She was back again.
"What are you doing, Trish?"
The girl jumped a bit, turning away from the window where she had been watching the traffic—and her own reflection. "Malik," she greeted, voice not quite as childish as it had been a few days before. Fiddling nervously with the frilling edge of one of the four dresses Lissie had forced upon her, the persocom licked her lips before explaining. "I'm watching."
"Watching?" the Egyptian smiled a bit, apparently amused. "Don't you mean thinking? You looked pretty out of it, there."
"You looked preoccupied; your mind was on something else," he clarified, sitting beside her on the window seat. Cars rushed pass on the road bellow them; city workers were stringing lights through the trees.
"Oh. . . no," Trish replied distractedly, returning her gaze to the window. "I wasn't thinking. I was watching. First I was watching Bakura when he went off to work. . . then I was watching her." She pointed at her copy in the glass. "She keeps talking to me."
"?" Malik tilted his head, perplexed—
And then began laughing, lovingly ruffling the girl's head. "Don't be silly, Trish," he chuckled. "That's your reflection."
The persocom stuck her wide, curious eyes upon him; confused. "Reflection. . . ?"
"It's you," he explained, crossing one leg over the other and leaning his back against the cool panes. "It's like a picture of you—you see reflections on shiny surfaces. She's an illusion. And illusions can't talk. "
"I promise, Trish," the man soothed. "Reflections can't talk."
Upon hearing these words, Trish seemed to calm. After all, why would master lie? "Illusion. . ." the robot repeated softly, rolling the word around on her tongue. "Reflection. Silly."
Malik beamed, blushed a bit at the look of thanks the girl gave him, and then stood with a stretch. "Well, I have to go to work, too. I'll see you later, all right? Call if you need anything." With that, he swooped unexpectedly downwards and pressed his lips to Trish's cheek, scampering out of the shabby apartment before the 'com could reply.
". . ." Blinking in stupefaction, fingers pressed lightly to her own cheek, she turned to watch the people outside the window again—
But was interrupted by 'her' return.
"So he's finally gone," 'she' said, sounding a bit irked. "About time. I don't like him. That other one, either. They're much too clingy. Master was better."
Trish frowned. "Don't talk to me," she muttered, trying to stare past the woman. "Malik says you can't, so don't."
'She' smirked. "Reflections can't talk, love. But I am not your reflection."
At this, the 'com faltered, slowly moving her gaze upwards to catch the other's eye. "You're not. . . ? You're not an illusion?"
"I didn't say that."
Despite now boasting the mentality of an 11-year-old, Trish wasn't above throwing temper tantrums when frustrated. And though those times were growing fewer and farther between (much to her masters' unparalleled delight), this was looking to be one of those moments when she just couldn't help it. . . "Then what are you?" she snapped, glaring at the woman. The woman who looked like her. . . but was not.
". . ." The lady in the glass grinned sadly, pressing her fingertips to her side of the glass. "I suppose I'm nothing more than a dream to you, now."
The words were beyond odd. "A dream?" the 'com frowned, pressing her right palm to the other's. The window was cold.
"Sapna, as Master would have called it at the time."
"Sapna?" the 'girl' mimicked, trying her best to drink this all in. It was too much for her, though. . . "Is that your name?"
". . ." The woman didn't respond for a moment, her red eyes full of sadness. Why were they so sorrowful? Were they seeing something she could not? Trish squinted dramatically, gazing pointedly around the room— but saw nothing. Perhaps if she tried again. . . ?
But she was abruptly torn from the task by the sound of the lady's voice. ". . . yes, Sapna is my name," she whispered softly, firmly; as if just now deciding this. "Yes, it will be. If that is what you wish, love. And in return, I will call you what THEY call you: Trish." With that, she moved her face towards the invisible barrier that separated them, pressing her lips to Trish's own.
And to her surprise, she could feel them.
"?" The 'com cocked her head, baffled. "What did you just do?" she asked softly, touching the place where she'd felt the warmth of someone else's skin. "Malik did that, too. Only here." She pointed to her cheek, left hand pressed to her heart. "What is that?"
"That is a kiss," Sapna informed gently. "It is a sign of affection between others. But you must never kiss anyone besides me."
The humanoid growled in confusion. "But—but why? What's wrong with kissing? Why can't I?"
"Because you're not human," Sapna told her gently, sympathetic. The beautiful dress she wore rippled around her, licking her bare arms. "Your life is connected to your kiss. . . if your lips touch another's, you will forget again."
Again. . . ? There was a time previous? "I don't understand," Trish complained, pressed flush to the panes— to this mysterious 'illusion'. "What did I forget? Who am I? The mark on my arm. . . the 'special' mark. . . why am I special?"
"Because you are not human," the image repeated, a touch of bitterness in her voice. "Nor are you what the others think. . . you are of a different breed."
Breed? "What. . . ?" the persocom started, staring at the limbs she'd pressed to the window. "But if I'm not human, than. . . ?"
"A what? I've heard that word before."
In the tarot shop. . .
"A persocom," Sapna echoed, staring pityingly into her copy's eyes. "A type of interactive computer. . . made to look and act and think like a human. But not. . . you are not human, nor can you ever be. Humans are flesh, blood, emotion. Everything you are is simply a program."
Program. . . ? Trish froze, beautiful dark eyes widening. This word made sense, somehow. . . it struck a chord deep inside. . . "I don't understand! I am not real? I am not like my masters?" she cried, a sharp pain shooting through her chest. A hand darted out to clutch it—she could feel the cogs inside herself whirling. "This feeling right here. . . it is a collection of . . ones and zeros. . .?"
The look-alike grinned sourly, a tart note to her tone. "Disgusting, isn't it? You did not like it before, either. . ."
Before—! It was too much. . . the 'com trembled fiercely, evolving before the 'reflection's' ruby eyes. 11. . . 13. . . 15. . . 17. A darkness lingered; her fingers clenched. And then, with her head hung, she hissed: "I see. . .
But you. . . who are you, then, Sapna? If I am nothing but bolts and screws—what does that make you?"
Sapna shook her head. "If I could tell you, I would—but I cannot."
"Do you not know?"
"I know," the woman admitted, "but I am you and you are me, and until you accept that—until you decide to embrace what you tried to run from—until you are ready— there is nothing I can do but try to guide you."
"I am you; you are me. . . ?" the persocom breathed, face screwed up in contemplation. It was a hard concept to swallow. . . And she didn't like the taste. "Are we one in the same?"
"I am you," Sapna repeated, pulling away from the glass. "You are me. Do not forget; there is more to us than meets the eye."
Trish digested this bitterly, curling into a pathetic ball on her plush seat. 'How could I not notice?' she mentally berated. 'How could I not realize. . . ?' Synthesized sensations continued to pound on her core unit, until she could no longer take it. . . "I feel damage," the 'girl' announced in a quivering whisper, gingerly pressing her fists to her eyes. "I sting right here. . . So why, Sapna, if I am so advanced. . . why can I not cry?"
The other's long, raven tresses whipped in a silent wind. "Because your emotions are not real."
". . . that's what I thought.
Sighing, the maroon-pooled image tried to touch her copy's face. "Do not despair, love. You cannot change who you are, or what you're made of. . . but that doesn't mean you have to let it control you."
"No," Trish agreed slowly, though did not look up. "But it also doesn't mean it won't hurt."
A beat of silence passed; not awkwardly, not pleasantly. It stretched. . . And then: ". . . Will I see you again?"
Sapna smiled— lovingly, tenderly. "Whenever you need me."
She was gone.
"I don't understand this. . ."
Bakura momentarily silenced his dark grumbling in favor of lifting his head from the front desk; surprised to find Yugi's wide amethyst eyes mere inches from his face. Concern was plastered across his naive features, multicolored head tilted cutely in imitation of. . .
The British teen pushed the thought from his mind; it freaked him out.
A long minute of staring. . .
Yugi didn't go away.
Kura sighed, snapping shut the thick book that lay before him on the see-though table. "This new 'com Malik and I found," he admitted grudgingly, glaring off into the distance. "Just the other day she was as cute as a button. Real sweet and innocent. . . but all of the sudden she's like a raging drama queen! All angst and depression. . . what happened?"
The boy robot's purple pools dulled for half a moment, then he snapped enthusiastically back to life. "It can't be natural," he said confidently, pulling up a stool beside his fellow employee. "All of my resources and personal files say that a persocom can only change the way you've described through the conscious reprogramming of the master. Perhaps Malik-san tampered with this 'Trish'."
Bakura blew a 'negative' raspberry. "I doubt it. . . he likes his girls soft and sweet; like marshmallows. Unless he's suddenly gone all S&M on me. . . don't look that up," he added in quick afterthought, noticing Yugi's mystified expression—the one that always proceeded some sort of internet search. (Yami would kill him if he 'damaged' little Yugi's mind chip.)
"Well," Yugi shrugged, fixing his frilly pink apron with a vague tug, "in that case, it must be in your mind. It's scientifically impossible for a persocom to mature like that without outside help or additional programming. At least, it's unheard of. . . besides, who would want such undesirable traits in their 'com?"
". . ." As the 'male' walked away, the college student blew out his cheeks. "True," he muttered sarcastically under his breath, watching the humanoid go. "Who would want to hang out with someone so imperfect. . . What did we do without persocoms?"
"It's not healthy to talk to yourself, you know."
Jolted from his personal musings by this stranger's voice, Bakura straightened suddenly; shocked to see the smiling face of a new customer. Very shocked, actually. After all, it was late Sunday evening. . . young children had school tomorrow, even though Christmas was near; teens only came to play the games that had been shut off for the day; parents shopped earlier. But this new man was obviously neither young nor in school—he was very much an adult. ('Maybe a night owl.')
In fact, he looked sort of like an older Malik. . . same colored hair, anyway, despite how much crazier this man's stood. And they had the same shaped face and eyes; skin an identical shade of bronze. It was uncanny. . . creepy.
But not unusual, Kura assumed. The similarities ended there, anyway—this new man was much taller, fuller, and more professional than Malik could ever be. Just a taste of his confident aura was proof of that. . . And his style was impeccable. Decked in small, half-moon spectacles that sparkled intelligently, his body was covered from shoulders to foot in a thick tan coat with faux fur edges. A gold cane accompanied him as well, but it was probably just for show; he couldn't possibly be older than 30. (And his spine was as straight as a ruler.)
Despite himself, the British boy blushed—oddly embarrassed in this man's presence. ('I didn't just turn gay, did I?' he wondered; horrified. He hoped not. . . he wasn't gay this morning, anyway.)"Er. . . what can I do for you, sir?"
The stranger grinned widely, glancing down his nose at the employee. "Well, I was hoping you could help me find a present for my girlfriend and daughter. They're both rather hard to shop for, you see, and I wanted to get them something special."
Bakura arched an incredulous eyebrow, about to inquire why the moron didn't go to some fancy perfume store instead, but quickly remembered what Yami had done to him last time he gave advice like that to the customers. Trying to conceal a wince, Kura cleared his throat. "What were you thinking of? Maybe we could start there."
The man paused thoughtfully, considering; gloved finger tapping his smooth chin. "Well, my daughter is rather young. . . and quite fond of games. What sort of things are the girls playing with these days?"
"Most kids are playing with their persocoms," the student responded rather dully. "Why not get her one of those?" He certainly looked like he could afford it, in any case. . . (or maybe he'd be lucky and find one in the trash; ha ha.)
"?" The customer shot him an inquisitive look from over the rim of his glasses. "Oh? A little sour, are we?" he uttered lightly, though his voice crackled with amusement. Leaning forward, one arm still crossed over the other, the blonde bopped Bakura's nose. "Don't like technology?"
". . ." Taken aback (and rather horrified) by the stranger's insight, Kura looked away. ('Fucking blush—!') "I don't hate it," he defended weakly. "I mean, I have a 'com and all. . . they just make me nervous."
"Really?" the other pressed, sounding interested. His dark violet eyes glittered with cleverness. An uncomfortable uneasiness began to gnaw on Bakura's stomach. ('Something's not right. . .') "Nervous? How so?"
"I dunno," Kura grunted, trying to look away from the shopper's intense gaze. "Just. . . everything about them." (Why was he spilling his guts like this?) "They're so perfect, people prefer to spend time with them rather than other humans." (He deserved no explanations.) "And I mean—they're not even real." (Yet the words just kept pouring out. . .) "Everything about them is preprogrammed and fake."
"Preprogrammed, hmm?" the man purred, listening obsessively now. Energy seemed to leap off of him in freakish waves. . . "By whom?"
". . ." Bakura stared at him like he was an idiot. "People, of course."
A chuckle. "Yes, very good," the stranger agreed, nodding once, twice, three times. A little smirk tugged on his lips. "A tougher one for the genius: human emotions. Who programs them?"
The Brit gave a start. Humans. . .? But. . . "Ah— ! . . . " he hesitated, baffled. How was he supposed to respond to that? Especially when words seemed to elude him—? "Uh. . . humans aren't programmed," was the weak response the employee eventually managed, feeling foolish.
But the customer didn't seem to notice. Rather, his mouth simply quirked. "Oh? Then where do we get our feelings from?" he asked bluntly. A finger lifted, pointing upward. "God?"
Bakura, not being very religious, couldn't think of a reply. The older man leered; leaning closer—his elbows on the table.
"I'll let you in on a little secret," he murmured, lashes fluttering hypnotically. "Humans. . . our emotions. They're just programmed into us, as well. I don't care what you believe in—God, evolution, chance. . . no matter how you look at it; whether you feel your personality was plugged into you by parents or deities, you were still programmed. You're really not that different from a persocom. . . I'll bet you that your blood even tastes as metallic as theirs. And there's a reason for that."
His white teeth flashed; he pushed himself away from the countertop.
The college student simply stared, insides icy.
And then. . . the man spoke. "I'd better be off," he announced, clearing his throat and flashing a smile. "It's getting late. Sorry for wasting your time. . ."
He vanished into the darkening streets without another word— but his presence remained in the store long after he'd left.
The greeting was swift, and not quite as warm as it had been in the early, hyper days. Still, the grin she shot him from the kitchen seemed heart-felt, so Bakura responded in the most pleasant way he could (while still feeling so weirded out, anyway).
"How was your day?" he asked out of habit, glancing at the mail she'd tossed carelessly on the living room floor. Letter. . . catalogue. . . letter. . . bill. . . fuck.
"All right. Nothing exciting—or anything that would really interest you," Trish replied curtly, flouncing out towards the couch with a tray of steaming chili, dressed in the lacy maid dress Melissa had given to her a week before. "I talked to Sapna again today."
Oh, not again. . .
Bakura rolled his eyes, irritation welling up inside. This is getting stupid. . . "Trish, we've been through this—your eyes must be malfunctioning or something, because your reflection is not a real person."
"—!" The 'girl' snarled, entire body puffing in anger.
Slamming the tray onto the side table, she crossed her arms and stuck out a hip, beyond enraged. Her master (eyes still bulging from shock at the unexpected noise) stared blankly at her seething complexion, dumfounded. "Why is it," she spat, furious, "that us 'computers' malfunction, but real people are injured? Why do you only care about other PEOPLE'S feelings!"
An old argument by now. "Because you don't really 'feel' anything, Trish," Kura retorted wearily, sick of this fight. "You may think you do, but it's actually just your progr—"
He froze. And for the first time, as the words fell from his mouth, he thought about what he was saying.
"Humans. . . our emotions. They're just programmed into us, as well. I don't care what you believe in—God, evolution, chance. . . no matter how you look at it; whether you feel your personality was plugged into you by parents or deities, you were still programmed. You're really not that different from a persocom. . ."
A shiver raced down his spine.
". . ." Trish watched him emotionlessly, not realizing what was going on. Nor did she care, to be honest. All she knew was that Malik wasn't going to be home until later, and she didn't want to waste time sparing with Bakura. So, with a sigh, she threw herself upon the couch, flicking it on. . .
And nearly went into shock at what she saw.
"A horrible sight awaited those who passed underneath the street lamps of 4th and 5th street this evening," the grim reporter choked, looking slightly green beneath his stage makeup. "Near the prominent stores of Dark Duels and Valentine's Valentines, three butchered persocoms were discovered lying in an ally. Our own Riku Harada has more."
"Thanks, Daisuke," the pretty brunette nodded, though her 'all business' exterior appeared to have crumbled a bit upon taking this assignment: she, too, looked rather ill under the stars. "I'm here at the scene of the crime, which has been cleared of all human and cyber pedestrians for reasons of safety. Though these attacks have been labeled as randomized and relating only to persons' persocoms, it is still a disturbing sight to see on nights such as this." There was a flash of the ruined 'coms—eyes wide, blank; naked body cavities ripped open; cords and cogs sliced cleanly in two. They were no longer crackling, instead leaking thick red fluids. Far beyond repair.
Trish pressed a hand to her lips, suddenly feeling queasy. Why she had the urge to cover her mouth, she wasn't sure; it wasn't like she could vomit, even if she wanted to. But she reacted this way all the same—just because she could. Rebellion grew inside of her.
Riku continued, somber.
"Authorities have yet to disclose who these unlucky victims belonged to; however, as the killer may still be on the prowl, it is advised to keep all loved ones—both mechanical and otherwise— inside until further notice. It seems that—"
An unexpected movement caught Trish's attention; the wave of a hand. The female persocom glanced over, feeling the rest of the world fall away—Sapna. Floating as she so often did in the large mirror glued to the sliding closet door.
"Are you all right, love?" she asked, her voice echoing through Trish's mind. It was melodic, but anxious. "I felt a. . . ripple. A ripple of power."
'A ripple?' the 'com repeated silently, brow furrowing. Her fingers clenched. 'What do you mean?'
"A strong force," Sapna explained swiftly, still looking worried. "That originated from a small area and expanded to touch all. I believe it radiated from that site." She pointed at the television screen. "A dark power; but familiar."
'. . .'
The image blinked, pressing her hands to the opposite side of the mirror. '. . . You felt it, too, didn't you?'
"!" Trish straightened rapidly, head snapping up so quickly that she winced—jolted out of her trance by Bakura's sudden movements. Sapna vanished as abruptly as she appeared; back into the deep reassesses of. . . wherever she went. The raven locked computer blinked blankly, trying to straighten out her thoughts as her master sank beside her on the couch, face stoic. This distinctly out of character act caught the 'com's attention; she hesitated, simply watching him for a moment. . . then touched his shoulder.
He grunted, moving away.
The 'girl' flinched, as if slapped. "Uh. . . Are you okay?" she inquired tentatively, a bit uncomfortable. "You look worried about something."
Kura breathed heavily out his nose, sinking deeper into the cushions. "Just a little preoccupied, I guess. . . there was this freak at work today. Some persocom nut. . ." He quivered, a bad feeling accompanying the memory. 'I wonder what Yugi would have said about the 'normality' of THAT. . .'
Trish, having grown quite rigid, could feel her eyes flashing at his words. So someone was a nut for liking persocoms? She opened her mouth to snap—but blew out her cheeks instead, deciding it wasn't worth it. There was no need to fight more than once a day. . . that, and whenever she and Bakura weren't talking, Malik had the tendency to start hitting on her. She wasn't in the mood for that. Ergo, one of them needed to 'patch up the (metaphorical) hole.' But instead of comfortable conversation, silence hung heavily over their heads; it was one of those occurrences that, no matter how often it happened, they still hated. Both fished fruitlessly around for something to say. . .
The 'girl' jumped slightly, eyes swinging towards the windows. Sapna. Again? So soon?
"Trish," the woman pressed before her opposite had the chance to interrupt. "Those attacks—they happened not only near that place your master works, but also the tarot booth. Do you know if Lissie and Mahlissa are all right?"
"!" Terror gripped the 'com's heart chip. "Master!" she gasped, turning on a dime and flinging herself towards (rather, on) Bakura. The latter, looking much more horrified at this than many would deem acceptable, stiffened in shock at this sudden contact; at a loss of words. (But he no longer wondered if he was gay.) "Master, Melissa! Melissa and the physic! They live near the attacks, too! Do you think they are okay?"
Bakura—rather red for "some reason or another"—cleared his throat and gave Trish a vain push in an attempt to shove her off. She didn't budge in the slightest. "I'm sure they're fine," he comforted a bit stiffly, trying his hardest not to look into her emotional chocolate-cherry pools. Those eyes had a strange effect on him. . . "Didn't Melissa say that her teacher didn't like persocoms?"
"That doesn't mean they may not be hurt!" Trish huffed, grip tightening. "I'm worried! Can't we check up on them!"
"How can you be worried? You're a per—!" Kura retorted, finding it rather hard to breathe all of the sudden. The humanoid scowled. Wrong answer. . . "Ack! Okay! Okay!" the student panted, feeling her tightening iron grip against the back of his neck. "We can check up on them tomorrow. . . but first you'll have to come to work with me. I need a little more time on my punch card to make this paycheck worth anything. . . deal?"
"Ah—! Deal!" Trish beamed—and this time, Bakura was sucked into her joyful expression. He gulped, feeling much hotter than he had moments before. . . but that could have just been because her body still lay on top of his. . . maybe. . . "Thank you, Master!" she cheered, her choke hold turning into a hug. And try as he might, he couldn't resist hugging her back. . . if just a littl—
"!" The two straightened slightly, heads whipping towards the door—to find Malik, staring flatly.
"Am I interrupting something?"