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By MrGibus

The rusted motorcycle rattled loudly as it roared down the dirt road. The trailer bounced behind, a mediocre weld holding it's ball and socket joint in place. "I sure as hell hope the weld doesn't pop..." said the rider of the motorcycle to himself. The road was ill kept, being littered with potholes, as well as random debris from the mounds of metal scrap rising tens of feet on either side of it. The rider's red scarf and trench coat flapped in the wind, and his wide brimmed hat was barely staying on. All were frayed at the edges, and losing their color, as if they had been in the sun for a very long time. Spotting something in the immense piles of scrap, he hit the brakes, skidding a good ten feet on the loose dirt. He kicked down the stand, and leaned the motorcycle on it. He dismounted the motorcycle, his movements smooth, with no wasted energy. As he walked to the object, half buried in the mound, his footsteps emit a clanking sound. He stood in front of the object, and reached out. His hand and arm were metal, a dull and practical grey. He grabbed onto it, and pulled. After a couple seconds, it came free. It was a small engine, like what would be on a lawnmower. He set it on the ground, and pulled down the scarf. He also moved the welding goggles to his forehead. His face was metallic, painted the same grey. It was almost skeletal in nature, the place where the nose would be being smooth. The apertures of his optics expanded and contracted in an effort to focus the engine. After deeming it in fair condition, he carried it one handed to his trailer, and carefully lowered it onto the floor of corrugated metal. He turned to mount the motorcycle, to find that another robot had approached him. The other robot stood about ten feet away, having an air of cockiness. This robot seemed much newer, having a coating of tanned synthetic skin. He also wore a pair of jeans, torn at the knees, and a black sleeveless shirt. The only indicator of his being a robot was the fact that his eyes were glowing a light blue. "Hey old-timer." the newer unit said "That's a pretty nice find." There was a moment of silence. "Sharing's caring you know." He pulled a handgun out of his back pocket. "Hand it over and nobody has to get hurt." The newer unit said. The older unit then chuckled. "And if I don't?" He said. The newer robot, with his cocky attitude, was unfazed. "Then you're gonna have a bad time friend." he said, with a smile. The older unit, whose face is unable to contort as a new unit's would, advanced on the newer unit, silent except for the whirring of servos. It was apparent to the new unit, that the elder unit towered over him, at about six foot five. "You may be able to threaten what you want out of people in the city, but this isn't the city." The older unit said. "S-stay back!" The newer unit yelled. He takes aim. "So help me, I-I'll shoot!" The older unit simply kept walking. "You're in the Scraplands, boy." The newer unit kept backpedaling. "I-I said stay the hell back!" The newer unit yelled, opening fire. He fired a full magazine. The bullets simply bounced off the old unit. All he did was chuckle as he kept up his advance. The newer unit simply dropped his gun and sprinted as fast as he could, away from the older unit. The older unit began to walk faster, picking up speed until he was running impossibly fast for his less sleek design. He caught up with the new unit in mere seconds. He shouldered into the new unit, causing him to tumble to the ground. From there, in one violent movement, he crushed the newer unit's head like a grape underfoot. His head caved with a crunch as his body went limp. After a few seconds, the older unit took a knee, to examine the corpse of his aggressor. "Hmmm… the parts are high quality. Not too bad on condition either…" He mumbled to himself. He lifted the body with one hand and draped it over his shoulder. He walked back to the trailer, completely unfazed. He set the body down next to the engine. "In for quite the payday. What an old scrapper's luck." He said almost cheerily. He re-mounted to motorcycle and rode off in search of more scrap.

He rode the motorcycle down the dirt road, the Scraplands long behind him. The motorcycle was moving noticeably slower, the trailer being full. On the ride he thought about the things that have plagued his mind for the last few decades. Foremost one question. "Though we consider ourselves sentient, are we truly?" "The newer units think that they are entirely alive, but do we truly think? My consciousness is just a series of ones and zeroes in an if and then thought process…" He eventually reigned in the turmoil of his thoughts. After another hour of bumpy driving, he arrived at his destination. The remnant of a human city, now populated by his kind. Vegas. The buildings were still the same structures, though with new corrugated metal used to patch up the damages. He slowed down to avoid attention. He wouldn't want to have to pick fights in front of so many bots. The streets were relatively clear, seeing as most don't have vehicles. After a few minutes of driving, he arrived to his final destination. The local parts vendor. As he pulled up, the vendor finished the sale of an old carburetor, one that the old unit had found the day before. "Ahh, John! It is good too see you my friend!" The vendor yelled with what may have been a Russian accent. "You as well Marcus." John said. He paused. "I have goods that you may not want the public to see." he finished. Unfazed, Marcus responded "I see. Go in through the back door." With that, Marcus regained his friendly demeanor and turned to sell to the next bot in line. John unhooked the trailer and wheeled it around to the back of the building, where there was a garage door. He pushed the green button on the wall next to it, and it began to slide open with a slight grinding noise. When it was fully open, he wheeled the trailer in. Marcus was there waiting, his storefront demeanor replaced with a shrewd business attitude. John lifted the tarp to reveal the haul. Marcus shook his head and frowned. "This is all scrap metal, John." After rummaging through the trailer for another ten seconds or so, he came upon the engine. "Oh-ho-ho! That will fetch an excellent price!" Marcus exclaimed excitedly. He then came upon the corpse. "Oh. I see what you mean by 'Goods'." he said. After a pause, Marcus resumed talking "What happened to get him the big shut-down?" He asked. "Poor bastard thought he was going to threaten me with an old slug gun." He chuckled. "Look how that turned out for him." After another pause, Marcus said "Well, it doesn't really matter how he died. He'll sell very well on the Invisible Market. You know, it really is a shame that murder's so frowned upon. It's quite profitable, actually." Marcus said the last bit with a gleam in his eye, as if he could just imagine the credits he'd be rolling in. After a few seconds, he snapped back to reality and began calculating. After a few seconds more, he came to a conclusion. "A thousand cred for the entire haul." If John could frown, he would have. "Marcus, you know how expensive this profession is. How many hauls am I going to bring in on just a thousand credits? Cut an old Scrapper a break." Marcus, being a new enough model to show expression, actually frowned. He sighed. "John… I haven't exactly been big on business as of late." He paused, and then cracked a smile. "But, I can spare an extra five hundred credits. For my favourite supplier." He grew more serious. "But only on the condition that you be sure to bring in a better haul next time." In an instant, John said "You know me. There isn't a damn thing in the Scraplands that I couldn't dig up." With that, John lowered the tailgate of the trailer, and dumped the cargo in the corner. He then wheeled it out, pushed it out front, and hooked it up to the Motorcycle. He mounted the motorcycle and left.

The next day, he was roaring down the same dirt road, on the lookout for anything valuable. He was headed deeper into the mounds of scrap than he'd been in a long time. The reason that he hadn't been so far in for so long was that the last time, he had gotten hopelessly lost. This sector looked promising. There were whole tires sticking up out of the mounds of scrap. He made sure to grab one so he could learn the price they fetched. He heard the muffler of the motorcycle rattling against the frame. He made a mental note to fix that. As he trekked on, he found numerous things. An engine here, a couple rusted out guns there. Just as he was ready to leave, he heard a clanging sound. He drew his handgun, a newer plasma caster, as opposed to a slug gun. He saw a single tin can falling from the top of a smaller mound. That wouldn't have been so strange, except the Scraplands had settled in place decades prior. "Whoever's there, one wrong move and I'll smoke ya!" John said. He meant it too. He slowly advanced to the Scrap pile. As he approached the pile, a head popped up. It was followed by a body, legs, and a tail. The old, rotting cat droid hissed and nimbly ran away. Annoyed, he holstered his weapon, and turned to be met with the sight he least expected. There was a little girl on the seat of his motorcycle, playing with the throttle. Luckily, he had put it in neutral, and he was sure the girl didn't know how to shift to first. He hoped. Confused, John said "What the fu-" He was cut off as the little girl turned and said "My mommy says that you shouldn't swear." She said it in such a way that it made John stop. Realization then struck. The little girl had blue eyes, but they didn't glow. They were organic. John was stunned as he realized what it meant. That she's human. Realizing this, she couldn't have been more than six. He stood there, staring at this little girl on his motorcycle. He remembered before the fall. He was a security bot owned by a family in a seedy neighborhood. The parents treated him as if he didn't exist for the most part, but their daughter treated him as if he was human. She even gave him his name. John. As he thought back, he realized that this little girl bore a striking resemblance to the one he knew. Except that this one's hair was red. She yawned as she grew bored of the motorcycle. She looked up at him and said "Do you know where my mommy is?" Finally overcoming his state of stupor, he replied. "No, I don't." He felt concern for the first time in a long time. The Scraplands were inhospitable, even by the standards of his kind. "What's your name, kid?" She paused momentarily, as if she couldn't quite remember, and then replied "Joy. What's your name, mister?" He was again stunned. His appearance often caused other bots to shy away. And this little six year old was calling him Mister. "John." He replied numbly. He walked up to the motorcycle, and looked down at Joy. "That's where I need to sit to drive." He said, not hostile, but not gently, just as a fact. She cocked her head to the left and said "Okay." and slid back to the rear seat. He was torn. He knew she wouldn't survive in the Scraplands, but he knew that it wasn't exactly safe in Vegas. Reluctantly, he mounted the motorcycle and said "Make sure you stay still. And hold on to something." She immediately wrapped her arms around his waist and sat perfectly still. He pushed off with his leg and shifted to first, beginning the drive back to Vegas.

When they arrived in Vegas, she immediately began to take in the sights. What marveled her the most was the sheer number of bots. But no "people" in her terms. Just as John was wondering if she was going to ask, she said "Where are all of the people at?" He didn't answer, not able to work up the nerve to tell this little kid that they had been wiped out by a virus of their own creation. Well, most of them. Just like the day prior, John stopped the motorcycle outside of Marcus's parts store. He unhooked the trailer, and went to wheel it back but stopped himself. John wondered if he should leave Joy out alone. He decided to take her inside with him. When they walked in, they were greeted by Marcus. "Ah, John! Just the bot I wanted to see!" Marcus exclaimed, arms outstretched. As he neared John, he pointed at him and jokingly said "Kill anyone today?" As Marcus laughed, Joy's eyes grew wide. It was then that Marcus noticed her. Confused, he said "I didn't peg you as the type to adopt a new bot." After a silence, John replied "Don't tell anyone about her. Understand?" Marcus gave John a look of pure confusion, until he noticed Joy's eyes. Surprised, Marcus physically stumbled with a "What the fu-" to be cut off with joy saying "My mommy says that's a bad word." Marcus paused. "I thought they were all-" Marcus said, to be cut off by John doing the slash-across-the-neck "shut up" motion. "Alright, different question, what's your name, kid?" she paused, as if she wasn't quite sure what her name was. "Joy!" She suddenly exclaimed with a smile. With that, Marcus began rummaging through the trailer. With the occasional "Oh!" and "That will fetch a fair price." When he was finally finished inspecting the contents of the trailer, he said "Best haul in a hell of a long time, John." He paused. "Five thousand credits." he finished. John was somewhat surprised, though not stunned. "It's been nice doing business with you Marcus." John said. He dumped out the trailer and wheeled it out the door. He wheeled it over to his motorcycle to find that Joy was in his way, looking up expectantly. Suddenly looking much more stern than he could have expected from a six year old, she said "Promise to help me find my mommy." She held up her hand, and balled her fist except for the outermost finger. "Pinkie promise." she said. John was momentarily confused. He thought back to his previous life. The daughter once made him promise to keep her family safe. Before she and her parent contracted the virus. He balled up his hand, much like Joy was, with the outermost finger sticking up in a hooked posture. Their fingers interlocked as he confirmed what she asked. "Pinkie promise." She then regained her happy, energetic demeanor and hopped on the back seat of the motorcycle. He got onto the front seat, started the motorcycle, and kicked into first gear.

Over the course of the next month, they searched the Scraplands for her mother. Every trip, they would venture deeper, while filling the trailer with valuable items. John saved Joy's life a few times, and she even saved him once. Much to John's luck, he didn't have to kill anyone that month. A new record to be sure. Once or twice, they could have sworn that they saw something humanoid, running across the piles of scrap. They had bonded. John took care of Joy and kept her safe, while she gave him a renewed purpose. Over the course of that month, she turned seven. They were no closer to finding Joy's mother, but he couldn't work up the nerve to say that they probably wouldn't find her. He thought that maybe given time, she would give up on her own. Though after a month, her determination had not waned at the slightest. In fact, she seemed to be getting more and more determined by the day.

It was the end of another day of searching. The trailer was full of valuable scraps. A definite payday from Marcus. Things had changed. Joy had learned how the Scraplands worked, and had even found the clothes for the job. A hooded coat, a bandana to keep the dust out of her mouth and nose, a pair of aviator's goggles to keep it out of her eyes, and thick gloves to keep from being cut on the many safety hazards out in the Scraplands. Like always, she was hanging on to him to prevent herself from falling off. "John, do you ever think that we're find my mom?" She asked. She had since taken to referring to her mother as "mom" rather than "mommy". After a pause, John replied "There's always a chance." he said, not quite confident in his own words. As they neared Vegas, he slowed down. They had decided to stay longer, thus why the haul was better today than usual. It was dark out. There was nobody on the sidewalks, all of them probably rebooting for the day. It was eerily quiet, except for the sound of his motorcycle's engine. They drove for a few minutes in this relative silence, until he pulled up Marcus's shop. He knew Marcus would be active, since he was an old enough unit that those details weren't looked at. He kicked up the stand and killed the engine. "Let's get our credits from Marcus and get back to the apartment, okay?" John said. Joy smiled as she jumped off of the motorcycle. He took a knee to unlatch the trailer when he heard footsteps. He and Joy both turned to be faced with three bots. They were newer models, though the obvious leader had so many Invisible Market mods that one could barely tell. He even had his jaw replaced with the jaw bone of a human. The other two were unmodified, other than the tattoos of the sides their heads. They were a gang. "So, you're the sonuvabitch that killed Shorty?" the leader said. He then noticed Joy. He got a look in his eye that could only mean trouble. He jerked his head in John's direction and the henchmen descended on John. She screamed as the leader drew a gun. It was a shotgun type plasma caster. He then aimed it at her. All the while, John was restrained by the goons. "No!" John yelled. He headbutted one hard enough that it dented the goon's head in, and completely destroyed his processors, ending his existence. With an elbow free, he elbowed the other, and then punched him in the face. The punch carried to the wall, and the bot's head was crushed like an aluminium can. Just as the leader pulled the trigger, John jumped in the way. The shot was fired, and it ripped through John, missing Joy. Before anyone could react, the leader's head exploded. The headless corpse fell to its knees, and then to the side. Standing at the end of the alley, with an old fifty caliber slug gun, was Marcus. As he walked toward the corpse, he muttered under his breath. "Freakin' gangsters always causing trouble outside of my shop." As he neared the corpse, he saw John. Joy was already at his side, shaking him, repeatedly saying "No." her face was streaked with tears, as she desperately shook John, as if he would stand up and be just fine. "John!" Marcus yelled as he dropped his weapon and ran, a rare occurrence for Marcus, and took a knee beside John. "John, what happened!?" he yelled, panicked that his friend was dying. Without hesitating, John said "Marcus, take care of Joy." He put his hand on Marcus's shoulder as he said this. "I will, old friend." Marcus said. Joy was now quiet, as she stared at John. He looked at her, and said "Joy… stay safe." A pool of oil was growing around him, and he could feel himself getting sluggish as his auxiliary power began to deplete. She shook with her sobs, but managed to say "I promise." With that, his systems began to fail, one by one. First, his audio receptors. Then his gyroscopic receptors, followed by his optics. In silent darkness, feeling as if he was floating, he had one last thought. He had become cold after the fall, the wastes bringing out the worst of him. But Joy showed him the light again. She brought back his sense of morality. With his last moment he thought "Perhaps being human isn't about what you are… but what you do." With that thought bringing his mind to peace, his memory and core processing lost power, plunging his consciousness into oblivion.

The words flashed on the edge of a pitch black field of view. Motor Functions: operational. Gyroscopic Receptors: operational. Core Processing: operational. Audio Receptors: operational. Optical Receptors: operational. Unit Status: online. With that, John was barraged with colors and sounds. He was confused. The last he remembered was his systems failing one by one. "Was I wrong? Is there an afterlife?" He wondered. After a few seconds, his vision came into focus. He was lying down, staring at a corrugated steel ceiling. Not exactly his vision of heaven. He made an effort to sit up, using his elbows for support. His joints and servos resisted, but he managed. He was met with an expected sight. A woman, perhaps in her early twenties, with red hair and blue eyes.

"It worked…" she said, as if not entirely sure that it was real. She ran over and wrapped her arms around him. He could feel her shaking, as if she was crying silent tears. "It's been so long…" She said. At that moment, everything clicked into place. He hugged her back and said "How long, Joy?" She pulled out of the hug and stood at arm's length, with her hands on John's shoulders. "Sixteen years." She said. Her face was indeed tear streaked, but her eyes conveyed happiness. "It's been a hell of a long time, hasn't it?" He said, swinging his legs over the side of the table. He looked down at his legs and noticed that the familiar dull grey was gone. So were the spots of rust that he had been watching closely. In their place was a black paint job with chrome detailing. "What the fu-" he said, to be cut off by joy saying "Y'know mum doesn't like that word." With a joking look on her face. John had noticed something even though. Another transition. First from "mommy" to "mom", and now from "mom" to "mum". He chuckled as he pushed to stand, his joints and servos groaning in resistance. He now noticed that there was no audible whirr when he moved. "There's a system to automatically lubricate the joints. All you have to do is walk off the stiffness" She said, and in a tone that conveyed expertise. After a few minutes of pacing back and forth, the aforementioned system activated, and he could suddenly move freely. Before he was attacked, his movements had a slight delay that he had to compensate for. That was suddenly gone. The reaction from his servos was instant and precise. "After getting shot at point blank range like that, I must look like hell." John said. "You got a mirror?" Without saying anything, she put her arm across his back and on his left shoulder, she being on his right. "Well, funny story…" She said as she led him out of the room. There on the room next to it, was a large mirror, allowing him to see himself fully. He wasn't the same. It wasn't as if he were overhauled, he was brand new. Though he stood at roughly the same height, he seemed to be less bulky, though his shape conveyed all of the same strength. There were less sharp edges and more curved portions, like the pauldron plates. They were originally very angular, and stuck out a great deal, but now they were half domes protecting the vulnerable shoulder joint. They were now very sleek and low profile. The only thing he distinctly recognized was his faceplate. It wasn't the same one, but a faithful recreation, colored black and chrome like the rest of his plating. And whereas his optics were dark and empty in his original state, they now glowed a light blue. "What happened?" He said, completely shell shocked by his new appearance. "I promised myself that I'd bring you back. I promised you that I'd bring you back. I like to think that I've done a pretty bang-up job." She said, smiling for a second. John felt a twinge of guilt, since he was never able to help Joy find her Mother. "After you were shot, all Marcus and I could salvage were your banks, and your core processors. Everything else was shot to hell." She continued, and then shrugged as though she saw it as only the tiniest inconvenience in the way of her goal. "It's been sixteen years, but I got the job done."

"It has been far too long, old friend." said a voice from behind. John turned around to be faced with his oldest friend. Marcus. They walked up to each other and shook hands. Marcus shook with his left, though John noticed the cane in his right. Marcus had noticed him looking and said "My right knee is… not in optimal condition." he explained. "But a parts vendor like me doesn't need to run." There was a pause. As John looked over Marcus and Joy, he noticed something. Joy's left arm and right leg, from the middle joint and down… were metal. Joy, seeing that he knew, said "Bringing you back was a miracle in of itself, but I'm not going to say it was easy. You were right, the Scraplands are pretty rough." She gave a sad smile, though not nearly sad enough to dampen her enthusiasm at having John back. She had given John a second chance, but at a price. The situation was depressing, though it was dissipated as Joy walked out of the room with a "wait in there." After a few seconds, she came out with a bundle. She unrolled it, and it was on the bottom of the list of things John expected. It was a leather duster, going down the the mid-calf. In the pockets were a red scarf and a black wide brimmed hat. Before John a chance to speak, Marcus wheeled in another thing he didn't expect to see. It was his old motorcycle. But it was no longer old. The paint was new, a black gloss, and the chrome was re-done to shine as it would have decades earlier. The muffler was secured in place, and it had a trailer hitch. "Welcome back." Joy said, wheeling in her own motorcycle. Indeed, he was back.

Author Notes: It may have a couple mistakes, seeing as it's a large short story.

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1 May, 2017
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