There were more androids on Earth than Kinney had expected and to be entirely honest, they were making him uneasy. Not for the same reason that the rest of Princess Selene's newly formed royal guard was uneasy. After spending the past month around that shell friend of the princess' and Iko, he was used to the unnerving lack of bioelectricity and the complete uselessness of one's glamour. This was something else…an inexplicable raising of his hackles that he just couldn't put his finger on.
They were just so…polite. So quiet. So unlike everything he knew—or thought he knew—about androids. Not that he was an expert, what with only having met exactly one prior to this trip, but still. It was a shock.
After two weeks staying in the Eastern Commonwealth while Queen Selene received a crash course in…well…everything royal, Kinney had much more time than he would've liked to observe them. They did nearly every menial task here. The cooking, except for the important dinners when the hired chefs were brought in. The gardening, to keep the elegant gardens well-trimmed. The cleaning and palace-keeping, which meant that every time he returned to his quarters after breakfast, there was likely an android of some description—short and squat and inhuman, or tall and detailed and unbelievably real…he was coming to realize that there were innumerable types—lurking helpfully around. And they did every bit of it with a perfectly courteous, perfectly benevolent, perfectly irritating lack of personality. No sass. No sarcasm. No genuine smiles. Nothing like the one android he knew.
He passed a tall serving android, likely returning from hauling the Lunar party's luggage out to the ship, on his way down the wide staircase leading outside to the landing pad and barely managed to suppress a scowl. It nodded demurely, that serenely polite smile and empty eyes rendering its face quite pleasant and…bland. Kinney started walking faster, putting as much distance between himself and the palace—with its legions of androids—as possible as he all but jogged to the waiting ship.
He rounded the side of the ship, on route to check in with the royal mechanics who were supposed to be prepping the ship for the journey back to Luna, and almost barreled into a tangle of limbs leaning against the bulkhead that he dimly recognized as the queen and emperor respectively. Said queen was no longer in the graceful tea-length gown she'd been in for their official departure. Now that the cameras were gone, so was the dress, traded for grease-stained coveralls, and the royal mechanics were nowhere in sight, evidently ousted in favor of New Beijing's former best mechanic.
Kai, his arms still wrapped tight around Cinder, opened his eyes at the scrape of Kinney's boot on the concrete, but didn't pull away from the kiss. Kinney raised his hands in apology and turned on his heel to retreat. Whoops. He couldn't even count how many times that had happened over the past two weeks. Perhaps if the young royals would actually pick sensible places to canoodle, rather than the middle of the main corridor or half tucked into the innards of a ready-to-depart ship, it wouldn't be such a problem.
"Have you seen Cinder? She left her dress…" Iko appeared in the ship's hatch as Kinney mounted the moveable staircase, her lips twisting in a concerned frown as she held the dress in question out at arm's length. "Such a nice dress, too."
"Her Majesty's busy." The palace androids would never dare to call a royal by a nickname.
Iko's eyes sharpened as they flicked up from appreciating the silver silk of the dress. "Busy? Doing what, exactly?"
"Last minute tutoring session with the Emperor." Kinney replied, a wolfish smirk stealing across his face and he waggled his brows. Iko blinked. Cocked her head, her curtain of blue braids cascading over one shoulder.
"Tutoring? But she left her notes on the—"Her eyes widened with recognition, mouth rounding to a delighted o. "Oh! Tutoring!"
She glanced back down at the dress and let out a disappointed hum. "Shame she didn't keep the dress on…Good-bye kisses are much more romantic in a pretty dress."
"That the voice of experience?" That…came out snippier than he meant for it to. What was it to him if it was? Iko frowned at him, the familiar thoughtful wrinkle settling between her eyes, and he glanced away, retreating into his formal, professional demeanor.
"Are we ready for take-off?"
"Almost. Just waiting on the okay from the mechanics." Iko replied absently, still scrutinizing him with narrowed eyes. Almost…concerned. And that, honestly, just made it worse. The palace androids were never concerned. Oh, they spouted their programmed responses well enough at the sound of a yelp from a stubbed toe or a mirror-startled Lunar, but it was cold concern from a cold machine. Emotionless. Empty. The opposite of Iko, despite their shared components.
Kinney snorted, shooting a glance back down at the starboard bulkhead and the two sets of feet still visible there. "That might take a while."
There was a clatter at the edge of the landing pad and both of them looked up to see another contingent of palace androids marching toward the ship's hold, loaded down with garment bags and suitcases, but still offering that irksome, empty smile of greeting. Kinney scowled and Iko abruptly fisted her hands and propped them on her slender waist.
"Is that what your problem is? You've been cranky the whole visit!" Her eyes flashed, brimming with anger and disgust and…hurt? "Look, I know you aren't used to us. I get that it's hard to adapt after not being around androids, but you've got no right to ruin the visit for Cinder and—"
"It's not the androids." He murmured, pushing away from the railing he'd leaned against and darting down the steps. Surely he could find something to busy himself with until take-off that didn't involve being near her right now. Because it wasn't the androids. He knew that. It was looking at their hollow expressions and comparing them to Iko's radiant smile. It was listening to their robotic responses and holding them against Iko's biting wit. It was the realization that Iko was unlike any android ever made, and that the average android couldn't do what Iko did. That the average android...couldn't make a man fall in love with a machine.