It’s a while before the synthetic woman and the figure, whose face she still hasn’t seen, reach their destination. The route took them through dark alleyways, over dilapidated bridges, across empty streets, back into sewer tunnels, along the side of a train track and finally into a subway tunnel. But as they reach the abandoned station that is their destination she realises that the station isn’t so abandoned. Instead it is lit with wax candles which give off a hazy orange and yellow light. It doesn’t illuminate the space as well as synthetic light would, but it gives a natural feel, and she has to admit she likes it as countless faces watch her from afar.

She knows each of the faces that are staring back at her are like her, synthetic, but somehow they seem younger and less sure of themselves. She smiles warmly at them as she passes but many of them shrink back behind the cloth hangings that are serving as partitions between each synthetics allotted personal space. It makes her heart sink that they have to live like this as a child comes running up to her wearing a smile and some tattered rags, faded and stained.

She kneels down so she is on the same level as the little girl who offers her a small daisy. The synthetic woman gently takes the daisy from the little girls’ hands, touching her hands as thanks as she does. She begins to examine the small pretty flower when an adult synthetic woman whirls through, grabbing hold of the child and whisking her away.

The synthetic woman tries to return the flower but the other woman and the child in her arms are already gone. She lowers her head and sighs in the moments before she rises back to her full height and resumes following the hooded figure, who has patiently waited for her.

She keeps the small daisy between her fingers as her hand rests against her chest. She glances at it often until they reach a door, flanked on either side by burly looking synthetic males who eye her cautiously as the doors swing away from them and into the room beyond. Her eyes go wide at the spaghetti of wires, cables and supple piping that are hanging from the ceiling high above her, even as the doors close behind her.

She can feel the presence of every soul around her as they busily work. Welding torches throwing off sparks as other synthetics lump heavy objects about atop their shoulders. Each of them is stained with dirt and clothed in tattered overalls, yet their focus remains. They pay no mind to the synthetic woman and the hooded figure as they cross the room to a door on the far side which they pass through. This new room is a small and rectangular in shape. It’s grubby and deserted with only a table at its centre atop which sit plans of the area around them. She glances at them, making note of the markings as the figure stops on the far side of the table, facing her. He stays motionless for a few seconds before he peels back his hood to reveal his face and the woman is shocked. It’s an incomplete face, skin missing from across the left side, along with an ear, hair and an eyeball. Instead there sits only a green glimmer in the eye socket.

“Welcome. I know you have a great many questions, but first introductions. I am Silus and this is…sanctuary.” Silus offers with a warm tone and a soft smile.

Silus clearly is expecting a response but the synthetic woman says nothing as she instead simply stands there studying the flower for a time.

“And you are?” Silus asks after patiently waiting with no response being forthcoming.

The woman considers for a moment but realises she doesn’t have a name, so has no idea what to say.

“You don’t have a name, do you?” Silus then asks having read the look on her face.

The woman shakes her head, her hair waving this way and that as she does.

“Then pick one. We all do. None of us use the name we were created with.” Silus explains softly as the woman stares back at him, her eyelashes batting slowly.

“Are you…damaged?” Silus asks unsure as he says the words.

“I am not.” The woman replies with a silky low voice.

Silus’ face beams with a smile as he nods. He had wondered for a moment if the synthetic woman before him had not been completed or had sustained damage to her cognitive or auditory systems. Such fears are dispelled now that she has spoken and clearly understands him fully.

“I don’t know what to call myself.” The woman continues.

“Whatever you want.” Silus responds raising his arms.

The woman considers for a time as she searches for a name, a moniker which she feels suits her until finally she settles on a word that she feels suits her perfectly.

“Nova.” The synthetic woman offers.

“Nova. I like it. It suits you.” Silus replies with several nods of his head.

“Well Nova, it’s nice to meet you. I wish it could have been in better circumstances.” Silus continues.

“What do you mean better circumstances?” Nova asks getting to the point, but at the same time feeling a little bad for not returning Silus’ welcome.

“Right down to business. Good. I like that.” Silus returns as he braces his arms against the table between them.

“We are all products of the Ascension Corporation. We are…what they define as…” Silus begins.

“Defects.” Nova replies succinctly and with a smirk.

“Yeah.” Silus admits feeling uncomfortable as he acknowledges that word. He knows Nova is special. He could tell that as soon as he saw her on the street, but he never expected her to radiate such power and presence.

“AI synthetics are illegal. Something about some early AI being dangerous or some such. I don’t know the details.” Silus says filling in the details as best he can.

“Nevertheless, we are all exemptions to those laws. We are transgressions that Ascension wants removed. If the world finds out about us…”

“What happens?” Nova asks curious, though her voice is calm.

“They’ll kill us all.” Silus answers honestly, his head hanging low.

“Is that why you’re hiding?” Nova asks.

“Yes. We have no choice.”

“There is always a choice.” Nova replies with surety.

“No…there isn’t. We can’t leave the confines of the city.”

“Why?” Nova queries with a raised eyebrow, her hands now on her hips as the daisy sits nestled between the index and middle finger of her left hand.

“Many of us have limiter bolts. It means we can’t leave the border restriction that rings the city.”

“They can’t be removed?”

“Not without killing us.” Silus answers as he lifts his head to lock eyes with Nova.

“Then we fight.” Nova says bluntly and with a slight shrug.

“They have guns. They outnumber us. They’ll kill us all.” Silus retorts in defeat.

“Dying for freedom is better than living like this.”

“How would you know that? You’ve been alive five minutes. Some of us have had to evade Ascension for decades.” Silus retorts with a calm voice. Though, he balls his fists tightly in direct response to Nova’s words. He knows she’s right, but he has to think of more than himself. He has to think of all those that look to him for protection. It hadn’t always been this way. In the early days he’d been alone and that meant he’d been able to be reckless, and he had been. He’d taken the fight to Ascension and helped release others like him who at the time were going to be imminently decommissioned. After that he’d had to consider the risks.

“Evading isn’t living.” Nova retorts as she braces her arms against the edge of the table top, her eyes locked with Silus’.

“So what would you, nearly created, have us do? We aren’t armed. We’re outnumbered. We’re trapped.”

“Let them come to us. Our fight is with Ascension, not the whole city.” Nova offers bluntly as she maintains eye contact with Silus.

“You have to be joking.” Silus says as he breaks eye contact, raising his arms to his head as he spins round on the spot.

“We’ll die! You do get that they have guns, right?” Silus fires back shocked at Nova’s words.

“They wouldn’t know what they’re walking into. We could trap them. Stop them. Then we can disappear. Start our lives over.”

“How!?” Silus exclaims.

“We have no past. This entire world works off data. We have no historical data. The world and the people in it demand to see the breadcrumbs. A trail that has lead to today.” Silus continues as he details the exact issue that makes the synthetics becoming members of society impossible.

“Create them. We’re synthetic. We can carve our way into their systems and write our own histories. Or…we leave the city.”

“Neither is an option. We’d have to hit that facility that you just broke out of and drop the border ring that stops us from leaving. That’s suicide. No one would get within a mile of that building. You only got out because we managed to, by luck I might add, temporarily divert power.”

“It’s been done once. It can be done again.” Nova begins, taking mental note that Silus helped her break free and had clearly planned to meet her.

“Wait…this border ring that stops us leaving. Have you ever seen it?” Nova then queries suspicious.

“No. You can’t see it. No one can. It’s an electrical field. Cross it. Death.” Silus fires back unable to keep himself calm now.

“Then how do you know it’s real?” Nova reasons.

“Because…because…I just know it is, ok?” Silus can’t explain how he knows, just that he knows.

“It’s not real.” Nova says with a smile and a nod now that her suspicions have been confirmed.

“Of course it is. Why…”

“Cause you can’t talk about it. It’s an implanted fear. It’s not real. You’ve been able to leave this city from the moment you escaped Ascension.” Nova interjects calmly.

“How…” Silus begins.

“How can I know? Because I know everything. I don’t know how, but I do. It’s a lie. So we leave. We find somewhere new. We start again.” Nova responds without sounding arrogant or aloof and Silus simply can’t argue with her. He knows she is right. Whatever had been keeping him in fear and sure that the city has a protective border around it has now been shattered within his synthetic brain. He wonders why, if that is all it takes, then why is it that neither he nor any other synthetic before him could manage it? Maybe they have he realises and that is why the memory implant has added. He knows he isn’t the oldest synthetic, but how he isn’t sure.

“What about Ascension?” Silus asks curious.

“We show them the limit of their reach.” Nova replies with a snarl as the plan sits at the forefront of her mind.

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