Marcos’ right hand wouldn’t let go of his left until he ambled into the Asilo District.
He flexed his distrustful fingers. He’d done his job with precision. Follow the family of Kevin Harrow, track their movements, and keep his distance. This family was “different.” Not “dangerous,” not “illegal,” from what the Líders told him. Just that he and selected members of the Guard had been issued to watch them for the past twenty years. Marcos never understood these instructions, but when he was ordered to carry out a mission, he physically couldn’t disobey. It was in his programming. Whatever the Líders wanted, it was done by Marcos’ hand.
But he’d failed. He’d been two streets away and Nicole Lenore had still spotted him. He’d tried to keep himself concealed, but without any animal features and his recognizable face, he stood out. An absent tail wasn’t uncommon—some people even docked their tails once they reached adulthood—but everyone knew Marcos for the worst reasons. He was the feared stoolie who kept tabs on the populace and reported every misgiving to the Líders. He’d heard the rumors, that he was immortal, had heat vision and the ability to crush a person’s skull with one hand. He couldn’t feel emotions, they said. He couldn’t think for himself, didn’t want to.
He wasn’t alive.
He was only a machine.
He kept his head down as he walked through the streets he protected. So rarely was he able to go out on his own like this without the fanfare of the Líders or their child beside them. The stares were more manageable that way. Alone like this, the public looked down on him like he was a disease from which they needed to scrub their hands clean.
He hopped on the quickest tram that let off at the Asilo. Though trapped in every sense of the word, he was given free, complimentary rides on the tramlines anytime he needed. Never for his own free time or exploration. At least it gave him a false sense of freedom as the wind messed up his synthetic hair.
His eyes fell on the travelling tracks. He sat farthest from the rest of the passengers to make everyone feel more comfortable. He still felt them staring at him, though. Their eyes burned his back like the Sun behind sweltering clouds.
A child began crying towards the front of the tram, and Marcos almost turned to it. He prided himself on many things outside of the Líders control, and childcare was one of them. There was a patience, he felt, that only a robot could have with a child, and despite what Nadia and Mikhail believed, he knew he was good with kids.
Programs embedded in his brain forced him to turn away and ignore it. He wanted to help. That was all he wanted to do. He wanted to be there for people and receive praise. He didn’t want to be so hated.
“Please, see me,” he wanted to shout. “See me and know I’m worth more than this.”
But he couldn’t, because his brain wouldn’t allow it. Nadia had wired his brain to obey, not to live.
He held down his untrustworthy hand. It’d disobeyed his programming for a small moment to help Nicole Lenore. He’d been ordered to watch her movements more stringently—assumingly to find out information about Derek Harrow’s disappearance, though the Líders were never resolute on their orders. He was told never to engage with her, as she was a “catalyst.”
But his hand had gone beyond those orders, somehow, and reached out to her. Perhaps it was due to the strong likelihood of her dislocating a bone or snapping her wrist. She’d fallen quite hard, and he always wanted to help those who felt physical pain.
Something beeped inside of his brain, and a code of text floated into his vision.
TEST SUBJECT: ZANTL
HEART RATE: 125 BPM since 2:25pm
Check in with SUBJECT: ZANTL immediately to ensure safety and health.
Recommendations: snack of choice (see document 2.1), one (1) glass of cold water, neck massage
If possible, Marcos would’ve rolled his eyes so far into the back of his head, it’d hurt. Zantl rarely, if ever, exercised past a heart rate of 100 beats per minute. Expectations for an heir like them were to be smart and to shut up, so whenever their heart got this way for an extended period of time, especially after their second breakfast, they were most likely pleasuring themselves.
And Marcos did not want to invade their privacy like that. That was a time for beings to be alone, or with their partners. It always sounded like there was always another person with them, but he didn’t know for sure. Whenever Marcos forcibly opened their locked bedroom, they acted like they were hiding someone in the shadows. It had to be either a guard or an Asilo worker. Marcos did not like the odds that they were sleeping with someone much older than them. Zantl was only eighteen, a child.
He hurried off the tram and took the Asilo steps two at a time to get this check in over with. Nadia and Mikhail were very strict on Marcos taking care of their precious heir. While, yes, they were to inherit the entire world after Nadia’s and Mikhail’s demises, it wasn’t until Zantl was adopted that they found out just how special they were.
“Special.” A connotation for either incredibly lucky or cursed. Marcos had listened in to every conversation and document he was allowed to take in, and he still didn’t know which one Zantl was.
The Líders kept everything tightly under wraps between them and their child. He didn’t know the extent of their powers—it was never described to him in detail—but he had an inkling. Through context clues, he figured Zantl’s abilities were connected to their mind, and that no one else had these gifts. All knowledge came and stayed with Zantl, who abused their power to ignore the world and string their parents about like puppets against their wills.
And the Líders didn’t care, for it meant that Raeleen was in powerful, albeit mysterious, hands.
Marcos took an elevator to the top floor where all of their bedrooms resided. It was the quietest floor. His footsteps echoed down each intersection. He watched the shadows for movement. Any moment and he could walk straight into one of the Líders and be taken into another highly illegal escapade.
It was eerily quiet up here. The Líders must’ve been in an unplanned meeting, or something had occurred downstairs.
As he came up to Zantl’s room, he cringed. He already smelled bodily sweat and fluid.
Still, per the instructions in his head, he knocked. “Zantl?” he called out. “Zantl, it’s Marcos. Are you alright?”
The subdued moaning dwindled to heavy breathing.
He tried again. “Zantl, I need confirmation that you are alright. Can you please open the door?”
A floorboard creaked. He heard muttering behind the heavy door.
“Zantl, you know I will have to open the door by force if you don’t respond in—”
A quick whoosh of air and the door opened. Zantl was glaring at Marcos, their exposed chest covered with their bed blanket. Their room was pitch-black, but before Zantl pushed Marcos back, Marcos caught it: the blur of glowing, yellow eyes sitting atop their bed.
There was someone in there with them.
Zantl shoved Marcos into the hall. To keep them from breaking their wrist, Marcos let himself be pushed.
“Get out!” Zantl demanded. Their cheeks were still flushed. “You know I’m fine. Why do you have to be a freak and check up on me when I’m like this? Leave me alone.”
“Your parents insist that I—”
“I don’t care,” they said. “I told them to leave me alone and they don’t listen. Tell them that if you check up on me like this, I’m breaking you, and I mean it. God,” they muttered as they walked back into the darkness. “You’re such a freak.”
The door slid shut in Marcos’ face, startling him. It slammed unnaturally hard. Zantl must’ve just used their powers to make their anger known.
Marcos fixed his collar. Ever since they’d been created, they’d been born to raise Zantl. He’d opened his eyes in a dark room, surrounded by a shocked Nadia and Mikhail, and had been given a single order:
“Protect us, and protect our soon-to-be child.”
Zantl had been adopted soon after, and they’d quickly found out that Zantl did not need anyone to survive. Whatever powers they had made them an outcast, a Líder born by birthright.
Marcos didn’t know what he’d done to be so hated by them. Growing up, Marcos had cooked them meals, sung them to sleep, bathed them, changed them. They’d started growing distant when Zantl became a teenager. Now, Marcos was the villain, for following orders he couldn’t ignore.
He held his unloyal hand at the foot of the door. He had no other obligations to complete at this time, aside from reports he’d give to the Líders about Nicole Lenore once they asked for him.
To kill his valuable, rare free time, Marcos chimed for the elevators again. Should he check up on Kevin Harrow? His dinnertime was soon, and his allotted bathroom break wasn’t for another twenty-five minutes.
Feeling a bit embarrassed, Marcos nixed that plan. He did so many things for the people living in the Asilo, but something about Kevin and his eyes, the way he smiled, asked him how his day was going…
Marcos slammed his finger too hard for the button to take him down. Kevin Harrow was a kind person, obviously, born into an even more caring family that made him pure, and Marcos had a horrible habit of putting too much thought into people like that. Kind gestures were simply that: kind. Marcos had read the reports on Kevin’s life thoroughly and he’d been kind to everyone, so his demeanor wasn’t unusual or something to read in on, aside from his cracked mirror that the Líders had written off as faulty screw placement.
Marcos had taken the time to research Kevin’s dating experience. While never having a lover, Marcos concluded that, by the books he read and radio broadcasts he tuned into, Kevin would most likely not be interested in someone like Marcos.
Feeling ashamed and even more abandoned by his own feelings, Marcos made his way to the bottom levels of the Asilo. You needed several access keys to be led down here, all of which were embedded inside of Marcos’ wrist. He, the Liders, and high-level guards and scientists were given permission to be down here. No one else could come down.
Not even the general public knew about these subterranean levels. They housed the deepest-kept secrets, and the most important people.
The pressure levels dipped. He felt his body go underground and the walls become cement and rocky. Seconds swam by and he still continued down. 700 feet down to the lowest levels, where his little girl lived.
He pulled up her file in wait. She was no more than a year old and had been born in the Asilo just like he’d been. Normally, people kept in the Asilo despised Marcos based on his connections. Children, especially babies, had yet to have their minds poisoned by prejudice, so Marcos was drawn to them, especially to her.
TEST SUBJECT: ALEXI
Marcos smiled as her name crossed his sight. Alexi was a baby who always made him smile. She’d blow bubbles in her water and laugh whenever Marcos pulled ridiculous faces he used to pull with Zantl. She reminded him of them as a child, when they were still innocent and playful, and Marcos wanted to protect people like that for as long as he could.
Alexi’s feeding time was a half hour ago, but Marcos didn’t trust many of the Guards who worked down here. Every week there were more reports of mistreatment and abuse he sought to correct. This led him to taking over most of the burpings, feedings, changing, and general care many of those who lived in the Asilo didn’t get.
The double doors opened. The lights flickered. The atmosphere was dense and wet and smelled of salt and iron.
He passed doctors wearing surgical masks. He avoided the operating rooms and testing labs. Nothing could be done there. He couldn’t stop what the Líders wanted done.
He entered the room that housed Alexi. The walls appeared blue by how the water in her tank shone through the fluorescence. There were no toys here for baby enrichment. Just an empty room with a chair in the corner, a refrigerator that kept her food cold, and a tank that sunk through the floor and connected to the other tanks around this level.
Stripping off his clothes, Marcos donned one of the waterproof slips that hung on the wall and took out a bowl that’d be Alexi’s dinner. It was usually a mush of meat that smelled like her. Marcos knew the ingredients but didn’t know how the Líders’ chefs prepared it.
He opened the locked hatch atop the tank, tested the water’s salinity level, and plunged into the darkening water.
For some reason, whenever Marcos entered a pool of water, he didn’t drown. He didn’t short-circuit or receive water damage, even though the holes in his ears and mouth should’ve made it so.
And no one, not even the Líders, knew why.