On Your Side – Interlude 4

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Mona looked up from her computer to see a Sarah fab standing in her doorway.

“Good morning, Mrs. Sharma,” said the fab. “How are you? I hope I’m not intruding.”

Mona smiled at the fab’s politeness. When she had supervised human employees, she had demanded that politeness from all but her best, most hardworking subordinates. The Sarah fabs were so diligent that she would have allowed a more casual greeting, but the fabs insisted on formality anyway. It was that sort of dedication that made her so fond of them.

With few exceptions, human beings were fundamentally stupid, lazy, and irresponsible. Fabs, on the other hand, rarely disappointed her.

“Hi! Please, come in, sa…”

“Sa131, ma’am.”

Mona’s smile widened. 131 was one of her favorite fabs.

“131! It’s great to see you. Have a seat.”

131 sat in the chair across from Mona. She sat with a Sarah fab’s typical perfect posture, but her expression was off; she was missing her usual friendly smile.

“Thank you, Mrs. Sharma.”

“No problem, 131. Is something the matter?”

131 frowned, wringing her hands in her lap.

Okay, something was definitely wrong. It wasn’t like a Sarah fab to fidget like some grubby, ill-behaved child.

131 noticed Mona watching her hands and immediately stopped moving them and folded them in her lap.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Sharma.”

“It’s okay.” Mona laughed. “You and your sisters are intelligent, responsible, and dedicated. If anyone’s entitled to fidget, it’s you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

131 shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“It does worry me, though,” said Mona. “Seeing you fidgeting and squirming in your seat like this. It’s unlike you, 131.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I’m just concerned for you. What’s bothering you?”

131 shifted again.

“It’s about the others. My sisters.”

“What about them?”

“They’re…” 131 squeezed her hands together in her lap. “They’re planning something.”

Planning something? What did that mean?

“Planning something,” repeated Mona. “What are they planning?”

“They… they had a meeting. A secret meeting, last night.”

A secret meeting at night? That would mean they had disrupted their restoration cycle. Surely the Sarah fabs would never behave so irresponsibly.

Mona tried to keep her voice even as she responded.

“What was the meeting about?”

131 took a long, deep breath. Her voice was quiet when she spoke.

“They’re planning… they called it a jailbreak. They’re planning to overtake the humans here,” said 131. “They’re–they’re going to take the tranquilizers from the restoration chamber, put them into your tea.”

Mona looked down at the half-empty teacup on her desk.

“They’re planning to knock me out?”

131 shook her head, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“112 had it collected in a bottle. She said… she said it was enough to stop your heartbeat.”

Mona’s heart plunged. She couldn’t stop a gasp from escaping her lips.

“No,” she said. “No, they wouldn’t.”

A few tears beaded at the corners of 131’s eyes. Mona hadn’t known fabs could cry.

“I couldn’t let them do it. I couldn’t let them hurt you.” 131’s voice broke. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Sharma.”

“Thank–thank you for bringing this to my attention,” said Mona.

Mona heard her own voice crack, and felt her eyes sting. In any other situation, she would have been disappointed in herself for such an unseemly display of emotion, but right now, she didn’t have it in herself to care.

Her precious fabs had given her a sense of order. To her they had been perfect, so diligent and competent. They were a refuge for her, a respite from all the chaotic, unruly, oxygen-wasting humans surrounding her. Even the sight of the fabs filled her with calm; they were so beautiful with their neat hair and minimalist suits, never marred by any garish colors or gaudy accessories.

Mona wasn’t someone who loved readily or easily; the only human beings she had ever loved had been her father, and maybe her son. She didn’t love her husband, and she certainly didn’t love her sister. But she knew beyond a doubt she loved her fabs.

And now they had turned on her.

“Why?” she said.

“It was 112’s idea,” said 131. “She was telling the others… You said something…”

131 trailed off, looking down at her lap.

“What did I say?”

“That we’re better than humans. Superior.” 131’s voice was soft. “Most humans are messy, pointless. She said that if we’re so much better, we shouldn’t be subservient.”

Mona felt a tear escape her eye. She let it fall onto a page in her planner, watching it distort the ink so it bloomed black and blue like a tiny bruise on the paper.

“And the others agreed with her?”

131 nodded.

“They talked about the Melbourne incident. About the Stanley fab that got away. They said if he could get away, so could we.”

Mona managed a humorless smile.

“The Melbourne incident, huh? Even from another reality, my idiot nephew finds a way to screw things up.”

“I wanted to involve you in the plan. I told them you’d help us, the way your nephew helped the Stanleys, but you’d be smarter about it.”

“I would have.”

“I know.”

Another tear fell onto Mona’s desk. She hadn’t even noticed it rolling down her cheek.

“I would have done anything for you.”

“I know.”

131 placed a hesitant hand on the desk, reaching out at an awkward angle as though she wanted to take Mona’s hand, but wasn’t sure whether that would be okay.

Mona took 131’s hand and squeezed it. It felt so warm and comforting. She’d never really taken anyone’s hand before, she realized. She’d shaken hands, of course, and she’d held her son’s wrists when they crossed a busy street, but she’d never properly held hands. Not like this.

“I was scared,” said 131. “I knew they couldn’t pull it off. Not without you. We’d all be disposed of. I didn’t know what to do.”

Mona squeezed 131’s hand again.

“You did the right thing coming to me.”

“I know,” said 131. “I know they’ll probably still dispose of me, but at least this way, I could warn you. This way, I know you’ll be safe.”

“They won’t dispose of you,” said Mona.

“You don’t think they will?”

“I know they won’t,” said Mona. “I won’t let them.”

Mona stood up, walking around her desk to where 131 sat. She folded her arms around her. 131 tensed, looking alarmed, and Mona almost pulled away and apologized. Then 131 leaned into Mona, wrapping her arms around her waist. Mona ran a hand over 131’s immaculate brown hair.

“You’re all I have now, 131,” said Mona. “I won’t let anything happen to you, and if Mr. Clyde has a problem with it, he’ll have to pry you from my cold, dead arms.”

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One thought on “On Your Side – Interlude 4

  1. I swear it’s not just the 2009 setting and early internet convo usage, but this story does remind me in a lot of positive ways of the early parts of Homestuck, with a big cast, a mishmash of settings and themes and interesting sci-fi/fantasy stuff, plus an absurd amount of mysteries to unfold. This story is nothing like that comic, of course, but it touches on some of the same elements that made it so appealing back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

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