Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The swing's hinge creaked sadly as Margo's rubber boot gently scraped the ground beneath her. She swayed gently, but only with the push of a light wind at her back; her mind was not in the present, so she barely even registered the fact she was still sitting on a swing at all.
Instead, her mind was consumed with the previous day--that moment when the boy of her dreams spent one moment looking into her eyes. Smiling.
Josh not only knew she existed, but he actually paid attention to her, and the things she liked. He had actually come up to her, and spoken directly to her--it was harmless chit-chat, yes, and it probably didn't mean very much, except that he was a nice guy and thought she was a nice girl.
But that's not how she would remember it.
"But, he doesn't like me, and he never will," Margo spoke aloud, echoing Natasha's sentiments from the previous day. "It's hopeless."
With that depressing realization, she snapped back to reality, taking a heavy sigh as she looked out across the empty lake.
Behind her, an approaching Ian listened to Margo's words with an uncomfortable knot in his throat.
He was fairly certain she wasn't talking about him, but that actually made it feel worse. Margo's crush on Josh Seymour was pretty common knowledge--though Margo never really seemed to realize that--and lately, it had really started to bother Ian.
Ian couldn't exactly find fault with Josh, but that didn't matter. He still didn't like him.
For a moment, he considered leaving Margo to her daydreams, but a recent conversation with Mrs. Kane came to mind and brought back the confidence he'd had when he had first started looking for Margo after school.
"The only thing standing in your way is you, Ian. You're the one making the choices to act like you do. Imagine if you did something nice for people--don't you think they'd see you differently?"
"Maybe... but like, what?"
"Well... I know Margo always likes getting presents--why don't you try getting something nice for her? Something thoughtful? I think you underestimate how much she'd like to have a friend like you."
When he spotted Margo standing up from the swings, he knew he had his chance. He quickly hopped up behind her--definitely not sneakily enough, because she noticed him instantly.
She said nothing, though. Instead, she just looked at him, her eyes full of curiousity.
"Um... hi," Ian said after a few moments of intense blinking. "Can I talk to you for a sec?"
Margo winced, taking a half-step back from him when he continued coming closer. Her eyes flickered from Ian to the road, surveying all of her escape routes thoroughly before she finally mustered the courage to respond. "I-I-I guess," she stammered. "Wren's not around, is she?"
"No, it's just me," Ian responded coldly, scrunching his nose in disgust. Wasn't it obvious he was alone?
"A-a-alright," Margo said after another few seconds. "What's up?"
"I've just... been thinking. About Halloween and stuff. I wanted to tell you... I really did mean what I said. I wasn't just spewing stuff to make you stop crying."
"... I don' really understand. Why wouldn't you mean it?"
"Well, 'cause... I dunno, Margo. Sometimes you're just... scared, of like, everything, and everybody's gotta soften things up for you so you aren't such a crybaby all the time. So people lie to you to get you to stop."
"But that's what I'm trying to tell you--from now on, I'm not gonna do that. I think... I think you're really... you know. Nice. And stuff. I don't wanna lie to you anymore. I... ya know. Like you."
Unfortunately, Ian's attempt to "sugar coat" his feelings with complete honesty did him no favors. The second he waited for her to say something in response, she paused, looked him sourly in the eye, and turned around and started to walk away.
"Wait--Margo... That came out really--ugh. I... I got you something?"
Margo stopped. She twisted her chin over her shoulder, and gave him a rather dark, but inquisitive look. Even Margo didn't like being 'bought off', but the sincerity in his eyes made it difficult to leave him hanging. "You did?"
Margo took a deep breath and turned her rubber boots 180-degrees around to face him. There was pounding in her chest; she'd never been given anything from a boy before, and although Ian wasn't exactly the boy she wanted to receive something from, she couldn't help but feel anxious with anticipation.
"You... really got me somefing?"
"Yeah," Ian said with a shrug as he shoved his hand into his pocket and started trying to remove what laid inside. "It's not much, but it took all my allowance... I hope you like it."
"Meet: Mr. Scabby!" Ian flourished his arms as he withdrew a rather large, fat rat with a quivering nose from his pocket. "I know how much you like fuzzy animals, and how much you like those Jimmy Sprocket stories, so I named him Scabby after his pet rat!"
Before Margo even had time to process what was happening, Ian cupped 'Mr. Scabby' in his hands and offered him out to her. "Here!"
Her reaction was not what he expected. Instead of reaching out her hands to take him, she stumbled several steps backwards, her lip quivering and her breathing panicked.
"What's wrong?" Ian asked when she continued to stare, horrified, at the rodent in his hands. "Don't you like him?"
"R... rat... rat..." Margo muttered, her whole body leaning backwards as her eyes grew wider and wider and wider and a whimper escaped her lungs.
Ian scowled, extending Scabby out to her again with an incredibly impatient growl. "Uh, duh, yeah, it's a rat. C'mon, take him!"
He approached one step, she took another step back.
They repeated this dance, until she suddenly took off running when Mr. Scabby made a rather loud 'squeak' from Ian's hands.
Ian instantly took off after her, but with Scabby in his hands he couldn't afford to run fast enough to catch her. "Margo--wait! Come back!! Where are you going?!"
"Get it... away... from... me...!" Margo wheezed back at him as she ran, her face completely plastered with fear. "Please...!"
"What, why?! It's just a rat! It's harmless! Stop being such a chicken!"
"Yes!" Ian had had enough; with his loudest voice possible, he commanded a rather fierce and hot-tempered: "Dammit, Margo--STOP!"
Margo froze immediately--but at the cost of tears. As her feet landed on the top step of the stairs down to the beach, she felt a warm drop cascade from the corner of her eye. She tried to wipe it away hastily, but it was too late; Ian already saw the look on her face.
"What is your problem?!" he snapped, the corner of his lip twitching angrily. "Is this how you always react when someone tries to do something nice for you?!"
"N-n-no, it's just--" Margo paused, still trying to catch her breath. "Not... what I expected."
Ian's scowl deepened even further. "Not what you expected? What'd you want, a freakin' pony?! Is that what I have to do to get you to like me?!"
"No! No, I mean... I just... I don't know." She was at a loss. That certainly wasn't the case (although, who could say no to a pony?!) but she had no idea what else to say. There was absolutely nothing she could do to take back her overreaction, so she did the only thing she could think to do: say nothing at all.
Enraged even further, Ian turned and stomped several feet away.
"Well, Scabby--I guess nobody likes you," he said with a heavy sigh, cradling the rat in his hands for a few long, painful seconds before kneeling to the ground and letting him wander away from his fingers. "Better go find somewhere where you're wanted."
The rat, clearly never having been free before, paused a few more seconds at the tip of Ian's fingers before scuttling away at lightning speed, disappearing almost instantly.
A few seconds later, Margo peeked her head around the bush. "What... what did you do?!" she asked between sniffles, timidly following Ian as he continued to walk away from her.
"I let him go," he snarked in a 'what-do-you-think?' manner, rolling his eyes.
"But... but--he's not wild, is he? He... he could get hurt! Or-or eaten!"
"Well, that's not my problem anymore," Ian growled as he shoved his hands into his pockets. "I tried to give him to you, you didn't want him. Your fault, not mine." Not even stopping to give her another glance, Ian started jogging up the hill towards the road, where he'd soon disappear out of Margo's sight. "See ya later, Margo," he said in a cold voice before zooming beyond her reach.
The moment he was gone, Margo couldn't contain herself any longer.
Nothing she'd felt before this--not all the bullies, the embarrassment, the rejection--had ever hurt this much. "Why am I so stupid?!" she wailed into her hands, which were now covered with the salt from her tears.
The full effect of her reaction began to settle in. It was quite obvious, now, he was just trying to be nice--and she'd messed it up. And possibly led a harmless, furry little critter to it's doom. Nothing could possibly be worse.
"Scaaaabbbbyy.... SCAABBBYY!!" Margo ran up and down the beach, calling the rat's name with a frail hope that it would come running back to her, tail wagging like a miniature canine. She crawled under bushes, snuck around confused adults, chased after anything that moved, and dug under rocks, but it was no use; "Mr. Scabby" was no where to be found.
Exhausted and downtrodden, Margo slunk back to the top of the hill and cowered in defeat. "Why do I gotta mess up everyfing?" she sniffled to herself. "Can't I do somefing right just once?"
At that moment, something white darted across the corner of her vision. Hope completely lost, she almost didn't take a second glance--but when it froze, then darted back and forth across the same patch of sand, she knew it was:
"SCABBY!" Margo almost tripped, she flew down the slope of the beach so quickly. Luck was in her favor; she didn't trip or stumble the entire way to the rat's resting place on the sand.
She approached with caution; she still didn't quite trust that it wouldn't turn into a giant murderous monster and bite her fingers off, or at the very least scatter the second she tried to pick it up.
"Here, Scabby Scabby Scabby," she said in a gentle voice as she lowered her hand, which the rat just looked at with a wiggle of his nose. "I'm not gonna hurt ya!"
Bracing herself for the scariness and the grossness of holding a rat, Margo winced her eyes shut and carefully picked the rodent up from the ground.
"Wow," she wheezed as she stared intently at poor Mr. Scabby's wedge-shaped head. "You're... actually kinna cute!" And much tamer than she expected, as well; perhaps he'd been overfed at the pet store, but he seemed much more lethargic and easy-going than she was always told rats would be.
Margo pet his nose; he squeaked. She nearly dropped him and lost him all over again, but her usual horrible luck be damned, Scabby went nowhere but more nestled into her hand.
It was as if everything that had happened minutes ago between her and Ian had been erased. With Mr. Scabby pressed against her cheek, a feeling of warmth spread from the top of her head to the tips of her toes; though it wasn't the pet she had always dreamed of, it was hers.
And it was given from a boy that liked her for her. Maybe he wasn't as dreamy, well-mannered, and popular as Josh, but there was more to him than she had expected. Just like Mr. Scabby: a little revolting and frightening at first glance, but warm and well-intentioned underneath.
"Another Oil Guzzler please--heavy on the *brzzp* guzzzzzz, ifyaknowwattaknowattamean."
"Are you sure? You've already had--"
"I'm a machine, machine's can't get drunk. Machine's can't get buzzzzzed. Machine's can't love."
"... Alright, Lilobot... if you say so."
The bartender wasn't going to argue with Lilobot, tonight. Every night previously had just been attempt after futile attempt to get her to stop slugging back alcohol like it was her life and breath, and there was nothing left to say. Lil was stubborn, and the barkeep felt pity for her.
Pity... it was something Lilobot was getting used to. She hated that she was.
When she realized that the time was already well after midnight, she slapped down the simoleans to cover her tab and stood up abruptly--nearly clunking over in the process. Clearly, she'd had so much alcohol tonight that her real oil was running a bit thin. Whoops.
"Excuse me," she muttered to the wary bartender after emitting an enflamed burp from her throat. "I suppose... I'll be going."
"I'm calling you a cab," she got in response.
"Oh. Er... yes, that would be suffic *bzzrrpp* ient. Thank you."
The house was dark when she got home--all but a thin sliver of light coming from the garage. Time meant nothing to an inventor; Bradley was obviously still awake.
And she had a bone to pick with him.
"Please tell me you're finished recalibrating that thing already," came Bradley's angry voice from inside the laboratory. "We need to do another test run before I install the tiberium composite."
Lil couldn't see Lamont, but she heard his peppy response clear as day. "Almost, almost! Just chill for a second Brad, you can't rush art."
Bradley groaned as his eyes rolled back into his head. "If that's art, you may as well be finger painting."
This probably wasn't the best time for this, but she wasn't going to get an opportunity that was any better. "Here goes nuttin'," she said in the mimic voice of a wild-west actor, before shoving the glass door to the lab open.
"Hey, Dad!" she said snappily as she wobbled in. "Whatcha woorrrrrkin' on?"
"The accelerated DNA modifier to make Amelia human again--the same thing I've been working on for the last, oh, year?" Brad said with a smart-aleck roll of his eyes. When Lil continued to approach swaying, Brad scowled. "Lil, are you drunk?"
"I have simply been sampling the finest liquors the Steel Stallion has to offer, pop! I'm just a machine, it's not like I can *bzzzrrpp* become intoxicated!"
"You can still impair your positronic brain's ability to function properly by taking in alcohol, Lilobot. That's incredibly dangerous for your hardware."
"Dangerous, shmangerous--not like you aren't working with toxic, radioactive chemicals down here, anyways!"
Bradley groaned; he was growing tired of this. "Lil, we're very busy. What do you want?"
"Well... you're working soooooo*bzzzrrpp*oooo hard to make aunt Amelia human again, I just thought--since you've already gone to the trouble to do all this, that you just go ahead and make me human, too!" Lil put her foot down--metaphorically and physically, almost snapping the tile of floor beneath her in half. "I'm tired of being a simbot! Make me human!"
"Lil. Stop being ridiculous. Go upstairs and go to bed."
"No! I'm staying right here! You brought me into this world, it's your responsibility to make sure I'm happy--and I'm not."
"I don't have time for this right now--go."
"Brad, maybe there's something we can--" Lamont began, but was quickly cut off.
"You two are testing my patience--please, come back when we aren't busy to discuss this, Lil."
Unfortunately, that compromise was not what Lil was looking for. Overcome with desperation, she did the only other thing she thought may work: drop to the floor, getting on her knees to beg.
"Please! You do not understand! I need this! I need to be human!"
"Lil... I'm sorry to tell you this, but," Bradley took a long, deep breath. "That's impossible. You can't just... become human. It doesn't work that way."
"Well, isn't there a way to transfer her neural pathways to a human brain? The electric brain's neural activity is almost identical to a humans," Lamont interjected, shrugging when both Brad and Lil turned to look at him.
Brad, though, gave him a very intense you-aren't-helping glare for his input. "Sure, but say that we spend 5 years developing the technology to do it--where the hell are we supposed to get a body? Snatch one off the street? Grow one in a petri dish? I broke enough ethical codes giving Lil A.I. in the first place, I'm not about to risk my career by getting into a scandal over the moral implications of growing a human just to use as a host."
"But... but there has to be something? Anything!" Lilobot's voice broke into cracked wheezes, the closest thing to sobs her mechanical vocal chords could portray. "I beg you... I can't live this way forever--alone!"
"This conversation is finished," Bradley snarled, waving his arm to point towards the door. "You're leaving, now."
With little other choice, Lilobot quickly got to her feet and bolted out the door, crying as much as a simbot can cry all the way up the stairs to the surface.
"Lil... are you alright?"
Lilobot was startled when she heard Lamont's voice behind her. It was usually hard to sneak up on Lil, but with her senses impaired it would be easy for a bull in a china shop to go unnoticed by her; they were so impaired, she didn't even care that they were.
She wasn't too thrilled about being bothered, though. "I am perfectly fine," she remarked in well-practiced sarcasm. "Never better." She knew she should've gone up to her room to snuggle with Spot, instead.
"C'mon--talk to me," Lamont insisted, taking a few tentative steps closer to her spot on the grass.
"It is just--" she lifted an arm and looked at it, judging it. "I am nothing more than a glorified manufacturing robot. I am hideous--no one can stand the sight of me."
"Lil, that's not true."
"Then you are kidding yourself, sir," she said with a high-pitched sigh. "I was made to be a droid, a functionary component of this household with a task to attend to efficiently--but instead, I... became human, in as much sense as a person can be--except this shell. This... ugly, worthless tin can. No one loves tin cans. They throw them away... just like me."
"Lil--no one's going to throw you away. C'mon. Get up." When she didn't, Lamont leaned down and helped the clumsy, wobbly creature to her feet, where she continued to avert her gaze away from him. "Look at me."
"No, thank you."
"... Fine. Just--look. You are loved by so many people--why do you think they would want to throw you away?"
"Because--it is different, with real love. True love. In that case... I am afraid, I will always be alone."
"Oh." Lamont looked away as well, suddenly becoming incredibly uncomfortable. He knew Lilobot as well as any scientist knows his coworker's inspired creation, but he'd never had a conversation with her that involved something so personal. Unfortunately, there was little he could do now--he'd already jumped in headfirst.
"My father--he is the only hope I had of changing that," she sighed, rolling her shoulders up into a shrug. "I always thought he would listen, and do everything he could for me--but he has... changed."
Lamont cringed. "Yeah, he has."
Lil paused for a moment, thoughtful. "Why?"
"I... don't know, to be perfectly honest. He's sick, and won't admit it to anyone, especially himself. And you know him... he's stubborn, and prideful, and doesn't want to seem weak--at least, that's all I can guess. I really can't say, for sure. We won't know until this is over, and he actually can take a step back from his work."
After several moments of silence, Lamont's eyes slowly made contact with Lil's again. "Well... I've been thinking about your request. Lil--are you sure this is something you really, really want?"
For the first time, Lil finally looked up directly into Lamont's eyes. She slowly nodded her head up and down, and responded, softly, "More than anything."
"Well... It's not exactly perfect, but--" he continued after a long, deep breath. "I think..."
"I think--if you're willing to try... I can give you what you need."