pile of sand had already fallen into the room below, and figured she could probably drop herself onto it harmlessly. After a quick prayer to Lady Luck asking to keep the whole thing from collapsing while she was inside, Rain jumped down.

She landed on the heap of sand, skidded down its slope, and fell on her ass when she reached the bottom.

“Ow,” she muttered as she got back to her feet, though the injury was more to her pride than to her body.

She began dusting herself off, but more dirt and sand was continually falling down through the hole in the ceiling now, making it a pointless endeavor. She fervently hoped this entrance would not get completely filled in, but still decided to quickly move further into the building before the storm managed to bury her even down there.

Her haste nearly proved to be a fatal mistake. As she was about to go through the only door out of the room, she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, grabbing on to the door frame to halt her momentum, when she noticed at the very last moment a thin wire stretched across the opening at ankle level.

She took a deep, slow breath to try to calm her suddenly hammering heart, very grateful for the instincts she had developed over years of this line of work. The thing about relic hunters was that some of them didn’t take too kindly to competitors. Some will even leave traps behind to prevent others from looting ruins they intend to return to, or possibly just to be dicks.

“Nice try, assholes,” Rain said through gritted teeth as she very carefully lifted one foot, then the other, over the suspicious wire.

On the other side of the door, she saw that the thread was connected to a small box off to one side. She wasn’t entirely sure what it did, but she was reasonably certain that anyone who triggered it would have a very bad day, so she steered clear of the device.

She let out a deep sigh, pulled the scarf off her face and shook the sand off her cloak, then allowed herself a gulp from her water flask.

“Alright. Escaped the storm, avoided the deadly trap. Now… let’s see what treasure we can find around here to make this trip worthwhile.”

She was in a corridor with a few doors leading off to the sides. Picking one at random, she found herself in a large, strange room filled with a maze of thin shoulder-high walls, creating a series of enclosures that each contained a table, a chair, and possibly some shelves or cabinets. Some kind of workplace of the Ancients, maybe? She wondered what they used to do here.
Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust, except for the floor, which had clearly been walked over by a few people more recently. The same jokers who left that little “present” at the entrance, no doubt. Rain would definitely have liked to have a word with them, especially if that word was “stab.”

Wandering around, she realized with disappointment that the assholes in question seemed to have already taken most objects of interest. The thing about Ancient ruins was that they were a lot less valuable if you weren’t the first person to loot them.
She did find a glass vase that had possibly once held some plants, but now only contained dust. Someone back home might be willing to pay for this, so she delicately put it in her pack.

She gave a cursory look through each enclosure. Some of them had those machines that the Ancients really seemed to love, left on the tables. “Computators” or whatever they were called. Even the tech-heads couldn’t figure those out, though, even if they had the juice to power them, so they were essentially worthless.

In one of the cramped pens, she found a small, strange device made of plastic and metal. It had two pieces linked together with a flexible joint. Trying to determine its purpose, she was startled when, pressing on one of the pieces, a tiny U-shaped fragment of metal came flying out of the end. Perplexed, she wondered if it was meant to be a weapon of some sort. It didn’t seem to be very effective at that, surely the little bit of metal couldn’t hurt that much. She shrugged and put the device in her pack anyway, as a curiosity if nothing else.

She did manage to find a few pencils that had been left behind as well, and pocketed those. People always needed pencils. There was a ton of paper all over the place too, though a lot of it fell to pieces when she tried to pick it up. The sheets stored in cabinets seemed to have fared better. They were inscribed with the runes of the Ancients, but many also had a blank side and could probably still be of use.

Rain stared at one piece of paper, trying to divine meaning from it, but she had never learned to decipher the writing of the Ancients. Sapphire knew some of it and had tried to teach her before, but it just didn’t stick in her mind. Giving up, she sighed and stuffed a bunch of sheets in her pack.

If she couldn’t find any real treasure, she at least knew a few tech-heads who would pay for paper to write their notes on. She could probably use some more, in fact, so she went on to investigate the next enclosure. Pulling out the drawer of a small cabinet revealed, as expected, some folders containing more paper. As she added those to her meager findings, her eye was drawn to a yellowed magazine seemingly hidden at the bottom of the drawer.

Curious, she picked it up, and her eyes went wide at the picture of a woman on the cover. A nude woman, with long blonde hair tumbling down to her large, proudly displayed breasts, a hand coyly hiding her sex from view.

Rain swallowed and, though it was silly, instinctively took a look behind her to make sure she was alone. “Well, what do we have here?” she wondered out loud.

Carefully turning the creaking pages, she found the inside of the magazine was just as alluring as the cover. There was a whole series of pictures of beautiful women, mostly naked and posing sexily, not shy at all about exposing every part of their bodies. Leafing through random pages, Rain saw a redhead bending over to take off her panties while smiling at the viewer; a black woman, eyes closed in pleasure, one hand on her breast, the other pressed against her pussy; a pale brunette and an Asian girl, kissing and exploring each other’s body.

Her eyes focused on that last pair for a moment. The girls looked like they had barely reached adulthood — a few years younger than Rain herself, maybe — and both had lean, petite bodies and small breasts. Most definitely to Rain’s taste. The sequence of pictures grew increasingly explicit, with the women exchanging torrid gazes while fingering each other, then taking turns eating her other’s pussy, with titillating close-ups of the action.

Rain bit her bottom lip, now feeling some heat spreading out from her own sex. Now this relic could be worth quite a bit, she estimated, but at that moment she thought she might just keep it for herself. She had not been with anyone for a while, after all. Sapphire had been “busy” with that strange girl, and Rain’s attempted wooing of the cute tomboy apprenticed to the blacksmith had not been very successful up to now, so these pictures were really getting her motor running.

She had half a mind to take a break from looting and explore in more details the secrets of Ancient indecency — maybe while her fingers did some exploring of their own. It seemed like a very poor moment for that sort of thing, though, what with being stuck in uncharted ruins with who-knows-what around, so she reluctantly decided to leave that off until she had at least scouted the whole area. With some great restraint, she sighed and carefully stored the dirty magazine in her pack, meticulously making sure it wouldn’t get damaged.

Still, if the dust storm lasted a while, she definitely had an idea of how to occupy herself.

She left the large room and moved on to a smaller one dominated by a long table, which she recognized as a dining room. Immediately, she went for the cupboards and drawers, looking for any easily carried metal objects, which were always in high demand since they could be melted down to make all sorts of useful things. Dejected, she found that a lonely spoon was all that had been left behind. Grunting in frustration, she still added the utensil to her collection; every little bit counted since it didn’t since seem likely she was going to hit paydirt around here.

The sink was still there. A big chunk of metal, but it would be very awkward to carry back, even if she could detach it from the countertop. She ignored the large box that the Ancients used to store food. She knew from experience that either it would contain only dust, or she would be freeing an advanced mold civilization that just might try to take over the world.
As she was about to leave the room, movement at the corner of her eye made her spin around, pulling out her belt knife in the same motion. After an instant, she realized it was only a long horizontal mirror set in the opposite wall, and she chuckled at herself.

She walked up to the mirror for a closer look. It was about a foot in height, and wider than she was tall. A mirror this size would be worth a lot, but it was quite cumbersome. Even if she managed to bring it back to her bike somehow, it would be difficult to ride around with such a large object. She wondered if she could possibly break it two or three parts without shattering the whole thing.

While she pondered her options, she used her sleeve to wipe off the centuries-old grime from one section of the mirror and peered at her reflection. She rarely had the opportunity to look at herself in a good-quality mirror. She turned her head to one side, then the other, taking in her brown skin dirty with dust from the road, dark neck-length hair tied back, piercing blue eyes. Not quite magazine model worthy, she thought, but still not bad at all, in her own estimation.

She blew a kiss at the mirror, chuckling to herself, before turning and walking away. She figured she would return later to decide what to do with the mirror. There was no sense in lugging the big thing around as she explored.

Reaching the end of a corridor, Rain found herself on a second-floor balcony that stretched along three sides of a huge lobby area. Walking up to the railing, she saw that the real entrance to the building was down below, though of course it was now filled with sand. Holes in the ceiling had added more piles of sand here and there, including right next to her on the balcony.
Fissures ran across the marble floor below, possibly damaged by centuries of earthquakes, or even during the Calamity itself. An earthen section of floor might have once been a small indoors garden at some point.

It must have been a beautiful building long ago, and even now it remained rather impressive despite the decay. They didn’t make structures this grand anymore.

A worrisome metallic groan suddenly pierced the silence of the chamber. Rain slowly lowered her gaze to the balcony floor under her feet. Surely the addition of her insignificant weight was not putting excessive stress on the structure? Then again, it was really old, probably rusty to boot, and holding up the weight of an unplanned-for quantity of sand.

Rain took a cautious step back. The balcony didn’t appreciate. It groaned again, shook, and suddenly threatened to topple, the floor pitching forward into a slope and throwing her against the railing. She quickly spun around and tried to lunge for safety as best she could on the unstable platform, but it was at that moment that the whole thing gave out.

Time seemed to slow down, and she could only watch in horror as the balcony detached from the wall and she found herself in free fall. The floor below still came up alarmingly fast, though, and the impact rattled every bone in her body.

“Ouch,” she managed to mumble after a long moment. On the other hand, she supposed that pain was better than not feeling anything at all. Opening her eyes suddenly seemed an arduous task, but she eventually succeeded and stared at the ceiling for a good while. It seemed a lot higher than it had been a few seconds ago.

Groaning, she rolled to her side and was relieved to find that moving did not seem to bring about new pain. She managed to sit up, frowned at the shattered pieces of balcony around her, frowned at the spot up above where the balcony used to be, frowned at her pack fallen next to her. She gave it a nudge and heard the jingle of broken glass. So much for the vase.

There came a deep rumble from beneath her. She watched in renewed alarm as one of the cracks in the floor seemed to grow and widen distressingly. “Don’t you dare!” she shouted at the floor, but it ignored her protest. If anything, it started disintegrating faster.

She tried to scramble to her feet but she was still dizzy from the fall. The ground shook, fractured, then collapsed entirely, once again dropping her into empty space.

“Shiiiiiit!” she screamed as she tumbled down into unknown depths. Her eyes darted around wildly as she fell and latched onto some sort of dangling cable. By pure instinct, her hand lashed out and grabbed hold of it, halting the fall with a jarring wrench of her shoulder. She gripped the cable tightly and hunched her back as crumbling debris fell all around her.

After a moment, when calm seemed to have been restored, she dared to open her eyes and slowly let out the breath she found she had been holding in. She hazarded a look around and noted there seemed to be some sort of basement floor about six feet below her, now strewn with rubble. Roughly the same distance above her head was the jagged hole in the upper floor. The cable didn’t quite extend that high, but it looked like she might be able to reach up and pull herself out.

As she was pondering whether it would be wiser to go up or down, the cable seemed to give way under her weight and suddenly dropped her a foot lower. “Oh, come on!” she railed against the unfairness of life. Before she had time to make any decision, there was a snapping sound above as the cable broke off completely, then once more she was falling.

Her head hit against something on landing and her vision went black.

* * *

Consciousness slowly returned, and with it, pain throughout Rain’s whole body. She groaned as she tried to settle her jumbled thoughts and remember what had happened. “Not my day,” she finally whispered as she recalled the series of unpleasant falls.
Slowly and carefully, she tried to move each of her limbs and found that though they were very sore, there was no sharp new pain and miraculously nothing appeared to be broken.

Next, she attempted opening her eyes. The room was dark, the indistinct rubble around her swam before her eyes, and flickering stars danced across her vision. She squeezed her eyes shut then opened them again, blinking a few times, and things started to stabilize. The stars remained, though they had stopped moving around. She frowned at them, then after a moment realized they were not a side-effect of her dizziness: there were actually a few blinking lights on a wall close to her. Electric lights, she recognized wonderingly.

This place has juice, the thought came to her. How?

Carried by her sudden curiosity, she managed to sit up, and immediately pain lanced through her skull. “Ouch!” she whined at the worst headache she had ever had. Feeling around her head with one hand, she found a wet spot at the back, and her fingers came away red.

“Well, shit,” she muttered, staring at her bloodied hand. There was no way to really know how bad it was, and she couldn’t do anything about it either way. At least it didn’t feel like a large cut. Trying to ignore the pain, she pushed herself to her feet and took a tentative step forward.

Suddenly, pale light appeared in a thin band along the bottom of the walls, softly illuminating the room. Rain froze for a moment, eyes wide and alert, but nothing else happened. Maybe it was simply the lighting system, somehow triggered by her movements?

Taking a look at her surroundings, she found herself in a small room with three doors leading out of it, though one of them was obstructed by heavy-looking debris. She winced as she looked up at the hole in the ceiling where she had fallen from. It didn’t look like she would be able to climb back up that way, so she certainly hoped that one of the other two doors led back to the upper floors somehow.

The blinking lights she had seen before came from a panel set in one the walls, which also featured a few buttons. She examined it for a moment but, not being able to discern its purpose, decided to leave it alone. There was no sense tempting fate further, as she definitely didn’t seem to have Lady Luck’s favor today. What if the Ancients had emergency poison gas panels lying around?

She walked towards the doors instead. Each had a small electronic device set in the wall next to it. In fact, everything down here seemed more advanced and high-tech. Perhaps her bad luck had at least led her into some secret cutting-edge section of the facility.

Her misfortune seemed to persevere, though, as the first door refused to budge. That device next to it had to have something to do with the door, but it didn’t have any buttons, and no amount of prodding seemed to produce any result.
Rain sighed and moved on to the last door. This one had a small window set into it, but the other side was dark and she couldn’t really distinguish any details. She muttered “come on, come on, come on,” took a deep breath, then pulled on the door handle and was almost shocked when it actually swung open.

She took a few careful steps into the dark room and, as before, light suddenly appeared along the bottom of the walls all around the area. It faintly illuminated a large room filled with all sorts of devices. There were large, boxy machines along some of the walls, and long tables cluttered with all kinds of materials and equipment. It all looked very sophisticated.
The first thing Rain noted was that there was no trace of any looters having been down here before. All this Ancient tech just for her! She grinned at the thought.

The second thing she noticed, far less pleasant, was that there were no other exits in the room. All the treasure in the world wouldn’t do her much good if she couldn’t find a way out of this basement.

Her curiosity got the better of her for the moment, though, so she put the dark thought out of her mind and roamed around the room, examining the various gizmos and devices. The purpose of a lot of the equipment eluded her, but she also found plenty that she knew she could sell: a few coils of copper wire, tools like pliers and cutters, glassware of various sizes, bits and pieces of metal. She wondered if it was a place where the Ancients actually built the tech.

Reaching one end of the room, she found a large metal container in one corner. It looked like some sort of high-tech trunk, waist-high and big enough that Rain could probably fit inside it. Curious about what it might contain, she took a closer look. The top of it had a panel displaying some readings she couldn’t decipher. There were no handles or obvious ways to open it physically, but that big green button with two triangles on it sure looked like an “open” button to her.

She hesitated briefly, but decided that a storage device was unlikely to be dangerous. She tapped the button and watched as the lid lifted with a hiss and split into four sections that retracted to the sides.

Rain gasped and took a step back when she realized what the box actually contained: a human body. Could it be some kind of coffin? What was it doing in a place like this? It made no sense, yet there it was before her eyes: the body of a young girl, seemingly perfectly preserved for who knew how many years.

Warily, Rain stepped up again to the coffin’s side. The girl, about 12 or 13, lying on her back and entirely nude, looked for all the world like she was just sleeping, except that her chest did not rise and fall with her breath. She was beautiful, with silvery pale hair framing an angelic face, the small but perfectly shaped breasts of a girl entering womanhood, a flat belly and a hairless—

Rain shook her head to clear her mind. Really? Checking out the dead girl? she admonished herself. You really need to get laid.

Still, it was hard to look away, the girl looked very much alive. Though she had light skin, it wasn’t the pallor of death. Rain had a doubt. Could she be…? It seemed ridiculous, but then again, so did preserving a body so perfectly.
Very slowly, Rain brought her hand close to girl’s nose, unsure if she was hoping or dreading to feel her breath.
It was at that moment that the young lady opened her eyes.

“Ah!” Rain shouted out in shock. She jumped back in surprise, got caught in her cloak and fell down on her ass, some knickknacks tumbling next to her as she bumped into a table. She hardly felt any of it, still staring in disbelief at the child, who was now sitting up.

The girl looked around her with some confusion, then peered at Rain curiously. “Who…? Oh, could you be… my new owner?” she asked, her voice inflected with a strange accent.

“O-owner?” Rain repeated, alarmed. Could she have been mistaken about everything? Was this place actually in use, by slavers of all things? Cold dread gripped her heart. Slavery was outlawed in Dead End, but some settlements were not so high-minded. There was always a risk for wanderers out in the Waste — and in the less savory towns — to be attacked and grabbed by lowlifes who were not above selling people for a profit.

This girl did not seem distressed at all, though. In fact, she shook her head and continued, “No, that’s a silly conclusion. We wouldn’t meet in the lab, and my memory would have been wiped.”

“Your… memory?” Rain was utterly confused, but in absence of understanding, she figured she could at least stop sitting on the floor like an idiot. As she was about to push herself up, she noticed one of the objects that had fallen to the floor earlier. She recoiled at first, thinking it was a skeletal hand, but realized it was actually not made of bone, but rather a mix of electronics and some sort of plastic.

She stared at it for a moment, a series of thoughts occurring in chain reaction in her mind, then raised her eyes to look at the girl wonderingly. There, in her hair, some kind of cable that seemed to be connected… to the back of her neck.

“Holy shit!” Rain exclaimed as the realization slammed home. “N-no way, you’re… are you… a machine?” She decided to stay on the floor after all, in case she felt like falling down in shock again.

The girl, who had seemed lost in thought, started at the sound of Rain’s exclamation. “Oh! My apologies, I have been rude.” She jumped out of the box and onto her feet, unplugging the cord in her neck like it was nothing. “I am a prototype unit for the upcoming L7 series android by Nakamura Industries. It is very nice to meet you.” Her introduction delivered, she held her arms straight down along her legs, bent at the waist at a 90-degree angle for a few seconds, then rose back up.

Rain wasn’t sure how to interpret any of that, but it did sound like the “girl” was confirming she was some kind of machine — an android, she had said?

“I, err, yeah… um, likewise,” she stammered, completely at a loss for words. “Uh, I’m Rain.”

“Rain,” the machine-girl repeated, nodding to herself with a smile.

“You, uh…” Rain trailed off, so many questions jumbled in her mind. She had seen the remains of machine-people before, but they had been crude metal things that were vaguely human-shaped at best. They could never have passed for a real person. This girl was so far beyond that, she could walk down a busy street and no one would bat an eye.

If she wore clothes, that is. As she was now, she definitely attracted attention from the eyes of Rain, who couldn’t keep them from wandering over this enigmatic girl’s captivating body. Her slender legs, the smooth treasure between them, her nascent breasts in just the shape that Rain found most appealing, it was difficult to look away from any of it.

Feeling a little ashamed of herself, Rain finally got up to her feet, shrugged out of her cloak, and held it towards the machine-girl. “Hey, um, do you want to wear something, maybe?” This distracting nakedness was certainly not helping her organize her confused thoughts.

The strange girl looked down at herself and seemed to realize that she was nude for the first time. “Oh! I’m sorry!” She quickly grabbed the offered garment and wrapped it around herself. It was much too large for her and a good length of it pooled around her feet, but it would do for now. “Usually, it is not an issue around the lab, but I was not aware we would have a visitor today,” she explained.

Rain thought the girl was even blushing a little, and was again amazed at how lifelike this machine could be. “So… how long have you been in that box? Do you know?” she asked, beginning to suspect that the girl didn’t grasp the situation at all.

“Since my last activation? It has been…” she began cheerfully, then paused and frowned. “It has been… two hundred and thirty-seven years…?” she continued slowly. “That cannot be accurate, I think something is wrong with my internal clock.” She took on a look of concentration for a moment. “I cannot sync with the Grid. I… cannot access the Grid at all. Something is definitely wrong. Where is Doctor Nakamura?”

She was growing increasingly agitated, looking around her as if someone was just going to come in and make everything make sense again. Being a machine, maybe that’s exactly what she was expecting.

Rain didn’t understand most of what she said, but could sympathize with the girl’s confusion. It couldn’t be an easy thing to wake up one day and find that your whole civilization is gone. She was a little worried about how a machine might react to the news, though, but in the end, the little android looked so lost that she had to at least try to explain.

“Hey, it’s okay. Calm down, alright? Look, uh… this is probably gonna be tough to hear but… it’s not a mistake: you’ve probably been ‘asleep’ or whatever for that long. There’s been, um… well, we call it the Calamity, these days. There was a war, a big war, and they’ve… basically destroyed the world over it, and we’ve been living in the ruins ever since. Nobody really knows the details anymore. I just found you by chance while exploring down here, this whole place is actually under a whole lot of sand right now.” Rain shrugged helplessly. That probably wasn’t the most delicate way to put things, but she had never been that great with words.

The machine-girl stared at her for a moment. “You are not… making fun of me, are you? Sometimes the lab assistants tease me by inventing stories to see if I will believe them.” She looked around the room listlessly, slowly walked up to a table, and ran one finger through the thick layer of dust. “No, I suppose not.”

“I’m sorry,” Rain said sadly, wondering if an android would appreciate a hug. “If you depend on some… outside tech or something, sorry to say, that’s all gone to shit now. Err, I mean, you know, it’s… not working anymore.”

The girl turned her big, expressive blue eyes, filled with very human-seeming sadness, towards Rain. “The Grid does not… exist anymore? But how will I know anything? My default knowledge base is very limited, I am supposed to fetch any missing data from the Grid.” Somehow, that seemed to be the thing that hit her the hardest.

“I guess you’ll have to do like us mere humans and learn stuff the hard way, huh?” Rain offered cheerfully, trying to put some levity into the situation.

The machine-girl looked dubious. “That does not seem very… efficient.”

Rain had to laugh. “Yeah well, that’s all there is. Nobody really knows that much anymore anyway, so you’ll be just like the rest of us.”

“Just like a human,” the girl repeated. She didn’t sound entirely displeased by the notion anymore.

They were silent for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Rain was still awestruck that a machine so advanced existed, and wondered what to do with her. She supposed she should offer to bring the girl back to civilization — or what was left of it. It certainly beat staying alone down here, to her mind. It occurred to her that there was an obvious question that, perhaps rudely, she had not thought to ask. “So, um, do you have a name?”

“Oh, well, my serial number is Z14KB435-3F. I do not have a human-like name yet, my owner is supposed to give me one… though I suppose I will never be bought now. What am I supposed to do?” she said piteously. It was strange to hear someone complain about not being sold to someone else. Her look turned hopeful as an idea seemed to occur to her. “Oh! Rain, will you… will you be my owner?”

“Err,” Rain began, surprised at the request. She wasn’t sure she was comfortable with that notion at all. It was difficult to think of the android girl as an object or property, rather than a person. She didn’t really know what an “owner” was supposed to do exactly, but it didn’t seem right to make some sort of servant out of what appeared to be a sentient being. “How about if… I was your friend instead?” Sappy, she thought, but she wanted to do right by this machine-girl lost out of her own time, who she was quickly growing fond of, somehow.

“My friend,” the android repeated slowly, as if tasting the words. “I think I would like that.”

Rain flashed a smile. “Good, it’s settled then. Look, I don’t know why the Ancients built you, exactly but… you seem just like a real person to me. You don’t need an owner. You should… you know, live your own life.”

“Live… my own life?” the girl again repeated, then shook her head. “No, my purpose is to serve my owner’s needs.”

“Well, not anymore! The world’s changed, you can change too. You can be your own owner. There, now you serve your own needs.”

The girl blinked at Rain for a moment, her machine mind apparently having trouble grasping the concept. “I… do not know. I will need to ponder this further,” she finally said.

“You’ll see, it’s easy. These days, everyone is a selfish bastard who thinks only of themselves anyway.”

“That… does not sound like a good thing,” the android said uncertainly, perhaps unsure whether Rain was joking or not. She seemed to have cheered up a little bit, at least.

Rain winked as her only response to that; the fact was that it wasn’t far from the truth. “Anyway, you’re still gonna need a name. Zee-one-four… something… doesn’t really roll off the tongue. How about… err… just ‘Zee,’ maybe?” Admittedly, her head was still hurting and she wasn’t feeling particularly imaginative at that moment.

The girl looked inordinately pleased with the suggestion. “My name is Zee. It is nice to meet you,” she tested the new appellation. “I like it.” She grinned.

Rain had to wonder if the machine-girl would have been just as satisfied with any other name, but it was nice to see her happy. She had a beautiful smile. “Nice to meet you too, Zee,” she replied, chuckling. “Wanna get out of here now?”

“To go… outside?” Zee asked, wide-eyed.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never been outside before.”

The little android shook her head.

“Wow. Well, now seems like a good time for your first step into the world, yeah?”

Zee hesitated a moment, looking nervous, but eventually nodded. “Y-yes.”

Now, Rain only had to find a way out. She took a few steps forward but suddenly felt light-headed and had to lean against a table for a moment.

“Oh, you’re hurt! Your head!” Zee exclaimed, alarmed.

“Yeah, might have had a little fall or two earlier…” Rain muttered. “Give me a minute, I should be fine.” She hoped that was true.

“Wait, I know what to do.”

“Huh?” Rain watched as the girl hurried towards another corner of the room, where she grabbed a box hanging from the wall and brought it back.

Zee laid the box down on a table, opened it, and took something inside that looked suspiciously like a small pistol. She examined the device, frowning, then shook it vigorously for a moment. “Oh, good. It still works,” she said enthusiastically after another look at it. Without warning, she pressed the object against the side of Rain’s neck.

“Ow!” Rain cried out at the sudden pain as something punctured her skin. “What the hell?”

“It will help you heal faster,” Zee explained timidly.

“Really?” Rain grumbled dubiously, rubbing at her neck. “Well, a little warning next time before you jab something into someone’s neck, alright? How is that thing supposed to help anyway?”

“I’m sorry,” Zee lamented. “It uses nanomachines charged by agitation that will help repair a human’s body by… um…” she hesitated, her eyes unfocusing for an instant. “I do not know the details,” she admitted sadly.

“That’s okay. I probably wouldn’t understand any of it anyway.” Rain only hoped that the injection would work as advertised, or at the very least that it wouldn’t have any adverse effects. She did realize that the pain in her neck had vanished very quickly. “Say, do you know how come this place still has power after all this time?” she asked as the thought came to her.

“Oh! I know that!” the android said excitedly, evidently very happy to be useful. “The generator is over there,” she began, walking towards a big machine on the other side of the room. “It charges up its power cells when electricity is available, then it can power the facility in case of an emergency.”

“Huh. So it all runs on some kind of fancy battery? For two hundred years?”

“Well, at full operation, it would be drained much faster that that, but it appears that the facility is now running in a power-saving mode in which only the essential systems are sustained. As such, it would be able to last for a very long time.” Zee crouched next to the generator and opened a door in its base. “Ah, yes, see? Most of its power cells are depleted now. The one it is currently running on nearly is as well. Only this last cell here is still fully charged,” she explained, pointing at a row of cube-shaped devices.

Rain took an interested look. She doubted anything back home was made to run on a “power cell” like this, and she couldn’t possibly bring back the large generator itself, but maybe one of the tech-heads could figure something out to use the juice its batteries contained. And if so, that would be very, very valuable. “That could be useful. Can I take it out?” she asked, elated at the thought.

“Yes. Just lift the latch next to it.”

Rain did as instructed, then grabbed the foot-wide device with both hands, and tried to pull it out of the generator. She grunted with sudden effort as she lifted it a short distance with great difficulty, then finally had to put it down on the floor before she dropped it. “Shit, that thing’s heavy!” she gasped, stepping back and frowning at the contraption. There was no way she’d be able to carry it very far.

Zee stepped up, bent down and grasped the power cell, then lifted it up without showing any sign of exertion at all. She looked at Rain expectantly, a small smile on her lips.

Rain blinked at the skinny girl holding the excessively heavy device like it was nothing at all. If she still had any doubts that Zee was not human, they were now gone. “Okay, fine, you carry it then.”

She picked up a few more random knick-knacks that looked like they might be worth something to fill out her pack, then they walked out of the room. At this point, she really just wanted to get home and sleep for a long time.

“What are you going to do with all those things?” Zee asked curiously.

“Sell ‘em. Stuff like this is hard to come by these days. We lost the tech to make most of ‘em, or at least not in big quantities. So that’s my job, finding old junk that folks will pay for.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Now, here’s the problem,” Rain said, waving a hand around the room with the hole in the ceiling. “I, uh, made my entrance from up there — a bit unwillingly, mind — but now it’s out of reach. This door’s blocked, and this one’s locked. Do you… know how to get out of here, by any chance? Oh! Maybe you can clear out that rubble with your crazy strength, huh?”

Zee peered at the door blocked by debris. A huge piece of the floor above had fallen right in front of it. “Um, I think that’s too big even for me. But…” She walked to the locked door instead and waved one hand next to the small panel next to it. There was a beep, then a clicking sound, and the door swung open effortlessly when Zee pulled on its handle.

“What? How’d you do that?” Rain exclaimed. “I poked at that thing for a while and it wouldn’t do shit for me.”

“It’s coded to unlock only for certain radio-frequency identification microchips, from Nakamura Industries employees who are allowed at this level. It’s not surprising that it did not recognize your chip. Um, though I suppose you might not have a chip at all.”

“Radio what…?”

“Oh, it works by… um…” Again, Zee’s eyes unfocused for a short instant, which Rain was guessing happened when the android tried to get information from her “Grid,” whatever that was. The girl sighed, clearly frustrated by the situation. It couldn’t be easy to have suddenly lost the ability to apparently know everything.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. You got it open, that’s what matters. Good job,” Rain tried to comfort her, and was rewarded with a big smile.

Conveniently, the door led to a staircase and, after climbing up a few flights of stairs and going through another radio-thingamajig door, they found themselves back in the lobby area. Zee looked around, wide-eyed.

“I guess the place changed a bit since your time, huh?”

The android nodded wordlessly, staring at the piles of sand here and there, the rubble strewn around, the big hole in the floor.

Rain glanced around and spotted stairs going up. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

They climbed up to the second floor and, after a few wrong turns, Rain managed to find her way back to the room from which she had entered the facility.

“Careful, don’t touch that wire,” she warned, pointing out the trap across the door’s threshold.
Zee cautiously stepped over it with an almost comical level of wariness, holding her cloak up to her knees and slowly lifting one foot, then the other.

Rain noticed with relief that the dust storm had passed. It had blown in a considerable amount of sand, filling up a good portion of the room. Conveniently, the heap of sand also formed a ramp that they could crawl up to reach the hole in the ceiling.

She hoisted herself onto the roof of the submerged building and took a deep breath. It was nice to take in dust-free air again. Turning around, she watched as Zee lifted up the hefty power cell and put it down on the roof, then she gave the girl a hand in getting up herself, though it took some effort, the petite-looking android being rather heavier than she appears.
Zee slowly spun around, taking in the desolation surrounding them. “There used to be a city here,” she said softly.
Rain didn’t know what to say to someone who had just lost her whole world, so she just gave the girl’s shoulder a hopefully reassuring squeeze.

Looking up at the sky, she estimated it was early morning. She had been unconscious down below for quite a while, it seemed. Thinking of that made her realize that she actually felt much better than she had a short while ago. Maybe Zee’s surprise injection was doing some good after all.

She walked off in the direction where she had left her bike. There was only sand there now. Sighing, she started digging around, pushing off the sand with her hands until she found a piece of the tarp she had laid over her vehicle, then worked to uncover the whole thing. Finally, once she could remove the covering, she examined the sand bike thoroughly and found it didn’t seem to have sustained any serious damage.

Parched with exertion, she took a long drink from her flask, then her stomach growled loudly, so she unwrapped some pieces of dried meat she had brought with her. As she chewed on her provisions, she watched Zee, who was now slowly wandering around aimlessly, looking deep in thought.

She noticed that the girl’s hair, that she had at first taken for silvery blond in the dimness of the ruins, actually seemed to be a pale shade of blue in the daylight, which accentuated her ethereal beauty. The wind danced in her hair and sometimes caught in her cloak, revealing rather indecent glimpses of her nude body underneath. The garment’s erratic movements kept exposing her fine legs, and sometimes even her shapely butt on a strong gust.

She really was a gorgeous young woman, Rain thought — a little embarrassed but not enough to make her stop looking. Then again, if you were going to create a person from scratch, she supposed there was no sense in making her ugly.

After some time, the android girl stopped roaming around and walked up to where Rain was resting, sitting with her back against her bike.

“You okay?” Rain asked.

Zee nodded. “Yes. I think so. It is… quite the shock. The whole of civilization, gone. But I have been thinking about what you said. I think I would like to try… living my own life, like a human does.”

Rain smiled. “Great, that’s the spirit.”

“Will you help me?”

“Sure.”

“Will you teach me everything there is to know about how humans live?”

Rain chuckled. “Well, sure, what I know anyway. I’m not really, uh, ‘all-knowing’ like you were. But nobody is, I guess, we just kinda figure it out as best we can and make do. You’ll be fine.”

“Thank you.” Zee suddenly bent down and gave Rain a hug, surprising her — and causing a little embarrassment as she remembered how she had been admiring the girl’s figure just a few minutes ago.

“No problem. That’s what friends are for, right?” she said awkwardly. So corny, did you really just say that? she thought, but Zee only nodded and smiled.

Rain got to her feet and started putting away the rest of her food when a thought came to her. “Oh, uh, do you need to… eat? Or what do you for… Shit, I didn’t think of that before, are you gonna be okay away from your… box thing? How do you get, you know, powered?”

Zee smiled and shook her head at Rain’s worries. “I will be fine. My synthetic skin is made to absorb energy from sunlight, which should be sufficient to keep me functional under normal circumstances. I can also eat and combust organic materials for extra energy if need be, though that is usually not required.”

“Energy from sunlight… That’s… Yeah, okay, you’re pretty impressive. That’s what you want me to say?”
The girl grinned while Rain shook her head in wonder.

“Alright then. Ready to go home?” Rain asked as she sat on her sand bike and indicated a spot behind her.
Zee nodded happily and climbed up, while Rain turned on the ignition. There was a plaintive whine from the motor as it sputtered for a moment then went silent.

“Err, yeah, sometimes it takes a few tries…”

Luckily, the second attempt fared better. The vehicle came to life and they finally set off.

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