Chapter 14: A Question of Willpower

August 2184

For once, Kisa was at the apartment for the second evening in a row. Polaris was in the kitchen when she came in, still dressed in his station attendant uniform as he'd gotten home a little late. "Are we going to work together tonight?" she asked.

"Oh, sorry, it'll have to wait a couple of hours," he said. "I have to take the final exam in my class tonight, but I could get in some sketching when I get back." But after he said it, he wondered how she hadn't known the class was tonight. She had certainly known about it the other day.

"That's fine," Kisa said. "How much longer is your class meeting?"

"We have one more session Wednesday, the last one," Daniel said. He, Susan, and Kay were sitting on the other side of the counter, chatting with him and each other. "After grading all the class projects over the weekend, I have to go over all the tests with a fine-toothed comb tomorrow. And some students think we have it easy."

"You really shouldn't take on teaching so many classes, especially last-minute," Susan said, playing prodding his shoulder. "I get worried sometimes that your workload is going to cause you problems; it already costs your social life."

"I'm fine," Daniel insisted.

"Why do you need to comb the tests?" Kay asked. "They don't have any hair."

While the two professors explained to Kay that it was just another expression, Kisa told Polaris, "I'll wait here in the apartment. Do well on your test."

"Thanks, I think I'm ready to handle it," he said. "You can hang around with the others this evening. I believe Tom was bugging Abe to play a game with him in the living room later on."

"Probably not." She seemed to think this concluded things, so headed to the stairs.

But Daniel stopped her with a question before she left. "So what are you doing here again?" he asked. "I barely see you around once a week."

"He was asked to paint a portrait of me," she replied.

"Is that like a picture?" Kay asked.

"It is a picture of a person," Kisa said. "But of a higher value than a photograph because it takes more effort."

Polaris nodded. "That's right. I paint pictures of people to honor them, to make something beautiful for others to remember them by. It's a very old tradition of the world."

"You can remember someone with a photograph," Kay said. "Although there is not much reason to remember someone who is right there."

Kisa shook her head. "Don't ask me why, but they say that paintings have more soul than a photograph. I think it's more about the quality and effort. The more work put into an item, especially work done by hand, the more the item is valued."

"So the paintings must have a narrower margin of error than the photograph," Kay said. "More valuable items are crafted from higher quality materials or require a more complex processing."

"That's a part of it," Susan said. "But art is another thing like music, which we've talked about before. There are some things related to emotions that you either get or you don't. To explain why often requires a lot of study. But it's odd that you don't really know, Kisa. You dress so wonderfully that I figured you must have some artistic talent as well."

"I don't dress myself," she said. "It pleases those I work for, as a part of the style of their whole lives."

"You do come from a household with high style," Polaris said. Sure, the two professors lived here, but there were also working-class reploids, Abe who was retired, and Naomi who was supported by her husband. "Why do you even live here?"

She eyed him severely for a moment, then relaxed to her indifference when it was clear he wasn't going to say anything more about her other home. "It's also a crowded and boisterous household," she said. "If I try to take a break there, I'm sure to get interrupted with someone's request. I asked to have a separate place so that I may have some peace and quiet being alone for a brief time. This is what I was given as a reward."

"That's like how I came here," Kay said. "It was a reward for working a full year with no accidents at the plant. But it unnerved me to be alone in a place without work. Mr. Reynolds was kind and let me take care of the maintenance here so I had something to do, and the others here are good company even though I don't understand all they do."

Kisa didn't agree with that. "Being alone with no work to do, that is what I find most peaceful. But you must have very different work from me. And what are you making, Polaris?"

"It's a recipe I found for sauteed zucchini coated in Parmesan cheese," he explained. "They had some good ones at the supermarket today. I'm also going to make spaghetti with meat sauce. And at some point, I'm going to have to get changed for class too. Actually, I like being alone when I'm working on my art, but I like being with people too. Cooking's good for that."

"I was going to help, but you're cutting them up more quickly than I ever could," Daniel said.

He smiled. "If you want, you can work on the sauce; it's simple enough."

"Maybe I'll join you for dinner," Kisa said.

"You should!" Susan said enthusiastically. "We'll be happy to have you there."

All that stood in the way of his citizenship now was a test and a judge. But as Kisa had suggested, the judge was the easy part. Daniel knew many people in Evergrande's justice system and had said that several were willing to accept him based on his work records and personality grades. Despite helping there, the professor wouldn't help with the test. That was all on Polaris' shoulders.

'Which of the following air traffic lanes is highest in altitude by law: local transport, international transport, business, government, or general?'

'International transport.'

Some of it tried to be tricky, like a question about air traffic laws. Technically, vehicles classified as international transport weren't allowed to fly over the city. They had to land at ports outside the city to be transferred to local transport vehicles. Then again, it was the highest channel and the question didn't specify being over the city.

'When was Evergrande City officially founded?'

'October 17, 2159'

Others were easy, asking for simple facts or well-known laws. Local lore was there, but being a young mushrooming city, there wasn't much history to memorize about it. While there were some international law questions, it was mostly things he'd already known, like age requirements for government representation, the basic structure of the political world, and vital laws that detailed citizen rights and duties.

'Explain the purpose and reasoning behind the Technological Quality and Safety Review laws.'

Then there were questions on subjects he hadn't been fully familiar with before the class. Daniel was a good teacher and Polaris had studied when he wasn't working, but he still didn't feel entirely sure of his answers on some subjects. Such as the TQSR laws, which he had thought were unknown guidelines and not official laws. It was an issue with intelligent technologies like reploids, of making sure that there were no fatal or crippling flaws in their construction and programming. Leaning about it, he wondered how well it was enforced or reviewed. He had met a few reploids in ARC who did have such issues built into them.

If we find proof that it's being ignored, we would have an excellent reason to revolt.

The classroom was quiet, where the tick of the wall clock, the occasional tap of a stylus on the testing tablets, and the less frequent clearing of someone's throat were clear disruptions. Everyone was focused on completing the test, save for Daniel who was grading essays for another summer course and observing them for problems. In this environment, Delta seemed louder as well. But its comments shouldn't be distracting him from the test.

You're really relying only on your own knowledge to pass this vital test? What became of, what was that saying, thinking outside the box?

Polaris spared a moment to think that Delta couldn't think outside of its box if it tried, then checked back over his response to the short answer question on the TQSR laws. While Daniel had joked that he wouldn't be grading them on language quality, it seemed like a good idea to make sure it was correct anyhow.

We really don't understand each other here and that's going to cause problems. You need to listen to me.

He continued ignoring Delta while finishing his test.

By the time Polaris got back home that Monday night, Kisa only had half an hour to be there until she was called back to the Pajari household. Tuesday, after he was done working, she arrived at his station and invited him back to the mansion. It was to decide on what she should be wearing for her portrait.

Right as they got in the door, a woman in a business suit stopped them from heading up to the third floor. "Kisa, I thought you were planning for Lakeisha's baby shower this weekend."

"I will be finalizing the plan tonight, m'am," she said. "It will be turned in tomorrow morning."

The stern woman frowned at her. "That won't be good enough; I want to see it now before you come up with something boring."

"I was told not to let you see it until Thursday."

"What?" she asked, her bright red lips slipping into a snarl as if she'd been insulted. "That's..."

"That's the orders," Kisa said. Not even this bullying would get her to show emotions. Was it really good self-control or lack of full emotional programming?

Whatever it was with the girl reploid, the woman was willing to drop the issue for now. "Fine. But what are you doing dragging in some fellow from the subway?"

"The master has asked him to paint a portrait of me for him, that's all," she said.

"And we're supposed to give in to is indulgences all the time, are we?"

Kisa answered with a warning. "If you're not careful, your words will no longer be tolerated around here."

The woman shook her head. "Well at least he could have the dignity to be bothered by such... things. This party had better be good." Then she headed off, grumbling to herself.

Can't we at least choke that jerk to death? That alone could improve the world greatly.

"That was rather harsh," Polaris said as he started heading back up the stairs with Kisa.

"Sorry about that," she said. "She's one of father's daughter-in-laws and has ambitions. I can't say anything further to someone outside the organization."

Even if she couldn't say anything, he was able to figure out what was going on based on the number of interruptions that came of their meeting to decide on a single outfit. The Pajari family had many members, but it seemed there was nothing decided on who would take over the organization and wealth when Mr. Pajari retired or passed on. Because of this, small events that should bring the family closer, like this baby shower, ended up as messy dramas as various people tried to take control of them. Kisa wasn't allowed to share the plans with anyone who was trying to see them.

"Why don't we close the door?" Polaris suggested when it was just them for more than a couple of minutes.

"I can't do that, not as this time of day," she said. "We can discuss things in the closet if that helps."

"Right," he said. Kisa had a very cute and girly bedroom, but more impressive was the walk-in closet where her clothes were kept. At one end, there was a child-sized vanity with lights and three mirrors, in order to make sure she was well-dressed. On either wall, there were stacks and rows of many fancy clothes. There was enough here that she could wear a different outfit for every day of the year, maybe even with some left over.

Polaris could not help but think that this was excessive for anyone, much less a household personal assistant reploid. What made it more difficult was that Kisa wouldn't pick out any of them as her favorite, or even her preference. One of the maids helped dress her and that was it. Did she even care about what she wore?

"Well if you had to pick out one on your own for one day," Polaris said, trying to get her to choose. He had taken to sitting on the floor while discussing it with her. "Even just a certain style or color. I could help you put together a full outfit if we have somewhere to start with."

"What would my choice do to affect your work?" Kisa asked.

Her tone made it seem sarcastic, but he wondered if she really understood it. "I want to capture who you are in your portrait," he explained. "But since I haven't spent much time with you until lately, I'm not sure of what I'm looking for. Seeing what you prefer and like will let me know what kind of style I should choose, the color scheme, the setting, and many other parts of the composition."

"There isn't a lot to understand about me, not that I can tell you," she said.

"Kisa, where are you?" a man called into the room.

Although she had suggested they work in the closet to avoid interruptions, she immediately went to the doorway to answer, "I'm in here. Did you need something?"

"Yes, I heard that you were in charge of the baby shower later this week..."

"I'm finalizing the plans this evening. And I'm not to share them with you until Thursday."

How much willpower was she allowed? She had enough to decide to help him out, and enough to want to be on her own occasionally. But here, it seemed she had little choice to ignore the family she served. More importantly, did he dare try to integrate that into his work? It would be much safer to just make something pretty.

"Why is there a guy in your closet?" a woman asked. They seemed like another couple in the family, probably also ambitious.

"Don't worry, it's nothing unsavory," Polaris said, smiling nervously at them.

"He's painting a portrait of me for the master and we're deciding on the composition," Kisa said.

"Oh, that quest of his," the woman said. After a quick glance, she tapped one of the hangers nearby. "Just go with this and some matching heels. That'd be a real stunner." She chuckled, then headed out of the room.

Kisa waited for them to go, then looked at the dress picked out. It was a vivid red dress covered in sparkling sequins and feathery trim. "Would that be appropriate?"

"Let me see," he said, waiting for her to pull it off the bar. It had a wide neckline and part of the back cut out. "I'm not sure. You don't seem like a sequins and sparkles girl to me." Plus, that style seemed more for an actual woman who wanted to emphasize a sexual but strong image.

"Good enough for me," she said, putting the red dress back. "What do I seem like?"

"Hmm." Maybe giving her somewhere to start with to make her decision wouldn't be too much. "Something more somber, all prim and proper like a school girl... no, school teacher, someone who wouldn't compromise her morals." Even if her morals were skewed in working for a crime family. Prim would be a good look for her.

"I don't quite get your allusion, but it sounds suitable," Kisa said, walking further into her closet. "If that is a style, then I like that." She paused, taking out a muted blue and gray dress that seemed made of wool.

"You should probably get something that's not too hot to be in with this summer heat," Polaris suggested.

"I should have thought of that." She put that dress back.

They eventually came up with a dark violet dress to go with her lavender hair. While the dress had long sleeves and a high collar, it was of a light material that seemed comfortable for her to sit in for a few hours at a time. It had fancy buttons and stitching on the torso, with a skirt that was meant to be supported by a petticoat. Polaris pointed out some accessories that might go with it, like a few of her hats or bonnets, some hair ribbons, certain shoes, or gloves. If she really wasn't sure, then the maid who usually helped her could finish it off.

Wednesday went by fairly normal. He spent the morning playing with Whisker, then went to work. After his shift, he went home to make supper for himself and his neighbors. Then he had his final civics class to attend.

Anya seemed happy. "My guardian's trusting me enough that she's letting me go to a party and a concert this weekend because I've been working hard at summer classes," she said. "Not like it has any chance of being a crazy party, but she wouldn't let me do anything she wasn't also doing at first."

"That's great," Polaris said. "What's the party for?"

She smiled and brushed her black and red hair back. "Can't really say at this point, but it should be a good one. Anyhow, I'm trying to talk her into coming to the concert. I think she really wants to, but is concerned about being seen there; she likes being proper and all, to be a good example, though she'd like to have more fun. It's part of a battle of the bands and the winner gets to play as a local group at big events. I've got a few I'm hoping to win, because they really deserve it."

"I think I've heard that over the radio, when it's playing at the station some days," he said. He thought it had a low cover charge to come watch the music battles, so it could be something different to do if one was on his days off.

At the start of class, Daniel had them move tables to the side so they could put their chairs in a circle to talk. "Since all we have to really do today is pass out test results and discuss them, I figured we might as well have have a casual talk about politics too," he said. "Now I know some of you don't think politics is good for causal talk, but there is something most of you should be concerned with in the near future. Next year is a big election year: what about?"

"It's the election for Evergrande's mayor and two of the regional representatives to the World Council," one of the other students answered.

Their teacher nodded. "Right. As you should remember, the current political structure of the Asian region means that the mayor of Evergrande City has administrative powers over a third of the Asian population, including several smaller cities and towns. All of the major issues are going to come up: environmental restoration, the handling of our portion of Eurasia crash site, labor division, development versus conversation, weapon control, these are things you're going to be hearing a lot about in the coming months. I also think that balancing the power of businesses and industries is also going to play into things, due to financial and personal scandals that have been uncovered or suspected."

"What about human and reploid relations?" Anya asked. "I remember there being a fuss when the laws encouraging more employment of humans went out, and then I'm sure that Polaris here becoming a citizen isn't going to go unnoticed."

"I'm not entirely sure how that will play into things," Daniel said. "The employment law was primarily an attempt to close the deep gap between rich and poor and really didn't have a lot to do with reploids on the debate surface. And I'm really not sure how much of an impact one reploid becoming a citizen will have on the greater community, at least not immediately. I hope that it will make more people rethink how they see reploids, though."

I have ideas about how we can have an impact. Make them regret their lack of respect, the ones who are disrespectful.

No. "I hope it's a good impact on others," Polaris said.

At the end of the discussion, Daniel sent them their test results. Polaris had gotten a 94% on it, more than enough to help him pass the class. "I've got things arranged for a judge to approve of your citizenship on Friday," Daniel told him. "It'll be an open court session, so you could invite some people to witness. While it shouldn't take long, you should keep the whole afternoon free in case they come up with more paperwork for you to fill out."

On Thursday, Kisa wasn't in, but Abe had pulled Polaris to go shopping. The old man had correctly guessed that Polaris didn't have any clothes suitable for a formal occasion, so they went out to a men's store to get him something for the next day. The store didn't have a lot of variety when it came to style, but there were a lot of colors, patterns, and textures to mix together.

"When I was a young fellow, I had a lot of fun picking out the most obnoxiously bright suits and claiming it was still formal wear," Abe said as he picked out a suit jacket that was bright yellow with orange and brown plaid lines. "I raised being an annoyance to an art style!"

Polaris laughed at that. "That would be more fun for you than those who had to deal with you. I don't think something that loud would work for me, though. My hair's already bright, so it'd look bad."

Abe waved that off. "Bah, it's supposed to look so bad that it wraps around to becoming good. But that fits me. With you... yeah, I don't think so. Black would look good on you."

"Yeah," Polaris said, but he didn't want to be wearing a black suit. It was too close to what he had been. "Maybe something in a dark earthen tone."

"Brown? My wife would've been a better help, I fear. She was always going on about matching colors to clothes she liked when shopping. For me, I just cared that it fit in most cases."

He was a widower, but Polaris hadn't heard much about when Abe's wife died. Maybe during the Maverick Wars? Or some other time. Sometimes he seemed sad, but mostly fond of the memories. "She must have been a remarkable person, to put up with you and your loud outfits," Polaris said in jest.

That made him laugh. "Right! I ought to show you my wedding photos at some time. They wanted me in a spotless starchy white suit, but I still had fun with it. Must've blinded half the church!"

Definitely had to see that sometime; Polaris found himself thinking of mostly sequins or glitter to make a white suit extra shiny.

Going back to looking for something to wear, Polaris found himself recalling Kisa's closet. This traditional masculine style didn't have many options, but she had so many. And yet, here he was carefully thinking through how he wanted to present himself tomorrow when she didn't care what the maid dressed her up in. It might seem like a simple switch of stereotypes. But was it?

Feh, even I can answer that one. She doesn't have the willpower to choose. You do. And it really wasn't fair that it was that way. Reploids were supposed to be self-aware intelligent beings, like humans. So they should have the ability to decide on things themselves, even on something as simple as what to wear. Kisa probably had to work hard just to get the will to ask for breaks from being a servant. Things should not be that way. We can agree on that.

That was a dangerous train of thought to follow. He should avoid agreeing with what the virus thought. In this case, though, would ignoring it be a worse choice? But what did he do about something like this? The virus' usual plan was just as bad, trading one form of willpower control for another. Still, it wasn't like it would be as simple as convincing other reploids to develop their willpower and assertiveness. Not all of them would have the will to start that in the first place.

We'll unite the reploids to overthrow the humans and then let everyone be free to choose what they want. Everyone that matters, at least.

Things did not work that way. It wasn't like he could turn infected reploids to uninfected reploids. While the virus could be pushed into a passive state within himself, he wasn't sure it would work for others. The reason it worked for him was because he was based off Zero's design and because he'd had the assistance of Scorpio. Very few people in the world knew the virus' workings like the scorpion did. Plus, he didn't think that a world where the humans were treated like reploids were now would be much better.

They'd make a lot more of a fuss about it, since the things many reploids lack, they have innately. They're the ones at fault, being neglectful towards us.

At that point, Abe nudged him. "Hey, Earth to Polaris. Don't get too spacy."

"Huh, oh! Sorry." This could be bad. If he had to explain himself...

"What's up?" Abe asked. "You seem like you have something on your mind."

What did he say now? His neighbor seemed like a good friend. Just, not enough to let him know about the virus. "I'm not sure you'd understand, but when I think about all this, I feel a little guilty," he said while trying to measure what should be said. "I've met a lot of other reploids and when I get to know them, I can see how they're being held back by things outside of their control. And then here I am, about to be recognized as a full citizen and I can't even explain how I managed to get to this point. While I want to help the others earn their freedoms too, I'm not sure how to do it. Or even if I should. Some of them seem content with their place in life, but that's because they're cut off from imagining themselves in any other way. It's been bothering me for a while now."

"Hmm, seems like a tough spot," Abe said. "I've heard of some reploids being built like that, made so that they're happiest doing their job, but then they don't get any extra... mind stuff, programs, whatever, in order to consider anything else. I think Kay's like that, actually. Kyoto is too, but not as strict as she is since he talks about trying to improve his position."

"She seems like she tries, but I don't know how much she had to start with."

He shrugged. "Maybe it's because of your age? You are one of the older ones around."

"Well in order to develop, they'd have to have the capacity to be better," he said. It reminded him of Scorpio's experiment and the two weeks about when he'd craved extra materials to develop his potential. "Experience might factor into it."

"Well then you're in the same boat as me, so to speak," Abe said. "You can see what's causing the younger folks problems, but you also know that if you solve the issue yourself, they won't learn from the experience and just get into trouble again. As elders, we need to teach the younger generation so that they're not all idiots." Then he grinned. "But you can also mess with them, push them into the experiences that they will learn from. They've got to learn from themselves. Nothing says that you can't nudge them in the right direction, though."

That wasn't quite what he'd been troubled with. But maybe it was something to think about. "I see. Thanks Abe. But I think we'd better finish up before the staff here gets annoyed with us."

"Bah, everyone could learn some patience by being annoyed every once in a while," Abe said jokingly.

After some more searching, Polaris found an outfit he liked. It had a brown jacket and pants, put together with a pale yellow shirt, an orange and black patterned tie, a black belt, and black shoes, the last two taken from what he already had. It should be suitable for tomorrow and other formal events that he might attend in the future.

On Friday, Kyoto said that he wanted to treat Polaris to dinner in celebration of his citizenship. It would be fun and while he liked cooking, one night off would be nice. He was off work today in order to be at the courthouse at one-thirty in the afternoon. Since he would need a witness other than the judge, he asked Abe to come along with him.

There were a number of courts in the city, but the two largest in Evergrande were the top judicial authorities for the area, split into the civil and criminal courts. Polaris arrived at the Central Civil Courthouse, a building that liked its domes, columns, and arched windows. Inside, it was a warm and welcoming place, with a comfortable looking seating area for those who had to wait or fill out forms. What security features the place had blended in, such as the security glass on the sunny windows and the simply dressed security officers watching over who came and went. This place didn't need to be as overt about its authority as the criminal courts.

Fortunately, they didn't have to wait long in the lobby for the judge to call them in. In the courtroom, Polaris got quite a surprise as the room was full of people who had come to see this. Most of his neighbors didn't have to work today were there: Daniel, Kyoto, Susan (who had Whisker there on a leash), and even Hue. Some of his classmates from the civics course and art students who helped him on the mural were there too. His boss at his current job was there, as well as a few coworkers he'd known in the construction company. There was even a small crew from a local internet news site.

A news site? Briefly, he worried about what would happen if this event became widely known. People that he'd rather not deal with would be able to find him. But this wasn't the time to worry about that. "Wow, I didn't think this would be a big event," Polaris said, getting some chuckles from people there.

"Why shouldn't it be one?" the judge asked in a friendly manner. "It's certainly unique. I normally swear in citizens of the city that move here in groups every few months, but this is special enough that we can make an exception. Come on up here. Is the man with you one you'd like to have as a witness to this?"

"Yes, he is," Polaris said, going to the front of the courtroom. He spared a second to touch his cat on her forehead, as Susan and Whisker were at the end of one row. The cat looked up at him, but seemed to be settled in on the woman's lap.

The judge nodded. "Good. We need another witness to sign the papers, and it seemed best to bring in an authority among your peers."

An authority among his peers? Polaris wished strongly that the judge meant Able, since he was an authority as his current boss and employer. But there was also someone more worrying who that could be...

"Would you come up here, Commander Silver Wolf?"

Of course it would be a Maverick Hunter. Polaris looked over at the reploid who came up to join him and Abe up there. Silver Wolf reminding him of Anubis, actually, with a wolf's head and tail but a human body otherwise. Built like a muscular and angular man, he wore a base armor of black and silver that likely couldn't be removed but made an acceptable alternative to full clothing. His head and tail were were covered in short and sleek silver fur. In acknowledgment of this event, he wore a checkered black and white vest along with a white bowtie. Still, his black eyes were sharp, keeping watch over things with an inner sternness.

"I'm honored that I could be a witness to this," Silver Wolf said in a deep steady voice. "After all, it's only the second time that a reploid has been acknowledged as a full citizen of the world."

"I hope it's not the last time," Polaris said, partly to cover up his anxiety. At least it wasn't X, he told himself.

"Indeed," the commander agreed.

With the witnesses decided on, the judge began talking about the rights and responsibilities that a citizen of the city and world had. At several points, he asked Polaris questions to make sure that he understood it all. He went along with it. After all, the news crew and probably the court were recording this. Then he had to swear an oath of loyalty, to follow and uphold the laws of both city and world, to serve the community however he could, to respect his fellow citizens and the world, and to not seek division of the community without just cause.

With that done, the judge had Polaris sign his certificate of citizenship, along with Abe and Silver Wolf. The judge then signed his approval and that was it. He was now legally acknowledged as an equal to humans.

I had lots of things to do with this chapter, but it leads into another transition in this fic. Things get fairly heavy next chapter.

In the original version, the commander was named Silver Plinker, named because of how his main weapon sounded. I thought it was clever at the time, anyhow. He was more human in form, with heavy armor and missiles. This time, I wanted him to be a more intimidating authority figure, hence the name and appearance change.