Much as she hoped McCrea had settled the matter for good, Arcadia had little faith in human sensibilities. She expected someone, if not the Coopers then someone they had frightened with their alarmist reactions, to pitch another fit any day, and was unfortunately not disappointed. One bright mid morning, while she was lying with several of the bots on top of Wall-E's truck teaching them how to find shapes in clouds, one of the colony's children clambered onto the roof, breathless.
"Captain McCrea sent me to get you! They've made contact with another starliner!" The boy looked like he might burst with excitement and pride at the importance of his mission; he kept staring at Wall-E like...well, Arcadia thought, like the hero he was to most of the Axiom's erstwhile crew.
Wall-E whistled and took Eve's fin before trundling down to the ground and off toward the center of the settlement. Arcadia followed leisurely behind M-O and the others. The anxious boy led them to the great house where, normally, someone would be setting up for lunch. Today, however, McCrea was gathering people to tell them the news.
As soon as the room had filled with as many colonists as could attend, he announced that they'd heard from the starliner Hyperion. Not quite as large as the Axiom, she actually held more people now.
And they were on their way home.
Once, such news would have brought reactions of unmitigated joy from the Axiom colonists. Now, though, with fear planted and well-rooted, the response was not as uniform as McCrea had obviously hoped. The low murmur mixed in with the celebratory noises didn't seem to catch him off guard, though. He may have hoped, but apparently hadn't expected.
Leadership was making him a wise man, Arcadia supposed, and it was a good thing for these people that he was letting himself learn. He was a good leader for the colony.
"This is a joke." James Cooper practically spat with anger as he spoke. "We're barely scraping by now. And you want us to support more people? With the same resources? How's that supposed to work?"
McCrea corrected him patiently. "They'll be able to work, too, and the Hyperion will have a lot of the same resources that the Axiom had."
"You going to use them for more robots?" Sheryl demanded.
Arcadia put a hand to her forehead. She knew she shouldn't respond, but she was just too damn tired of it. "What is it with you and the robots? They aren't hurting anything."
"They're helping," John pointed out.
Mary added, "Better and faster than humans can, on a lot of these jobs."
"We need food," James said, "not a cleaner, prettier patch of dirt. We should toss the lot of them through the buffet and put them to better use."
"We need the 'patch of dirt' precisely to grow more food."
"It's a waste of time!"
"We're fixing our mistakes, making the world better-"
"It's too late to fix it; we need to just resign ourselves to how it is and make sure we can survive day to day."
The argument looked like it would rage on for hours, but Arcadia lost track of it as soon as James suggested destroying the robots. "You can't kill the robots."
He scowled and his part of the tirade came to an end. "Of course we can't kill them. They aren't alive to kill."
She crossed her arms. "Yes, they are." She looked down at Wall-E. "They've developed sentience. They're as alive as you and I, and have the same right to live as we do."
He gaped at her for a moment, then snorted. "You're a scientist. You shouldn't believe robots can be alive."
"First of all," she replied, advancing on him, "don't tell me what I should or shouldn't believe. And second, I am a scientist, and I have to believe the science. Proof. As a scientist, don't have the luxury of ignoring it like you do."
He looked like the vein across his forehead might explode. "You can't talk to me that way, insulting my intelligence-"
"Yeah, I think I can."
McCrea stepped between them. "No one's killing the robots." A little grumbling followed his statement and he looked around, trying to identify the malcontents. "Please, we need to settle this issue in a civilized way."
Sheryl spoke. "Why did the Axiom land? It was because of a malfunctioning robot, right? It damaged the ship so badly you had to put it to ground."
McCrea shook his head. "No. We came back because Wall-E let us know we could."
That wasn't enough to appease her. "You can't trust them. One malfunction and those EVE probes are shooting lasers at everyone."
Arcadia exchanged exasperated glances with Eve while Wall-E tapped his hands together. He cooed in concern, reaching up to take Eve's fin. She cooed back at him, but his optic units still tilted like worried eyebrows.
Knowing as he always somehow did that Wall-E was upset, Hal came out of his casing and wriggled his thorax. When that didn't get a response, he hopped onto the nearest table to give Wall-E a better view of his amusing little dance.
James saw him. "What the- get it!" He swung his hand down in an arc toward the cockroach.
Wall-E shrieked at seeing his pet endangered and bolted forward to wrap his metal hands around Hal. James brought his fist down on Wall-E's knuckles, and swore as the impact skinned his own. Colonists scrambled, those close enough to have seen Hal rushing forward for a late rescue, others charging in to see what had happened. All the while, Wall-E stayed huddled over the bug on the table, even as James picked up a nearby pitcher to swing at Wall-E's head and Eve powered up her cannon to shoot James.
Arcadia had lunged forward but too late, watching the whole thing as if it were in slow motion, sure that it was going to end in bloodshed and who knew what other repercussions, but this- this was the one thing she figured could have stopped the elder Cooper.
James and Eve both paused, James turning toward his son, Eve keeping her eyes and gun trained on him. Daniel approached the table and patted the top of Wall-E's body casing. "You got a bug?"
Wall-E turned his optic units toward the boy, then slowly opened his hands to reveal a very confused Hal. Hal hopped up onto Wall-E's arm and scampered upward to the top of his casing.
Daniel stared at him for a long, long moment. At last Wall-E scooped Hal up and gestured toward Daniel with him, cooing as he did.
Making introductions, Arcadia realized. She shook her head. All she wanted to do was punch the entire Cooper family. Obviously, Wall-E was a much better person than she. Too bad the Coopers couldn't understand that.
Tentatively Daniel reached out and touched Hal gently on the head with his fingertip. "He's your pet, isn't he?" he asked. When Wall-E nodded and chirped an affirmative, he said, "I had a dog. We had to leave him behind when we got frozen to sleep. I guess he's dead now." He reached up and rubbed fiercely at his eye.
James reached for Daniel's shoulder. "Son."
Daniel was having none of it, and pulled away. "I didn't want to leave him," he told Wall-E, but no one there doubted that he was really talking to his parents. "But I had to. They made me." He rounded on his parents. "You shouldn't make Wall-E lose his pet, too."
The Coopers looked truly remorseful. Sheryl was crying, not bothering to wipe away her tears. Daniel looked back and forth between his parents and Wall-E. "I don't think we should be mean to the robots anymore. I think you're wrong."
The boy crossed his arms and set his mouth in a firm line that left no doubt that he was used to getting his way. The one time he apparently hadn't, he'd lost his dog, and clearly he was risking nothing like that again. "I like them," he stated with great finality. He then turned to look up to Arcadia. "Can I learn how to fix them, too?"
Emile made a strange noise behind her, but her attention was on Wall-E. She smiled a little. "That's up to the boss man, here. Wall-E? I know Daniel hasn't been very nice to you guys. Should he be allowed to help?"
James looked like he might absolutely explode, but Wall-E's little shrug and chirp derailed him. Arcadia met James's eyes defiantly. "Looks like Wall-E's going to be the bigger man here and accept an apology. Feel like giving one?" She snapped her mouth shut, knowing she'd already gone pretty far and that she should have just left the situation alone rather than snark at him, but she couldn't unsay it. To her relief, though, James didn't snap back; he just strode away from them and out of the building.
Sheryl, though, pulled Daniel toward her in a hug and spoke over his head to Arcadia. "We just want our son to be safe. To- to have enough to eat. To have a future."
"We know that," McCrea said gently. "We all want that, for everyone here. But you have to believe us, you have to trust us, that...well...things have changed over the past seven hundred years." He smiled kindly to soften the statement. "It doesn't have to be 'us or them.' There's just us- all of us. Robots and humans." He glanced down at Wall-E and at Hal on his "shoulder." "And cockroaches. We can do this. We can make the world what we want it to be. What it should be. We have a chance to make everything right again, for everyone. We all want the same thing. Don't we all want that?" The colonists murmured again. It was hard to argue. "For ourselves, for our children."
"For the planet," Emile put in, then shrugged when Arcadia raised an eyebrow at him. "What? As long as we're being sappy..."
McCrea grinned at him but nodded in agreement. "I guess it's hard not to be sappy when you're talking about giving the world a future. But that's exactly what we can do here. If we do it right." He held out his hand to Sheryl, who looked dubious. Arcadia wasn't surprised at her reluctance to buy into McCrea's speech; she carried too much of the old world with her. Cynicism was hard to shed. Arcadia knew from experience, from expecting trouble from the human colonists at every turn.
Daniel, however, grabbed McCrea's hand and gave it a solid shake. "Deal," he said.
Daniel's sudden departure from his parents' doctrine didn't fix things overnight, nor did anyone expect it to. But his behavior toward the robots did change instantly, and his parents grew less vocal about their concerns. Arcadia didn't doubt they still had them, but at least they weren't trying to make anyone else suffer for their own fears.
The Hyperion landed safely, an elegant little thing next to the stately Axiom, and Arcadia sat down in the dirt and cried when Jacobs investigated the ship and came back out to tell her that it carried gene banks full of flora and fauna. The colony was nowhere near the point where they could use any of it, but the day was coming, and the hope it gave her overwhelmed. Emile and Jacobs had no idea how to deal with her sobs, but fortunately Wall-E and Eve suffered no such limitation, Wall-E taking her left side to pat her shoulder soothingly and Eve rubbing her other shoulder with one fin. Eve cooed at her while Wall-E dipped his optic units, trying to figure out why good news made her sad.
She leaned her head against Wall-E's. "It's okay," she blubbered, giving a loud sniff and dripping tears onto his casing. "It's okay."
"Plaaants," he said. She nodded, smiling despite her tears. He gave her a little poke with one hand. "Oooo?"
"Me, help plant them?" She wiped at her nose as he nodded. "Sure, I'll help, if you want me to." She looked around. "I don't think there'll be any shortage of volunteers, though."
He clicked his hands together and danced in place. "Oooooh." He buzzed over to a garden bed and gestured to the young plants there. "Oooo plant." He clicked his hands together, then looked to the bed beside it. He zipped sideways to investigate that one, as well. "Plant," he said, not even looking their way, just gesturing at the rich dirt with one hand. He pointed back and forth between the two beds, clearly trying to decide if they should put their future plants in one, the other, or both. "Cadah," he called. He pointed definitively at the first bed. "Plant."
Eve giggled and floated toward him. They joined hands, their discussion lost on the breeze as they talked plants and future plans.
Future plans. For the first time in a long time, Arcadia looked forward without trepidation to what those plans might bring, and all because of someone she had created.
All because of Wall-E.