0 sat in the room for a long time.
She was quiet, 0. The Scientist had made her first, an experiment: an imperfect one at that. After he'd given her life, he set her down, patted her stiff, denim head and said, "Hello." And she didn't respond. She stared at him, her eyes wide. "I'm Dr. Oppenheimer." Still no response. The Scientist grew confused, but after a moment, decided to try something. He clapped, under the table, where she couldn't see.
He clapped several times and still, nothing. So that was it, then. She was deaf. She would be of no use to him. A waste of a perfectly good part of his soul. He swept her aside and began working on the creations that would matter.
What he failed to take into account was that she was bright. She learned how to fix things, how to create, and, perhaps most importantly, how to communicate. The Scientist had a book full of hands making words and she learned it, every last page.
0 was deaf, but she was not silent.
When he made 1, 0 had looked on from a shelf where she'd made her home. When he breathed, her eyes lit up: perhaps this was someone to talk to. She jumped down. 1 looked at her mistrustfully, then she began signing away. "Speak English," he'd commanded, but she couldn't hear him. When she finally tried to speak, everything was garbled. 1 pronounced her not worth his time and left.
This crushed her. When 2 breathed, she didn't even come off the shelf.
3 and 4 had given her a ray of hope. Not one, but two, who couldn't talk, like her! But when the scientist clapped below them, they responded, and they talked to each other in clicks and flashes of their eyes. They only spoke to each other. And when 0 tried to flash her eyes at the wall, believing that maybe she could do it, nothing happened. She felt the house shake, but could not hear the machine-gun fire outside.
5 seemed to be nothing special ('like me!' she thought), but as soon as the Scientist put him down, he took the man's pen and fixed it, then 2 came in and took him away. 0 was alone again. She was beginning to think she'd always be alone.
6 stayed in the workshop a very long time. The scientist had taken several pens (including the one that 5 had fixed so lovingly) and made them 6's fingers. When he awoke, he took a pile of paper and began sketching things he saw around the workshop. He sketched the Scientist, his tools, his little piece of jewelry…and then he saw 0. He climbed up.
"Can I draw you?" he asked. 0 stared at him, and 6 took a piece of paper and began sketching her. "Who are you?" he asked, about halfway through the sketch.
0 had a firmer grasp on the Quiet Language (as she called it) and held her hand up with her fingers and thumb touching. "Zero?" asked 6. 0 nodded and showed him her back.
"Can you speak?" he asked. 0 just stared at him, confused, then touched her lips and the side of her head. "I'm sorry—" he said, but 0 took his hands and shook her head. She put her hands in front of her, on top of each other, and separated them, then touched where her audio sensors should be. "You can't hear," 6 said, understanding dawning. He thought for a moment, then took a second scrap of paper out and wrote, 'Talk?'
0 opened her mouth and let the garbled words pour out. She then shut it self-consciously and looked away. 6 touched her hand and, when she looked up at him, he smiled. 0 smiled, too, and touched her hand to her chin, bringing it out. 6 finished the sketch of her.
They both watched as 7 came alive, but before the Scientist had even a chance to say anything, she leapt out of the window and down to the street. 0 watched her run off, then turned back to 6. He was sketching that piece of jewelry again. She touched his shoulder and he looked up at her, then she raised her eyebrow. 6 shrugged and finished his sketch. 6 heard something boom outside.
One evening, as the Scientist was working on 8, 0 gave 6 his key. She'd found it in the Scientist's desk, and while she didn't care for it, she knew 6 enjoyed things like that. She was right: he'd put it on his neck and never taken it off.
0 hated 8, because he took 6 away. They watched as the Scientist handed 8 a pair of scissors that 8 then snapped in half. The Scientist, pleased, called 6 down. "I have to go," said 6, touching his chest and pointing to the Scientist. 0 nodded, then watched as the Scientist said some things, then 6 pointed at her. She hid, but not quickly enough.
If she'd been able to hear, she would have heard the Scientist say, "Oh, that. I thought it was long gone. It has no place among you, Six. One to protect you, Two to inspire you, Three and Four to teach and define you, Five to guide you, and you, Six, you to lead them. Zero to do what? Sit there silent? Unable to even hear you?"
"She's smart," said 6.
"It's mute," the Scientist patiently explained. "It'll be of no use."
"She," said 6, gripping his key. "Not it."
"Eight, take him," said the Scientist, so 6 had no choice when he was hefted over 8's shoulder and taken out. 0 couldn't even say anything.
When 9 arrived and the Scientist died, she didn't come down. It wasn't until 9 left that she finally jumped off the shelf and followed him.
She watched from the shadows as 2 was taken, as 9 made it back to the cathedral. She debated making herself known, but when she saw the shadows of 1 and 8 on the top floor, she knew she'd done the right thing by staying put. She made herself a place to hide in the shadows of that great building.
It was a miracle she didn't die in the fire. The building had collapsed all around her, and it was only through sheer luck that she was able to lift the boards that had collapsed on her. She'd run out, and providence ensured that none of the remaining dolls had seen her. It was wonderful seeing 6 again. But she stayed still, silent, and hidden, even from the balloons.
She witnessed the burial of 2, and the horror of the Seamstress, and still didn't make a noise. She noticed 8 didn't come back, and so, so many times it took all she had to not say anything. But she knew who she was. She knew her place.
She almost made herself known after the building had blown up, destroying the B.R.A.I.N. with it. After all, the war was over now, right? It was okay to be useless, now. She watched the dolls celebrate and make merry, and she saw 6 carried around by a now one-eyed 5. She felt…conflicted, watching that. She was happy 6 had made friends. But, at the same time, she knew she had now been replaced. This was no place for her.
At least that was what she thought until she saw 6 make the sign for her name. 5 looked intrigued. He was talking about her! Now was the time to make herself known! She brushed off the dirt, calibrated her eyes, and was about to step out when she saw 5 chase the record down the hill. Then, they all saw it.
She stayed in her hiding place, horrified, but silent, as it took 5. She ran behind the machine when they reached the bridge, watching in terror as 6 stopped 7 from destroying it. The machine snatched him, took him, and dropped him.
0 made a noise, then. It was little more than a shriek of panic, a garbled yell of someone watching the only thing they knew, and loved, being taken away, before jumping off the side of the cliff towards him. She didn't care if they saw her, didn't care if they'd heard her cry. She held the sides of the cliff, scaling them like an animal, before reaching the river below. 6 was there, held in the middle of the stream by a stick lodged in the key around his neck. She swam out to get him, grabbing his body and dragging it to the shore where she could hold it and cry in peace.
There was no place left for her now. Truly no place left.
She wasn't sure how long she remained there, holding 6. Days. On the second day she saw 2's body wash up on the shore, a coin on his eyes. She took his body, too, and hauled it onto the shore. This doll she hadn't known. She ran her fingers down his face and thought to herself, 'Maybe he would have been kind to me.'
The world was dead. Her only friend was dead. She couldn't help but think that she should be dead, too.