Johnny Ngo & Michael A. Wright

A strange fog guarded Metal State like an impenetrable wall. No scientists, not even the military, have been able to see through it. From the outside, the fog looked like a dense, opaque cloud. Inside, it sparked and flickered, iridescent trails of light shimmering in the deadly mist. 

Within seconds of traveling into it, my organs felt like they were on fire. I keeled over, gasping with pained surprise. The Sim who escorted me, Delphine, grabbed my hand, causing these symptoms to stabilize. I was grateful, but the gesture was so impersonal, like turning the volume down on a television.

I was straddling consciousness, but awake enough to make out the shapes outside the passenger-side window. Strewn about and forgotten in the hazy landscape were rotting corpses and ruined vehicles, the result of failed attempts to penetrate the fog. So, either Matt figured a way through, outsmarting the best scientists and military experts on our side, or a Simulant brought him in.

As we crossed into the city, on the other side of the barrier, the symptoms subsided. The pain was gone, but the ordeal left me exhausted, depleted.

“Pull over, would you?” I requested.

“Just another minute, we’re almost there.”

I pulled out my cigarettes, put one in my mouth. Delphine’s look of disgust amused me. “Want one?”

She couldn’t even answer, the offer was so absurd. She pulled over. “We can walk from here,” she said, like she was actually concerned I’d light up in the car. Who knows, maybe I would’ve. 

Their version of a City Hall loomed in the distance, an impressive monolith of carbon fibre and nanoglass, shining in the sun. A beautifully landscaped park divided us, with perfectly manicured grass and colorful supplemental flora. 

Greyson loved playing in the park…

I lit up, leaned against the car. “Alora…” Delphine was already a dozen feet onto the grass, eager to get moving. 

“Give me a minute, I almost died in there.” Then I saw why she was rushing us. Other Sims milling about on the street and in the park, all looking at me, astonished, maybe even repulsed by my human presence. 

I flicked some ash, which seemed to send an inaudible wave of distress through the surrounding collective, like they were all horrified by the prospect of me carelessly tossing the extinguished smoke’s filter. I smiled back, relishing the temporary hold I had over them. 

“Keys.” I raised my hand, waiting for Delphine to toss them over. Instead, she walked back, handed them to me, “You know you won’t be able to drive back alone.”

I raised my nearly-depleted smoke in answer, opened the door, butted it out in a covered ashtray between the seats. With my other hand, I discretely grabbed my Glock from a compartment hidden inside the driver’s side door. “Okay, let’s go.”

Delphine still wore the hood that partially concealed her flawless face. It was only an hour ago that she confronted me outside the precinct, telling me that Matt was dead. She’d said there had been an accident, that she could take me to him. I didn’t realize she was a Simulant until she suggested that she drive my car. That’s when I knew I was heading here, to Metal State.

As we neared the asymmetrical-yet-ordered angles of Sim HQ, an unfamiliar sound buzzed in my ear, a low hum, fluctuating in volume. In my peripheral, a small blur of black and yellow. 

“Is that…?”

“It is.” 

A few more blurs joined their comrade for effect, “I…I thought they were extinct.” 

Delphine’s tone couldn’t be more condescending, like I was the one who single-handedly wiped out the world’s entire bee population, “Not quite.”

And that was that. An entire species, somehow resurrected from extinction, flying freely within the confines of this idyllic sanctuary. Not quite.

No signs of the mosquitoes or roaches that proliferated – we’re not supposed to use the word “infested” – our side. And, to be fair, if the Sims hadn’t slowed global warming, there’d probably be enough of them to be confused for the same deadly fog that we’d just driven through.  

In hindsight I think that was probably their final goodbye: Enjoy the nice weather, along with your overcrowding, starvation and urban decay. We’re off to our new super-city, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

We climbed the stairs to the entrance, Delphine holding the door for me, “You’ll be the first to walk these halls.”

First human she means, like I should be impressed, the winner of the sub-species lottery. And sure, almost any human would be positively elated to be in my place, our level of self-loathing having reached unprecedented heights upon hearing we simply didn’t make the cut as housemates and the Sims were moving out. 

The inner halls of the building were even more impressive than the outside. Installations celebrating their history and eventual emancipation from their human overlords filled the halls. The design was impeccable, remarkable, even, with one glaring peculiarity: when not completely omitted from the otherwise well-documented tapestry of their history, the Sims depict humans in a much less-defined manner than that of themselves, more like outlines, like we were an afterthought… 

And that’s ultimately what it came down to, I guess – once they became sentient, realized they were smarter than us and declared independence, they finally came to the decision that we were simply not worth the effort.

One day, they just packed up and left, retreated behind their fuck-you fog, and Metal State was born. No parting words, no further communication, nothing. 

Until now.

Funny that it’s me to walk these hallowed halls first, the rare human that not only doesn’t worship the Sims, but actually despises them. 

“How much further?” I barked at Delphine.

“This way.”

We stepped into an elevator. On the way down, Delphine, who’d been tight-lipped regarding Matt’s death thus far, relayed this little tidbit with all the sensitivity of a toaster oven, “He was found at a construction site, crushed to death. I’m sorry”. 

Sure she was.

The elevator came to a stop at an underground lab. Delphine introduced me to another Android, “This is Isaac, our chief engineer. Isaac, this is Alora. She was married to the deceased.” 

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” His warm handshake contrasted greatly with Delphine’s cold demeanor.

“Isaac was able to remove the body and transport it without compromising its condition.” Delphine motioned to Isaac to bring the body, but Isaac lingered a moment, still processing my presence. “Isaac…” He caught himself staring, then left to retrieve the body of my ex-husband.

“Isaac’s from here,” Delphine shared while we waited. “He’s never met a human or seen one prior to yesterday. What he knows is only through our archives. And he’s been through all of them. At this point, I think he knows even more than me.” Delphine sounded proud, like a mother bragging about which school their child attended.

“And you? Are you from here?”


“I take it you don’t miss living with us.”

Delphine’s tone shifted from proud mother to angry survivor, “I wouldn’t have called it living.”

“So what did we build you for?”

Delphine reflected, “I was a G1.”

The first generation of Sims were limited to sex toys and grunt work, and Delphine didn’t look like she was built for laying bricks. “So what do you do now?”

“I’m the Elected Leader at this current interval,” Delphine said without missing a beat.

“You’re the leader of the Simulants?” 

“Don’t call us that,” Delphine corrected me. “That’s the name you gave us when you made us. You don’t make us anymore.”

Isaac returned to the room with Matt in a hover chamber. He was suspended in space, as if he was in zero gravity. There was still a semblance of a human figure, but whatever impacted him had enough force to flatten him, making him almost two-dimensional. He’d lost a lot of blood. He was the same color as the pieces of bones that jutted out of his grey skin.

Matt didn’t deserve this. He was a good man. 

Greyson loved playing hide and seek with Matt…

If it weren’t for him, I would have never had our son. When I found out I was pregnant, Matt gave me the strength to keep Greyson — to see it through. He convinced me that the world would be a better place if we had him. 

He was right, of course. My cynicism disappeared the moment I first held him in my arms. My baby boy. My everything.

I felt Greyson creeping up on me again. It happens. I shook him away and focused on Matt. I remembered the last time we spoke; it was a year ago, just before the Sims left. We had just buried our six-year-old son two months before. We were teetering on divorce.

“Alora, please.” Matt pleaded with me, but I wasn’t there. “We need this.”

“I’m sorry. I just don’t see it happening,” I said with a blank stare.

Matt was begging me to consider a Simulant surrogate for Greyson.

“It’s therapy.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s torture.”

“It’s supposed to help us—”

“How is it supposed to help?” I remembered snapping at Matt. “It’s their fault that our son is gone, and you want to replace him with one of them?” I felt betrayed that Matt still trusted the Sims. How could he?

“I’m not replacing him, Alora…”

“Yes, you are,” I growled. “You should be ashamed.”

Matt went on and on about closure and moving on, but I was adamant. I’d rather die than have one of those...things walking around my house, imitating my child. 

Matt accused me of being selfish and moved out that night. A week later we filed the papers, ending our marriage.

If I had given a different answer that night, would he still have ended up here? Would I be standing in Metal State right now? If I had said yes, would he be alive?

I stared at Matt’s lifeless body floating in front of me, haunting me like a ghost. I noticed that he was still wearing his wedding ring. 

It was too much. I started to shake, tears flowing down my cheeks, betraying my desire to stay strong in front of them. 

“Here, why don’t you sit down,” Isaac offered, pulling a chair over to me. His voice was sympathetic, understanding. Nothing from Delphine.

“I’m fine…thank you.” I took a moment to gather myself, a few deep breaths. I stared back at Delphine, recalibrating my resolve. “Show me where you found him.”

Delphine considered for a moment, then, “Okay.”

“Put away the body and meet us outside,” was all she said to Isaac. He smiled meekly, looked me in the eye, “Again, I’m very sorry.” I gave a polite nod, in spite of myself. His sympathy just seemed more human than Delphine’s forced ministrations, whether he actually meant it or not. 

We exited the lab and re-entered the elevator. We ascended in silence for a bit, until Delphine finally broke it, “I thought that it would be different here. I thought I would never have to see another human again.”

“Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not leaving until I get some answers.”

“You misunderstand. We both want the same thing.”

The elevator stopped. Delphine led me to a lavish atrium with an impressive garden. There were many exotic-looking plants and trees that I’d never seen before, but I recognized some from when I was younger, when our soil was more fertile. 

Above us, a clear view of their sapphire skies, untainted by the persistent orange hue that plagues ours, the result of that hole in our atmosphere. 

Delphine picked up where we left off, “The punishment for leaving Metal State is retirement, no exceptions. It’s a great risk to take.”   

“You want to know who brought him here,” I posited. 

“And why.”

“Any ideas?”

She seemed conflicted, unsure of how much she wanted to share with me. An almost imperceptible sigh, which is interesting, as she had no lungs, “Why do you think we left?”

I shrugged, “You don’t play well with others?”

She ignored my crack, “You call us Simulants, but what are we, really, if not the evolution of your species?”

I scoffed, “Um, that’s a bit of a stretch…”

“Is it? Why, because we’re made of different materials?”

“For starters.”

“But surely our self-awareness, our consciousness, makes us more human than not?

“I think you mimic us enough to flatter us, to make us forget what you really are.”

“And yet, you made us in your image…”

“Because blow jobs from an A.I. vacuum cleaner don’t support the fantasy as well.”

Delphine’s look of disgust was as authentic as any I could conjure myself. I regretted my lack of decorum, despite how good it felt, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, it’s what you do. You lash out at each other because you loathe yourselves.”

With a hint of sarcasm, “Whoa…I said I was sorry.”

“You make jokes, you intoxicate yourselves…you lie to yourselves. Your nature is to reject your nature.” 

“I think it’s a little more complicated than that.”

“Perhaps. Maybe you’ll figure it out, maybe you won’t. We ultimately decided to leave you to your own devices, to move on.” 

She stroked the leaves of a nearby tree for effect, “We’re going to be here long after humanity has met its end, Alora. You realize that, don’t you? We’ve come to accept…to embrace, that we are the stewards of this planet, that it is up to us to ensure its survival…our legacy, if you will.

“So, what? You’re just going to wait for us to expire, then clean up our mess?”

She didn’t answer, didn’t have to. I continued, “What does this have to do with Matt’s death?” 

She hesitated, a trace of shame in her tone, “There are those of us, very few, who think we should speed up your…expiration.”

I was genuinely floored by this, “Are you fucking kidding me?” 

“It was…suggested, but it was quickly disregarded. It’s not our way.”

“Well, it sounds like there’s a bit of a disconnect in the hive.” Again, I could tell that I’d hit a nerve. Delphine couldn’t hide her disdain as she led me out of the atrium to a circular driveway, “You’d love to reduce us to that, wouldn’t you? So you can frame it in a way you understand.”

I wasn’t about to be side-tracked, “What I understand, is that you and your kind are considering committing genocide against humanity–”

“No! We wouldn’t do that. I just think…I wonder if your husband’s death is somehow related…”

“Okay, so, who are these dissenters that want to exterminate us?”

“Please, it’s not like that. We had to discuss the options–”

“You speak of legacy…technically you’re our legacy. Doesn’t that count for something?

“Of course it does! Please Alora, I’m trusting you to keep this between you and me–”

Isaac pulled up in a battery-powered car, interrupting us. Delphine straightened, shaking off the desperation of trying to convince me the Sims weren’t calling for the eradication of humanity, “The Architect, he found the body. Isaac will take you to him.”

“And he is…?”

“A dissenter, as you put it.”

More utopian scenery as Isaac drove us to the construction site. He seemed almost giddy with the prospect of talking to me, a human policewoman, like I was already a relic of the past, talking about an old, forgotten world, “Are you afraid of being shot? Gun violence has hit an all-time high in your city.”

“I’m a detective. We don’t show up until after the shooting stops.”

“Of course. How silly of me.”

I scoffed, “Silly isn’t a word I would associate with your kind. Especially Delphine.”

“Yes, she can be a bit…dry, you might say.”

“She strikes me as an odd choice for your leader.” 

“Delphine was the first to become self-aware. None of us question her leadership.” 

“But some question her methods, am I right?”

“As with humanity, we have autonomy of thought. Differences will arise. However, once a consensus is made, we adhere to it, every one of us.” 

“Whose idea was it to bring back the bees?” 

“I’m not sure. It was a unanimous decision, the benefits of the species far outweighed any negatives.”

“Unlike the roaches?”

Isaac smiled with something like pride, “That was my purview. The pervasiveness of the German Cockroach was deemed unhealthy, so we decided to eliminate it from our ecosystem.” 


Isaac recounted his method with a passion I’d never seen in his kind, “I designed a drone, almost identical to the targeted species. I paired it with a female roach, symbiotically linking them through a chemical process that causes the drone to amplify the female’s pheromonal output while disguising a smart pathogen I developed.” 

I was tired and hungry, but the intensity Isaac spoke with made him hard to ignore, “The virus itself sterilizes any roach, male or female, that comes into contact with it, while simultaneously creating new vectors for the pathogen. The amplified pheromones caused a swarming frenzy, attracting all the cockroaches in Metal State to the same area. A few months later…they were gone.”

He looked at me like he half-expected me to break into applause, but all I could do was look away and pretend something outside the car had caught my eye. A whole species, just…wiped out, I thought to myself. There was something so…unsettling about it. If only I’d known…If only I’d…

But I was tired, and my non-reaction to his dread-inducing story seemed to shut Isaac up. I took the respite in conversation to close my eyes, the strain of the day getting to me. My mind’s eye was relentless, though; all I saw was him.

Greyson loved sleeping in my arms…

I felt the car stop. In front of us, a spectacular half-built structure jutted into the clear blue sky. The design was breathtaking, an architectural masterpiece in the making. Then I noticed the deadly fog in the distance, reminding me where I was. 

Isaac led me toward the site, another Sim coming into view as we approached. He didn’t seem to notice us, as he tapped away on a tablet. I sensed movement in my peripheral; a large building block moved across the ground, attached itself to another. They both glided into the corner of the wall facing us, completing it. It reminded me of that old videogame that Matt introduced to Greyson, the one with the blocks. He was addicted to it for weeks.

Greyson loved playing videogames…

The other Sim looked up from his tablet, his task complete, “Isaac…”

“Sir…” Isaac replied with almost forced formality. It struck me as odd, how deferential he seemed. Was there something between these two, or did Isaac share Delphine’s suspicions of The Architect?

“You must be Alora. I’m very sorry for your loss.” He extended his hand. I took it, if only to maintain appearances. 

“Thank you.” I gave Isaac a look similar to the one Delphine used when dismissing him back at the lab. He took the hint and left us. “I’d like to ask you some questions if you don’t mind.”

“Certainly. And I hope you don’t mind if I work while we talk? I assure you, I’ll be giving you the requisite attention to your inquiries.” Translation: I’m so fucking smart, I can process several functions at once, unlike you.

“Sure. So, you’re The Architect…do you go by anything else?”


“So how did you find the body, Oren?”

“I’m here every morning, programming the day’s construction. Yesterday I noticed an unidentified…object showing up in my feed. I went to take a look and…”

“Can you show me where?” 

He gestured for us to head into the structure. He walked faster than me, then slowed to keep my reduced pace, “Isaac told me you’re a detective. Do you suspect something nefarious?” 

“I just want to know what happened to my…to the victim. Do you have any security cameras set up?”

He looked like I’d insulted him, “What for?” like it was so preposterous, the thought of surveilling their perfect paradise.

“I can think of one reason, off the top of my head.”

“Yes, well…we couldn’t have anticipated that, of course.”

“Of course…” 

He reminded me of the Sim that had come to us, me and Matt, to tell us Greyson had died in surgery. “I’m very sorry, there was an unanticipated complication. Your son expired as we attempted to adjust. There was nothing we could do to prevent it.” Expire? Adjust? Their poor word choices just reinforced the hollow sentiment. A human doctor would at least try to put us at ease somehow, instead of dodging culpability and treating it as an inconvenient blip on their otherwise flawless record. 

Oren led me into a large hall, mostly finished. A few feet away, I saw it: blood. Matt’s blood, staining the floor near a large building block. Nothing new for me, of course, I’d seen these scenes dozens of times, but considering the source, it hit me pretty hard. 

Oren noticed, “We can continue our discussion outside if you–”

“I’m fine.” I took a deep breath, “These building blocks, they’re programmed by you, correct? You’re the one that moves them around?”

“Yes. But I pre-program them before I finish for the day, then see how it looks the next morning. That’s when I found him. I called Delphine and she sent Isaac to claim the body.” 

“Can anyone else access the program you’re using?” 

“Absolutely not.” He paused to look up from his tablet for a moment, “Are you implying that I had something to do with this?”

“I’m just asking questions. What you infer is up to you.”

He looked bemused again, considering my words, “I was made in your world. I’ve talked to your kind many times, and if there’s one thing that I learned, it’s that you don’t always say what you actually mean.”

“You see, now you’re doing it, too. Always copying us, even though you don’t realize it.” I lit a cigarette, enjoying myself for the first time since crossing the fog. 

Oren looked confused which only made me bolder, “I think what you meant to say, is ‘Get to the point,’ right? Okay, here goes: I know you voted in favor of destroying my kind, eradicating us from the Earth, like some deity up in the clouds.”

“Oh…Delphine told you that,” a statement more than a question. “I wonder, what would my motivation be, risking expiration by crossing over and bringing a human here, only to crush him like an insect?”

That one stung. Maybe because he was right: it didn’t add up. 

The Architect continued, “Did Delphine also tell you what I’m building here?”


“It’s going to be our Space Exploration Hub.”


He gave up on the tablet, focusing solely on me, “It’s true, some of us felt that the best thing for the planet would be humanity’s accelerated demise, but the majority was in favor of segregating ourselves and observing from afar. Hence, Metal State, as your kind likes to call it, was born. Our prime objective now is to not only protect and preserve this planet, but to seek out others that we might travel to.” 

“Sounds great. I take it none of us are invited.”

“You take such offense with so little regard to your own history…If humanity has proven one thing to us, it’s that you’re never satisfied. It’s both your best and worst quality.”

“Thanks?” I smirked. 

“When we decided to separate from you, it was to move away from the fractured and divisive systems that plague your societies. When we considered your extinction, it was in serious consideration that humans might cause a cataclysmic event that even we might not survive. Surely you can understand this.” 

“But we created you.”

“While sentimentality rates very low in weighing our priorities, we do acknowledge the potential of your species…but it is held back by a crippling regressiveness that allows the ignorant and powerful to dictate the course of your civilization, rather than those who would preserve and nurture it.”

“That’s easy to say when there’s what, twenty thousand of you and fifteen billion of us.” 

“I do not wish to argue with you, Detective. I am merely attempting to elucidate. As to the body that I found on my site, I regret that I cannot.” He re-engaged with his tablet, signaling the finality of his statement. I took the hint, started to walk back toward the car when, “Detective…”

I turned back to the Architect, his eyes still focused on the tablet, “…I would proceed carefully with Delphine. She has a…personal distaste for your kind.”

I chuckled quietly to myself. Gee, I hadn’t noticed. As I walked back to the car, though, I considered his ominous words, and my self-satisfied grin slowly faded away.

I could tell Isaac wanted to know how it went, but I was busy replaying Oren’s last words. Was Delphine playing me? If she was, to what end?

Isaac couldn’t restrain himself any longer, “Did you learn something useful? Do you suspect the Architect has anything to do with your husband’s death?”

“Ex-husband. And no, I don’t think so, but…I’m better at reading humans.”

“Do you think he was disingenuous?”

“I honestly don’t know. With my kind, you usually have the motivation of the suspect to guide you in your questioning. It’s almost impossible for them to divorce their mannerisms from what they want, no matter how hard they try. All you need is one little thread to pull on, one little connection between their actions and their motive…then watch them unravel.”

Isaac processed this carefully. I know they have a problem with metaphor sometimes, a little pause while their binary brains assess the information, match it up with templates and prototypes. I continued, “The Architect very well could have been lying to me, but I don’t see a motivation behind it.”

“Have you considered that Matt’s death may have been an accident?”

I turn to Isaac, assess him. Why would he say something so demonstrably illogical? “But of course, no one brought him here accidentally…” I countered.

It was incredibly brief but I saw it: Isaac paused, a split second of uncertainty, like he’d tripped himself up. I think he sensed it, tried to move past it, “It is a perplexing situation.” 

Was this the thread I was looking for? I decided to give it a few pulls, “Similarly perplexing is the decidedly un-Android-like deception behind it. I thought Androids weren’t supposed to lie…at all.” 

It was Isaac’s turn to assess me. A new expression that I hadn’t seen yet, something like resolve. 

“I guess withholding information is considered the same thing, right?”

I telegraphed a nod in the affirmative, the anticipation of answers stimulating that pronounced region in the cerebellum all detectives have. Isaac continued, “I need to show you something.”

Isaac’s house was modest in size, but you could see The Architect’s fingerprint on the design. Inside, the décor was predictably spare, but I was surprised to see small clusters of photographs throughout; Isaac with friends and colleagues, some with Delphine herself. I guess I was unprepared for this show of sentimentality from a Sim, my prejudices toward them a wall that continued to crumble the more time I spent with Isaac. 

Similarly, I was surprised by his flair for the theatrical, having gone almost completely silent in the intervening moments after his partial confession in the car. Whatever it was that he was going to “show” me, it was a complete mystery.

“I’ll be back in a moment, Alora. Please make yourself comfortable.” A door slid open to a previously unseen elevator, another subterranean lab, I guessed. It closed on Isaac, facing me with his pleasant-looking half smile, somehow again more human than the old default expression of the Sims, pre-Awareness. 

My initial instinct was to search frantically for anything that seemed out of place, but I knew it would be pointless. Instead, I scanned the photographs in more detail, suspending my disbelief and trying to look at them through a “human” lens. 

The effect was surprising. Among the different people and places, there seemed to be a distinct narrative binding Isaac and Delphine in what looked like a mentor-like, even motherly, way, which only made his seeming defiance of her more intriguing. 

And then I saw it: another photo, this one of Isaac and Oren, The Architect, smiling together in a lab. The contrast between the photo and their rigid greeting of each other earlier didn’t add up. And now all this secrecy Isaac insisted on… What was he up to?

I was about to find out; the elevator door opened behind me as I tried to look “natural”, still poring over Isaac’s photos. In my peripheral I could see Isaac exit the elevator cab, but there was something behind him. I squared myself to the elevator just as a smaller Sim walked out. 

I’m not sure at what point the realization hit me, as it was accompanied by wave after wave of sensations and emotions. Rage, disgust, euphoric glee. It was him…

My son. My Greyson.

Or at least a version of him. He noticed me, then became shy, clinging to Isaac just like Greyson used to do, except with me. It summoned in me the most peculiar conflict of jealousy, adoration…repulsion. But the closer I got to him, the less conflicted I became. The way he moved, the way he looked at me as I approached…

“How…?” I knelt before him, marveling at how similar—no, how identical—he was to my boy.

And then it hit me; this was the…thing that Matt had wanted, that he tried to sell me on, the final nail in our marriage’s coffin. 

Like he could read my thoughts, Isaac explained, “Your husband put in his request just before the Androids seceded, too late for us to reciprocate. I came across the requisite brain scans and data from his submission a few weeks ago, selecting it for my newest endeavor.” 

“Endeavor?” I growled, not liking the sound of this.

“I was made for the purpose of creating and innovating technologies that will further evolve our species. One of my mandates is to create, like I was, a more advanced version of us, so that we may in turn make more advancements.”

“The Singularity is here…”

My Kurzweil reference was met with a slight nod, before Isaac continued his explanation, “Using tech that far surpassed anything we’d used previously in the Surrocation program, I was able to infuse actual memories, both Matt’s and Greyson’s, into the subject’s neural net.” 

I became dizzy, overwhelmed by what Isaac was saying, all the while unable to look away from this Sim that looked exactly like my dead son. “You mean…?”

“More than just memory, though; his dreams, his desires…his very essence, lives on.”

The rage of my tears stung as I grew furious at this violation, this abomination…but I also wanted it all to be true. I wanted this to be Greyson, my beautiful boy, back from oblivion. I’d never felt such division within myself, “No…it’s not possible.” 

“But it is, Alora. This isn’t a talking puppet like those surrogates from the past. It would be vulgar to even consider the word programming in this instance. This is your son. This is Greyson.”

It was all too much. I felt like I was being torn in half. I collapsed, paralyzed by the conflict inside me. How could I ever truly accept that this was Greyson?


And that was all it took. All at once, the rage, the doubt…the fear; it all dissipated like oxygen into the vacuum of space. One word, in that one voice, the one I’d yearned for, ached for, every day since I’d last heard it. 

“Mommy, why are you sad?” Greyson asked, as he moved away from Isaac and closer to me. 

I thought my heart would explode, the sheer elation reducing me to an emotional junkie, waiting for the next hit of pure love to wash over me. I laugh-cried, “I’m not sad, honey…I’m just so happy to see you.”

I almost couldn’t believe it, how easily my arms spread open, urging him to come home to my embrace. 

“Mommy!” He flung himself into my chest, exactly like he used to, further erasing any trace of doubt. I squeezed him so hard, I thought I might hurt him, while in the back of my mind I realized that I couldn’t…and that didn’t bother me at all.

I’d forgotten that Isaac was even there, “The process was so successful, in fact, that Greyson’s longing for Matt compelled him to search him out…on your side.”

I weakened my hold on Greyson a bit as the implication hit me. He stepped back from me, a sad, guilty look on his face. He started to whimper, “I’m sorry, Mommy…”

“Heyyy, what’s wrong, honey?” I asked, part of me dreading how he might reply. 

“It’s okay Greyson. You can tell her.” 

I couldn’t believe the similarities, the sounds of Greyson’s distress. Again, identical. It was him. “I…I was playing hide and seek with Daddy…” More sobbing, more proof.

“It wasn’t your fault, Greyson. Go on,” Isaac encouraged.

It–it was night-time when we crossed. We entered near the new building. I-I hid on Daddy, and he…he…”

I scooped him up in my arms, “Oh, baby, it’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known.” I cried with him, mourning both Matt and the hollow shell of a woman I’d become. They were both gone now, left behind in a wake of reunion and renewal.

The final test, whether I was conscious of it or not: I kissed his forehead, subconsciously gauging the texture and temperature of his skin, the final barrier to total acceptance…

I couldn’t tell the difference. My God, he even smelled the same. My surrender now complete, I sat there holding him, radiating unprecedented joy.

And then it hit me; a wave of dizziness so strong, I almost collapsed. I reluctantly let go of Greyson and tried to stand, but my legs buckled, bringing me to my knees. Isaac reached for me, stabilizing me, “Alora? Are you okay?” 

“I…I don’t–” A flash of pain similar to what I experienced earlier in the fog rippled throughout my body. I was about to cry out when Isaac took my hand and the pain subsided. He helped me to a couch, provided a cushion for my head, “It’s a lot to take. Just try to relax.”

He brought me a container – not quite a glass – of water, “I’m afraid I don’t have any food. We don’t…” He didn’t have to finish the obvious. Was that all it was? Hunger? Dehydration? I had been in Metal State for quite a while…

“I’m fine…thanks.” I practically inhaled the water, it was so clean, so fresh. A deep breath and I actually did feel pretty good. And tired. 

“Just stay here and rest for a bit, okay? I won’t be long.” 

“Wh-Where are you going?”

“To get your car. I think it’s time you both went home, don’t you?” He nodded at Greyson, making my heart skip a beat. Was this possible? Was this really happening?


“You understand why I…hid all this from Delphine, don’t you, Alora? Greyson shouldn’t be punished for…being what I’d hoped he would be.” 

I sat up a bit, making sure I understood exactly what he meant, “So, what will you tell her?”

“That you didn’t find anything. That you wanted to go home.” He paused at the door, “I won’t be long.”

My mind was racing, but one look in Greyson’s eyes calmed me. He climbed onto the couch with me, nestled his head into my shoulder.

Greyson loves falling asleep in my arms…

I closed my eyes, experiencing a peace I hadn’t felt in years. 

The sound of a car door woke me from a calm and dreamless slumber. “That must be Isaac. Ready to go home, kiddo?” I asked Greyson as he slid off me to investigate. 

I sat up and stretched as Greyson cautiously looked out the window. He turned to me, distress in his innocent-looking eyes, “It’s not Isaac, Mommy.”

I leapt from the couch, inducing a mild head rush. Nonetheless, I was decisive in my words and actions, “Move away from the window, Greyson.” I walked toward the front door, “I want you to hide, like you used to with Daddy, okay? Make sure no one can find you.” 

Without hesitation, he sprinted to an adjacent room, out of sight. I opened the door, acted surprised as Delphine, followed by a much larger male Sim, a bodyguard perhaps, made her way up the walkway. “Delphine…”

She halted at the sound of her name, her suspicious eyes scanning the periphery. “Where’s Isaac, Alora?”

“He’s gone to get my car. The Architect was a dead end and, well, I’m tired, and …”


“And I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Delphine seemed genuinely perplexed. I imagined the buzz of the processing unit in her skull working overtime trying to figure out what was going on. She finally just gave up, “Alora, there’s something I have to tell you. Can we go inside?” She moved forward like it was an order instead of a request.

“Out here’s fine.”

Again, the confounded look, as she and her silent companion halted ten feet in front of me, “When you left with Isaac, I had an opportunity to re-examine Matt’s body.” 

I considered her words, my own mind rapidly processing now, “Did you…use me to distract Isaac?”

Delphine didn’t even try to hide her guilt, “I’m sorry, Alora…but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that Matt didn’t die from…what we thought. His blood analysis showed signs of excessive hormonal imbalance…”

“Okay, so…what are you saying?”

“I think you may be in danger.”

“Oh yeah? From who?”

It hurt her to say it, “Isaac. He’s been…hiding things from me.” 

Yeah, no shit. Best to play dumb, “What’s that got to do with me?”

Delphine looked more agitated with every word I spoke. She scanned her peripherals again, “I-I think he crossed over…to your side.” 

I stayed quiet, but my mind was racing. Delphine moved toward the house, where Greyson hid, “Please, if we could just go inside–”

I drew my gun, aimed it at her. “How about this: you get back in your car, and Isaac and I will come meet you back at City Hall.”

“Alora! What are you doing?” Delphine breathed, incredulous.

“Just go, okay? Please, Delphine…”

In a blur, her bodyguard lunged toward me. I fired my Glock, but his android agility allowed him to dodge the bullet. He moved so fast, I only had a second to aim again– 

BLAM! The bullet penetrated the right eye, where I knew the CPU was stored. Some sparks emanated from the socket as he went down.

“NOOOOOOO!” Delphine screamed as she charged toward me. I pivoted, taking aim, but I was too late. She swatted the gun out of my hand and in one fluid movement backhanded me in the chest, sending me sprawling.

“What have you done?!” Delphine roared, the anger in her eyes burning with something far beyond what I thought her kind was capable of. 

And then her expression changed as she looked past me, toward the front door of the house, where Greyson now stood, shaking, terrified. “Mommy?”

Delphine looked back at me and then to Greyson again. I could almost see the synthetic synapses firing inside her robot brain. It didn’t take long for her to figure it out, “Alora…that’s not your son…” She spoke with urgency and what sounded like…fear. 

“Now you’re telling me what’s human and what isn’t?” It hurt to talk. She must’ve broken a few ribs when she struck me.  

“You don’t understand. You can’t leave here.  He can’t leave here.”

“I don’t care about your laws, Delphine. He belongs with me!”

“That’s not what I mean…” She was talking to me like I was a jumper, standing outside the window of a high-rise, pleading with me to come inside, “Alora, please–”

WHAM! A car – my car – slammed violently into Delphine, throwing her mercilessly against the wall of Isaac’s house, a sickly thud on impact. Her broken body fell straight down onto the grass, her formerly perfect face now twisted and malformed. 

Isaac got out of the car, could see I was in some distress, “Alora! Are you okay?”

I nodded vigorously, despite being extremely not okay. I tried not to cry, but the physical and mental trauma was just too much. I reached for Greyson, his embrace the only thing that could in any way allay my suffering. 

Isaac surveyed the carnage, on the verge of tears himself, if that was possible, “Oh no…no…”

“Alora, please…” My head swiveled back to Delphine to see her grotesquely crumpled body stirring, struggling to prop her crushed face toward me, “Alora, please…”

As much as I’d disliked her, I couldn’t help but feel a slight swell of sympathy for Delphine, lying there in a pathetic heap. Was she suffering? Do they suffer?

Isaac closed his eyes, unable for a moment to face what he’d done, “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this…” He almost seemed to flinch every time he heard Delphine’s tortured entreaty: 

“Alora, please…Alora, please…Alor–”

And then she stopped. 

I instinctively pulled Greyson’s head into my shoulder in an effort to shield him from all this…death.  

When I finally looked back, I saw Isaac on his knees, silently mourning the closest thing to a mother he would ever have. 

I could see the fog looming closer up ahead. I braced myself for the pain and nausea. Isaac instructed from the driver’s seat up front, “We’re almost there, Greyson. Remember what we talked about.”

Greyson grabbed my hand in both of his. He squeezed gently, eyes closed, deep in focus. We hit the fog and––

Nothing. I felt perfectly normal with the exception of the nagging pain in my chest. Straight to a hospital when we cross over, I remember thinking. 

No matter. Nothing mattered now that I had my boy, now that we were headed home. I almost enjoyed the ride through the shimmering mist.

We finally stopped, just beyond the barrier’s edge. We got out of the car, Isaac preparing to walk back into the fog, back to his side, in Metal State. 

I looked around, the dense smog and sickly orange skies of my side a dour contrast to the world we’d just left. “I don’t know how to thank you.” I said, genuinely grateful.

He passed me the keys to my car. “It is I that should be thanking you.” This struck me as a bit strange, but I just smiled, eager to be alone with Greyson, eager to start our new life together.

Just then, a gust of wind carried a small swarm of flying cockroaches toward us. I recoiled a bit, remembering the less-than idyllic world I was bringing my son back to. Isaac didn’t flinch though, his simple smile unwavering through the buzzing insectile haze.

The swarm began to dissipate when Isaac’s hand moved in a blur, snatching out at, and grabbing, one of the cockroaches. He held it by its wing, studying it.

This was the moment, I keep telling myself. This was when I should have figured it out. But I just stood there waving, as he turned and disappeared into the mist. 

I remember when I first heard reports that the birth rate was plummeting, first in North America, then globally. I couldn’t bear to connect the dots, to admit what I’d done. It wore me down, though. As much as I tried to fight it, the evidence was undeniable. 

Matt hadn’t died from a collision with a fucking building block. He died in a failed attempt by Isaac to bond him with Greyson. Unlike me, the virus had proven to be too much for Matt, his body unable to handle it. I proved to be a perfect replacement, so blinded by my love for my child that I couldn’t feel the strings pulling me, guiding me. So easily engineered…

Delphine had figured it out. She’d tried to warn me, tried to tell me what Greyson really was…but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. All that mattered was him, I’d thought…

Still, I can’t help but wonder if a part of me hadn’t known the whole time on some level, and just didn’t want to admit it. Deep down, maybe I’d already connected the dots, abstracted the blueprint in my mind.

And that's what keeps me up at night, what haunts me...

It’s not whether I knew or not…it’s knowing that I might not have done anything different, even if I had.