Like Fish to a Cat

by Richard Lawson

---

I have a problem with time.

I mean, if you'd like, I could download a bunch of information and talk with you for hours about Stephen Hawking's proposal of how quantam mechanics affect Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. That's easy.

Sometimes, though, Ryunosuke says something like, "We're going to go to the beach tomorrow," and my little brain explodes. What is 'tomorrow'? Is it like today, except it isn't real? Is it like, you know that the sun will rise, and that knowing is 'tomorrow'?

It's times like these that I go out and lay in the sun for a while. The sun warms my body, and even though it only comes across as a datum noting a temperature increase, it makes me feel good. I can forget all the things that worry my little brain.

Yesterday, that's easier. Stuff that's happened to you before - that I can understand. I keep quite detailed files on everything that's happened to me. Sometimes I have to download it to the archives, since my storage capacity, while tremendous, is still finite. Then I have to decide what to keep and what to remove to archive, and I hate making those decisions. I want to remember everything. Once it's removed from my databanks, all I can remember are vague images, fleeting glimpses of sight and sound. I hate that.

Ryunosuke once asked me what I remember from before. I do remember, but it's like the memories that have been removed from my databanks. All I can remember are sensations, emotions, blurry thoughts of stalking my territory. I was very young at the time of my change, less than a year, I think. I was always hungry, and always looking for food. That's why I like to eat now, even though Papa-san says that it's not really necessary. I like fish! Fish was always a treat to find; some of my sharpest memories from before are of me eating fish.

I also remember that I liked people. I didn't know they were people; I just thought of them as very big cats, like my mother only more so. Sometimes they were mean and threw stuff at me. Then I ran and hid and was very scared. Sometimes they would make pleasant sounds and rub my fur (I miss my fur - I have lots of hair but it isn't the same). A very few times they would give me food, and then I would love them totally. They would always leave me, which broke my heart. Since my mother had left me, I wanted a new mother. I wanted a family, although I didn't know at the time what a family was - I just wanted someone who would rub my fur and give me food.

The first time I saw Ryunosuke, I thought he was marking his territory. Since that meant that he lived here, I called out to him. He saw me and made some of those nice sounds and rubbed my fur. He carried me with him, which was a little scary, but he took me to a place where I could smell food. This was all I could ask for: food and rubbing. This was when I first met Papa-san, although I didn't pay much attention to him; I was concentrating on the food. Then there were lots of loud noises, and lights, and I could smell the fear from Ryunosuke and Papa-san. I was absolutely terrified, and I cowered in Ryunosuke's arms, hoping that he would make it all go away. But he didn't, and the noises got worse, and my last memory of before is one of terror, pain, and death.

***

Natsume Kyusaku stared at the computer screen, completely dissatisfied with what it was telling him. The response times were much, much too slow. It just wasn't acceptable to let his greatest invention be controlled by this software.

He tweaked a few of the parameters and ran the simuation again. The NK 1123 could be seen bouncing around the screen, fighting against several mechs. While the 1123 would destroy some of the mechs, it would eventually be damaged and then destroyed by the others. This simulation was no different.

Kyusaku sat back in his chair, frustrated. He wasn't getting anywhere. The computer circuitry in the 1123 was the best Mishima Heavy Industries could produce, and his AI software was ruthlessly efficient. But it wasn't good enough. The NK model would be the best android in the world - Kyusaku would settle for nothing less - but so far, it was just another robot. Nothing made it stand out. For Kyusaku, mediocrity was one step removed from complete failure.

The computer came to life. The CEO's image filled the screen. "Kyusaku! Report your progress!"

Kyusaku supressed a sneer. He'd invented a transmitter that could take over the screen of any computer and actually allow two-way communication. It had been a toy, nothing more, but the CEO delighted in using it to surprise the employees and generally unsettling them, trying to make them so paranoid that they would do nothing but concentrate on working for MHI. The CEO believed in effective leadership through terrorism.

"I have the same report to give. The NK android is still not functioning to specifications. When that changes, I will report on it."

The CEO leaned into the screen, staring at him intently. "I know you, Kyusaku. You're trying to make the damn thing perfect. We don't require it to be perfect. We require it to perform adequately."

Kyusaku casually lit a cigarette. "So far, all of my simulations have the NK android being destroyed by a standard attack mech." He didn't mention that this only happened after the android had destroyed four or five other mechs before succumbing to the other five or six.

The CEO tsked. "Well, hurry up, then. You've spent enough time and money already. Get the damn prototype built and operating correctly, and let Manufacturing take it from there." The CEO gave him a dark glare. "Don't disappoint me again, Kyusaku."

"Of course not. Leave me alone." He said this as blandly as possible, trying to keep his irritation out of his voice.

The CEO grimaced. "How late will you be working?"

"I plan to be here all night." Again.

Anger covered the CEO's face. "Don't you have a son, Kyusaku?"

Damn, the CEO was enjoying being sarcastic. "Yes, I know. I will call him later." Kyusaku loved his ten-year-old son. He deeply regretted the circumstances that were making Ryunosuke's life very turbulent right now. His son shouldn't be in the middle of this.

"Fine." The CEO punched a button, and Kyusaku's screen returned to the data it had been showing before.

Kyusaku puffed furiously at his cigarette. He couldn't stand the CEO. The CEO was manipulative, demanding, impatient, and downright mean. Kyusaku had no idea why he had married her.

Except that she sometimes had a good heart. She loved their son, just as much Kyusaku did. Her problem was that she loved her job more. MHI was everything to her; anything else was secondary at best. Including her son. Including her marriage.

Kyusaku violently stubbed out his cigarette. This was getting him nowhere; no matter how much he tried, he would never be able to figure out her mind.

Figure out her mind.

That spaked a fire deep within his own brain. A floodgate of ideas came pouring out. The solution to all of his problems with the NK android.

He pushed it aside. He hated the idea. He wasn't like that; it was horrible.

The idea pushed back. You want to be unique, don't you? You want the NK to be the greatest machine in the world? Here's your chance.

He couldn't do it. He would never want to do that to another life form. He despised animal testing, and adamantly refused to buy any products that resulted from any form of animal cruelty. Eating meat was fine by his standards; torturing animals was something else. He couldn't do it.

Yet, the other half of his mind whispered, wouldn't the animal have a better existence? More intelligent, more aware, able to live longer?

In order to make it useful, however, he'd have to put some controls in. He'd have to find a way to make the android follow orders, or it would be useless to MHI. He'd be making a slave out of the animal.

But the idea was so tempting.

He finally came to a compromise. He'd design it without any sort of controls built in. He could try some simulations, see if the basic design was sound. Maybe there was a way to clone an animal brain and use that. He didn't think that would work - a cloned brain, studies had already shown, was very bad at learning things. Nothing could replace knowledge gained through growing up and experiencing life. Trying to implant those things in a cloned brain led to nothing but total insanity at best, and destruction of the brain at worst.

Still, no computer in the world could match a brain's capacity to learn, grow, and adapt. If Kyusaku could find a way to get a brain to work in the NK android, it would be unstoppable. It would be the crowning achievement of his life.

Kyusaku cleared the screen and opened a new file. He pasted in all of the information from the previous model, although he'd have to modify a lot of it. The first thing he did was to save the file, giving it a new name.

NK 1124.

***

Kyusaku opened the door, exhausted. When new ideas sparked inside his brain, he was totally unable to get any sleep. He'd been two days designing the NK 1124. The preliminary simulations were very promising. He'd sent a request for a prototype to Manufacturing, and hoped to be able to put it through some real-life trials very soon.

There was, of course, one vital component missing. He still had no idea what to do about that.

He dropped his coat on the floor and walked down the hall. He paused, turned, and went back to pick up his coat and hang it in the closet. Akiko's servants would have done that for him, but he hated the idea of servants. Manual labor toughened the spirit and sharpened the mind. If you let others do it, you turned soft and weak, something Kyusaku had no intention of becoming.

It was fairly late. He went down to his son's bedroom and opened the door. Ryunosuke was fast asleep. Kyusaku stood for a long moment, enjoying the sight of his son. He had not been spending nearly enough time with Ryunosuke. After the NK 1124 was in production, he would take some time off to be with his son.

Kyusaku closed the door and continued down to the master bedroom. He paused at the door, then moved to the guest bedroom. He didn't feel like dealing with Akiko right at the moment. He'd been spending most of his sleeping hours in the guest bedroom, anyway.

He pushed open the door and blinked. Akiko was sitting on the bed, her legs crossed, wearing a somewhat sheer nightgown. She arched an eyebrow at him. "I saw a request for a prototype today. Have you figured out the design problems?"

He almost growled. Damn her anyway. Always the CEO, even at home. "It's just a prototype. There are a lot of things that still need to be worked out."

"So I saw. A cyborg instead of an android? No one's built a successful cyborg yet. How are you going to control it?"

Kyusaku snorted. She was too nosy. "As I said, there are a lot of things I need to work out."

"But you're closer than you were before, right?" She got up and walked over to him, pressing her body against his. "You're going to have it working in no time, right?"

He hated this. Akiko sometimes seemed to view sex as merely another reward to offer a particularly troublesome and talented employee. Kyusaku couldn't help wonder, sometimes, if her pursuit of him before their marriage was motivated by the desire to acquire his services for her family's company. Right now, certainly, she was just trying to give him an incentive to finish the project rapidly.

The problem was, he couldn't help responding to the incentive.

He gave her a rough kiss. She kissed back just as violently, and it proceeded from there.

Afterwards, they wound up on the bed, Akiko with her arms wrapped around Kyusaku's chest while he lay on his back, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He hated afterwards, as well. Once the lust was gone, there wasn't a lot left. He thought back to the early days of their marriage. Then, he had enjoyed the aftereffects almost as much as the actual event. They had shared a special tenderness, and talked enthusiastically of their plans for the future. She'd talk about running her grandfather's company, and he'd talk about become the greatest inventor the world had ever seen.

Little had he realized how those plans would consume their marriage.

Akiko was mumbling. She liked to talk after sex, which further annoyed him these days.

"Ahh, Kyusaku. Your cyborg is going to make us so much money."

Kyusaku grunted. Money had never been a concern to him. He had enough to get by. That was all he needed.

"We'll sell hundreds of them. Thousands. MHI will rise above all the others and become the greatest corporation in the world. All because of me. Think of what a tremendous impact this will have on our share values...." Her speech faded away as sleep claimed her.

Kyusaku grimaced. He was out to build a thing of beauty, a perfect machine of tremendous aesthetic value. Akiko was out to make money, pure and simple.

He finally allowed sleep to overcome him. His last rational thought was to wonder which of them was the more deluded.

***

Kyusaku cursed as a thin column of smoke rose from the 1124. He put aside the welding laser and peered inside. He'd have to replace the whole component. Still, he was not dissatisfied. Manufacturing had done an adequate job with the prototype. He was making extensive modifications - he never sent the complete plans to Manufacturing - but they were going well for the most part. This was a minor setback, easily corrected.

He stepped back and examined the cyborg. It was quite ugly - he had yet to apply any kind of pseudoflesh. He wondered what form to give it. He thought about giving it his own image. That appealed to him. A fitting tribute to the greatest genius in the world.

The door to his lab opened. He looked, startled and angry. "This facility is strictly off limits! Get out now!"

A man stepped into the light. Kyusaku's irritation grew, but he had to assume a facade of humility. "Chairman Mishima."

The Chairman of the Board was his wife's grandfather. He was well into his eighties, but still quite vital - he had access to the best life-extending procedures money could buy. Most of all, his mind was very sharp. You could still see the man that had taken a tool-dye company and turned it into one of the largest multi-national corporations based in Japan.

The Chairman wandered idly around the lab. "My granddaughter tells me that work on the NK android is proceeding well."

Kyusaku kept his voice neutral, kept himself from telling the chairman that it was a cyborg, not an android. "There is still much research to be done. There are many problems that I have not yet begun to work on. This will take time, Chairman."

The Chairman turned and fixed him with a hard stare. "Time for what?"

"I haven't yet figured out how to get a cloned brain to operate within the 1124, nor have I determined how such a brain would react to its mechanical environment. We will need to proceed slowly, allowing the brain to adapt to the android body and seeing whether the enhancements I've planned will increase intelligence and speed up reaction time. This prototype is merely the first step in evaluating the success of the design."

"Nonsense." The Chairman's voice was firm. "We don't need a cloned brain. We can take the brain of a monkey and use that. We can use drugs and other conditioning to force the brain to obey orders. We already know how to do those things, we've just never had the android design you've come up with. Now we can proceed."

"Sir!" Kyusaku felt the beginnings of panic, and suppressed them as best he could. "Such... conditioning would leave the brain without any ability to think on its own! It would be little better than a computer, blindly carrying out instructions. Of what use would that be?"

The Chairman raised an eyebrow. "Surely I don't need to spell it out for you, Natsume? I've seen your simulations."

"The combat simulation? It's just a convenient method of testing the model's intelligence and response time. It's merely a measuring device, nothing more."

"A measuring device that shows your android capable of destroying multiple military attack mecha single-handedly. I know of many people who would be very interested in such measurements."

Kyusaku stood absolutely still. Part of MHI's business was supplying military hardware. Kyusaku knew that, but had always glossed it over in his mind. His inventions had always been used for non-military work. The NK android was only going to be used for mining or deep-space exploration or other uses where the android could safely go where humans could not. That was what he had thought, anyway.

He was a fool. A complete, blind fool.

The Chairman began to walk slowly towards the door. "I have several specimens on their way in. You will select a monkey, condition it, and implant its brain into the android. I want the NK 1124 to be working within the week. We'll put it through a few real-life simulations, and begin production by first quarter. See to it, Natsume-san."

The door closed. Kyusaku heard the echo reverberate in his mind over and over again. His machine, the crowning achievement of his life, was going to be used to hurt people. The possible benefits of the cyborg were going to be ignored to focus instead on its ability to kill.

Kyusaku would not allow that to happen.

He paced around the room. What could he do? He needed to keep MHI from getting their hands on the prototype. He'd have to hide, figure a way out of this mess.

That also meant hiding from his wife. He had no doubt that she would agree with the Chairman about the uses for the cyborg. His objections about the ethical uses for technology would be swept aside in her obsession to make the company as rich and powerful as possible.

It probably meant the end of their marriage. That was fine with him. They'd been heading for a divorce anyway, even if it might have taken years for them to realize it. He thought about everything he had in the mansion. He could leave it all to Akiko, he wanted none of it.

Almost none of it.

Kyusaku sighed. Neither he or Akiko were terribly good parents. They mostly left Ryunosuke's upbringing to the Mishima family servants. Kyusaku did call his son every day, and saw him as much as possible when we wasn't obsessing over a project. It was simply amazing that Ryunosuke loved his parents as much as he did. He was a good boy.

Much as Kyusaku would hope that Ryunosuke would be left out of the dispute his parents were about to have, it was all to easy to imagine Akiko using Ryu as a hostage to force Kyusaku's compliance. Kyusaku could not allow that. Besides, it was a strategy he could use himself. Not that he would threaten his son, but Akiko's attacks might be a little restrained if she knew that Ryunosuke was with Kyusaku.

His mind made up, Kyusaku left the lab and ran to his Land Rover. It was cold outside; the forecasters were predicting snow by Christmas. He cranked up the heat and drove recklessly home.

It was fairly late, past Ryunosuke's bedtime. Kyusaku walked back down the hall and entered his son's room. He gently shook the boy. Ryunosuke opened his eyes and sleepily smiled. "Yes, Daddy?"

"Ryu-san." Kyusaku licked his lips, wondering how to say this. "Your mother and I... we... we won't be living together any more. She wants to do some very mean things with my inventions, and I can't let her do that. So I'm going to be going away." Kyusaku paused for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts. "Would... would you come with me?"

Ryunosuke, wide awake now, looked evenly at Kyusaku. "You're afraid Mother might hurt me to get to you?"

Kyusaku blinked. That was a surprising deduction from his son. Ryunosuke was very bright, and seemed to understand a lot more about his parents that Kyusaku had realized. "I... I don't know what your mother might do. She loves you, Ryu-san, but she gets a little crazy sometimes."

"You do too, but you don't get mean when you're crazy." Ryunosuke sat up. "Are we leaving now?"

Kyusaku let out a sigh of relief. "No. I need to get some things from the lab. Pack a few things - not a lot, just what you would need if you were going to a friend's house overnight. I'll pick you up after school, and we'll find a new place to live."

"There's no school tomorrow. It's Christmas Eve." Ryunosuke cocked his head. "Will you and Mommy ever like each other again?"

Almost certainly not, Kyusaku thought to himself. Still, seeing the hopeful expression on his son's face, he couldn't disappoint him. "We'll see."

Ryunosuke looked at Kyusaku for a second, then reached over and hugged him. "It'll be okay, Daddy, you'll see."

Kyusaku let out a sigh that was dangerously close to a sob. He had a treasure in this little boy. It was just too bad his parents were so screwed up.

Kyusaku released his son and stood up. "Get some sleep. If your mother asks, you don't know where I am. Be ready, we may have to move fast."

Ryunosuke nodded, his face very serious.

Kyusaku held his eyes for a minute, then turned and left. There was so much that needed to be done. Life, like that which he saw in his son, was too precious to allow others to destroy it. Kyusaku would do everthing he could to make sure no invention of his would be used in such an evil manner.

***

Akiko entered the mansion, tired but exhilirated. Kyusaku's breakthru had come at just the right time. The shareholders had begun to question her leadership abilities, clamoring at Grandfather to replace her. With the money Kyusaku's invention would bring in, no one would dare oppose her.

She looked into the living room, pleased to see that the Christmas tree had been decorated appropriately by the servants. She looked at the presents, and wondered idly what she had gotten Ryunosuke for Christmas.

The sad thing about Christmas Eve was that the servants were gone. Akiko would have to pour herself a drink. She did, savoring the taste of the sake. She carried it with her to her den. Tomorrow morning they'd open presents; tonight, she had more work to do.

There was a video tape on her chair. She frowned at it. A note was attached, Kyusaku's handwriting proclaiming "Play me". She wondered what this was about.

She punched the intercom button. "Kyusaku!"

No response. Where could he be?

She punched the button again. She could hear the echoes of her voice coming from elsewhere in the mansion. "Ryunosuke?"

Again, silence.

Her frown grew darker. She walked over to the VCR and put in the tape. As she turned on the monitor, Kyusaku's image filled the screen.

"Akiko." He paused for a moment, then began to pack some materials as she watched. She could tell that he was quite agitated.

"This is to inform you that I am resigning my position at Mishima Heavy Industries, effective immediately. I am taking with me the NK 1124 prototype, and all files and materials associated with its design." He paused in his packing, looking down at the rope, then looking directly into the camera. "I am also moving out of the mansion."

Akiko's heart sank into the pit of her stomach. Suddenly weak, she fell to her knees in front of the monitor.

"I'm sorry for leaving you so suddenly, but when Chairman Mishima told me that he wanted a working model android, I made my decision. I knew this android would need years of research and development before it could be used in public, but your grandfather was insistent about wanting it *now*, in which case I can think of only one practical use." He grimaced. "While I appreciate this laboratory and the enormous amount of time and money spent on my research, I simply cannot condone his idea to use my android for such purposes. Never will any invention of mine be used to hurt other people. I hope you can understand that, Akiko."

He reached off-screen and drew Ryunosuke into the picture. "In addition, I'll also be holding onto Ryunosuke for a while, for the sake of his education. I'll raise him fine. All on my own." They bowed to the camera. "Just sit back and watch."

Kyusaku paused for another moment. "I am sorry, Akiko."

The tape ended in static.

Akiko watched the static for a long while. Finally the tape reached its end, and began to rewind. The screen went blank.

He was stealing the prototype. That and the files were MHI property. He had to be stopped.

She couldn't call the police. A wife accusing her husband of stealing from the company she ran? The scandal would be enormous. She'd lose all respect, and probably be forced to resign.

Akiko would handle this in her own way.

She got to her feet and walked to the desk. She punched up the direct line, put a calm, neutral expression on her face, and waited until an image appeared on her screen.

Arisa looked more than a little worried, her voice full of false cheer. "Akiko-sama? Merry Christmas!"

"Arisa-san, is Kyouko-san with you?"

Arisa looked to the side. "Yes, Akiko-sama, she's here. What can we do for you?"

"My husband has stolen an android from R&D. I want you to track him down right away and return the android to MHI."

Arisa looked surprised. "But, Akiko-sama, it's Christmas Eve. We're on holiday; it'll take all night to track him down."

Akiko kept the irritation from showing on her face. Fortunately, she knew how to get Arisa to obey. "You may use the attack helicopter to track them down."

Arisa's eyes lit up. "Yes, Akiko-sama! Right away, Akiko-sama."

Akiko nodded in satisfaction. "Contact me at the office when you have something to report."

"Yes, Akiko-sama." Arisa ran off the screen.

Akiko shut down the connection. She would have to get back over to MHI and begin to assess the damage. Certainly Grandfather would want a report. They had other projects in the works; she'd have to see about pushing some of them forward. Perhaps Poison One could be developed quickly.

For now, though, she sat in her den, staring at the blank screen across the room that had very recently shown her the image of her son and husband, leaving her.

She began, very softly, to cry.

***

They burst into the apartment. Kyusaku had rented this apartment for some time. Every now and again he needed to get away from his wife, both at home and the office, so he had created a hideaway for himself in Nerima. It had now become his refuge, the place where he and his son could escape his wife's machinations.

He had never believed she would go so far. She had sent an attack helicopter after him. They had been chased and fired upon. Ryunosuke could have been killed. Akiko's obsession truly blinded her to the dangers she was inflicting upon those around her.

He was glad that he had taken Ryunosuke out of her reach. At the same time, he was very afraid of the risk Ryunosuke was now in. This might be just the first of many attacks.

Right now, he had other worries. Ryunosuke was carrying a cat. The cat had been in the car when the helicopter had fired blindly at them. While it was nothing short of a miracle that Kyusaku and his son were uninjured, the cat had not been so fortunate. It was now taking huge, ragged breaths, red froth bubbling out of its mouth. It didn't have long to live.

Kyusaku carried the android body back to his improvised workshop. It was quite heavy, but his was the strength born of desperation. His son's heart would be broken if the cat died. Kyusaku himself would feel horribly guilty; he was the one that had initiated the conflict by stealing the android. He would not allow a life to be lost because of that. Any life.

"Ryunosuke, put the cat on the counter and get my other stuff from the cab."

"Yes, Daddy." Ryunosuke sounded very scared. He gently put the cat on the counter, then ran out of the room.

Kyusaku put the 1124 on the main workbench. He fired up his computers and hooked up the leads. Images flickered to life on the screen, showing him the status of the android. Everything looked more or less all right. There were a lot of systems still non-operational, but the life-support was running; that was the important thing.

He had deliberately designed the life-support for scalability; anything from a mouse to a human could fit their brain in the 1124. Ryu flipped through some of the tenous configurations he'd written out, and found nothing for cats. He hadn't been expecting to use one, of course.

He'd just have to fake it. His fingers flew across the keyboard, and the life-support system came online. The power systems were ready, and the head obligingly opened up to reveal the cavity, waiting for its occupant.

Kyusaku pursed his lips. That had gone reasonably well. Now for the very hard part.

Three boxes, piled on top of each other, were pushed in by Ryunosuke. Kyusaku grabbed the top one and tore it open, frantically rummaging through its contents. He threw various things on the counter top, mumbling to himself.

"Will the cat be all right?" Ryunosuke was petting the cat, carefully avoiding the wound.

"I hope so." Kyusaku looked around, and decided he was as ready as he'd ever be. "Ryu-san, please leave. I'll let you know how it goes."

"Yes, Daddy." Looking down, Ryunosuke slowly walked out of the workshop.

Kyusaku went over to the sink and washed his hands as best he could. Not that it truly mattered; the brain would be fed by a self-regenerating nutrient that could not become infected like blood could. He went over to his bag and pulled out a hypodermic and a vial. He drew some liquid out of the vial, probably much more than he needed but it didn't matter. He laid it on the bench, next to the scalpel.

Kyusaku paused, gathering himself. This next part would have to be done quickly. He'd have to inject the drug into the cat, killing it. Once it was dead he'd have to cut rapidly, opening up the head and extracting the brain and stem. He had to be careful not to damage the brain. He'd have to carry it over to the android body - not the preferred means, but he had no time to do it any other way. Once in the head cavity, he'd have to close it up and start the life-support. He had to accomplish this all before the brain died of anoxia.

He drew several deep breaths, then looked down at the cat. "You'll be okay, boy, just hang in there." He frowned suddenly, then did a quick check. "Sorry, I meant girl. You'll live and be healthy and happy. I promise."

Kyusaku didn't know if saying that made either him or the cat feel better. Muttering a prayer, he picked up the needle.

***

Kyusaku stared at the screen, frowning. There was a lot that wasn't working right. He began delving into the programming, trying to get the interface to work better.

"Daddy?"

Kyusaku flinched. He'd forgotten about Ryunosuke. Kyusaku sprang over the the counter, looked frantically around, grabbed a part of the newspaper and covered the body. There was no need for Ryunosuke to see that.

"Daddy, did it work?"

Kyusaku turned around to look at his son. "I don't know yet, Ryu-san. The brain is alive but I don't know how damaged it is. I'm trying to hook up the external interface so that the brain can control the android body. Right now, I've pacified the brain so that it'll sleep."

"I see." Ryunosuke walked up the android body, staring at it. "I hope he lives."

"She." Kyusaku went back to the console and began to work again.

Ryunosuke stood next to him, silently watching. After a few minutes, he spoke. "Can I help?"

Kyusaku turned his head. "Ryu-san, you can help by not disturbing me. I need to get this interface program right. We can only pacify the brain for so long before it starts damaging itself. I only have a few hours and a lot of work to do. Why don't you go to sleep and maybe tomorrow we'll be able to wake her up."

Ryunosuke sighed and looked very sad. "You'll get it to work, won't you?"

For once, Kyusaku's ego could be put to good use. "Of course! Don't I always?"

Ryunosuke smiled. "Thanks, Daddy."

Kyusaku nodded, then turned back to the console.

He waited until Ryunosuke had left the room before letting out a somewhat despairing sigh and hanging his head in his hands.

***

Kyusaku bit his lip, changed two more parameters, and recompiled. He decided that this would be the best he could do, and downloaded the code to the android's databanks.

The interface was still crude, but it might work. The cyborg would be able to control its body and use the onboard CPU's to process information along with its own brain.

Kyusaku wasn't so sure about speech. Certainly it would be able to make noise, but he wasn't so sure that its desire to communicate would be correctly translated by the interface program and onboard cultural databanks into Japanese. He also wasn't sure if the intelligence enhancements would allow it to understand what was said to it. Probably not. That could wait.

The android had considerable strength available to it. Kyusaku had programmed in some restraints; the interface would dampen the motor signals. The cyborg would be.... Kyusaku couldn't help but smile. It would be weak as a kitten. To protect the cyborg from itself, he had tied it down with sturdy rope. If it seemed docile enough, he would untie it.

Ryunosuke came running in, looking as if he'd just woken up. "Are you going to wake her?"

Kyusaku nodded. "Very soon."

Ryunosuke was staring at the cyborg. Kyusaku blushed. He'd added the pseudoflesh and hair. He had always wanted the android to be as human as possible. This also meant, to him, that the android be anatomically correct. Kyusaku had made the android correct and them some. He was a bit of a lech, he knew that. But there was no reason why he shouldn't make the android as attractive as possible.

He ran to his room. He grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. He brought them back to the lab, found his son still staring at the android, and quickly put the clothes on the android.

Ryunosuke was still staring, which worried Kyusaku a little. Finally Ryunosuke looked up at his father with an amazed expression on his face. "Daddy, why is her hair scarlet?"

Kyusaku blew out a somewhat relieved breath. "That's the color of the material. We can change it later."

"No, don't. It looks nice that way. Are those fangs?"

Kyusaku blushed again. "Uh, it was just a little joke. I'll remove them."

"Why don't we let her decide, Daddy?"

"Um, good point." Kyusaku looked around, trying to think of what else needed to be done. Nothing, he decided. "Ryunosuke, this could be very dangerous. I have no idea how the cat will respond, or how damaged its brain might be. I want you to wait in the other room. I will let you know when it is safe."

Ryunosuke nodded. "She'll be okay, won't she?" The fear and worry were very evident in his voice.

Kyusaku patted his head. "I hope so. Let's find out."

Ryu's lip quavered, but he left the room.

Kyusaku turned to the control panel. It showed everything was working in the cyborg. The brain was alive and functioning. Most of the systems were online; most importantly, all of the motor and sensory devices were connected and operational. It was now or never. With extreme trepidation, Kyusaku disabled the pacifier. He watched as the brain waves strengthed, bringing the cat's mind to consciousness.

He looked over to the cyborg. It - she - opened her eyes. She looked wildly around, and let out a screech. She began to flail wildly. Much to Kyusaku's shock, she easily tore the ropes off of her.

She fell off the table. She tried to bring herself to all fours, but seemed confused by the way her body was responding. She looked down at herself, her hair falling around her. "Fear fear terror. Wrong wrong. Body wrong not my body. Fear."

She looked around, quivering. "Place wrong not my place. Smells wrong looks wrong. Fear. Terror."

Her eyes found him. "Fear! Strange one, big one. Terror." She tried to leap away, but her legs convulsed, confused by the signals her brain was sending them. She screeched and clambered her way across the room, frantically crawling on her stomach. She knocked over a table and eventually smacked into the wall. She turned around, putting her back to the wall, curling up in a ball, her eyes looking at his. "Fear fear fear. Hide. Hide, big one leaves place leaves body leaves. Hide hide."

Kyusaku's eyes were watering, his heart breaking. He had wanted to give her the gift of a new and better existence. Instead he had taken from her everything she had known and replaced it with a grotesque caricature of life. Maybe it was best that he turn the pacifier back on, allow her to go back to sleep, and let her brain join her body in death. That had to be better than having her live her life in terror.

"Hear kitty kitty." Kyusaku snapped his head around. Ryunosuke had entered the room. He was crouching on the ground, his arm extended towards the cyborg.

"Ryu!" Kyusaku forced his voice to be calm and steady. He put his finger on the button that would activate the pacifier. "Back away. She's very afraid, and she might hurt you."

"She won't hurt me." Ryunosuke sounded very confident. Kyusaku wished he could share that confidence. He looked over at the cyborg, to see her staring wide-eyed at Ryunosuke. Kyusaku's finger twitched on the button; there was no way he was going to allow his son to be hurt.

"Make fear stop. No fear no wrong want stop." She seemed to be speaking to Ryunosuke. Kyusaku kept pressure on the button, but watched to see what would happen.

Ryunosuke spoke in a friendly, quiet voice. "It's okay, Nuku Nuku." Kyusaku blinked. Where had his son come up with that name? Kyusaku already had begun planning an identity for her, and it certainly didn't include a name like Nuku Nuku. He frowned, and glanced at the monitor. The name of the prototype was displayed on the upper left corner of the screen. NK 1124. That's where Nuku had come from, anyway.

"Friend?" She brought her head a little forward, wrinkling her nose, evidently trying to smell him. "Friend big one fear stop make fear stop?"

"I am your friend, Nuku Nuku." Ryunosuke took a couple of crouching steps forward.

"Fear!" She cowered back against the wall. Then she brought her head forward again. "No want fear want friend. Friend you friend you rub give food?"

Ryunosuke smiled at her. "Yes. I will give you food and pet you and be your friend."

Kyusaku wondered if she was processing the language correctly. So far she had merely repsonded to the environment, vocalizing her thoughts, probably without realizing she was doing so. He thought that it would be a while before she could actually understand what was said to her. What was important was that Ryunosuke continue to talk to her in a friendly manner, letting his tone convey what his words couldn't, at least not yet.

She got up on her hands and knees. She brought her legs up and managed to stay upright on all fours, mimicking a cat's posture as best her human form could. She tried to walk forward, bringing her left hand and right foot forward at the same time. She lost her balance and fell over. She whimpered. "Fear body wrong. Body not work fear." She looked at Ryunosuke. "Make body right?"

Ryunosuke smiled. "I'll help you learn how to use your new body, Nuku Nuku."

She made a sound that somewhat resembled a meow. "Body wrong. Sad." She sprang into the air at Ryunosuke.

The cyborg moved so suddenly, so quickly, that Kyusaku was frozen in shock. His finger twitched and slipped off the button of the pacifier. His heart leapt into his throat, afraid of what was about to happen.

The cyborg landed on all fours at Ryunosuke's feet. She brought her head up to his, looking at him closely. "Rub?"

Ryunosuke laughed and began to stroke her hair.

She sighed and put her head on his leg. "Wrong, body wrong, rub feels wrong." She sounded more sad than afraid. "Big one right feels right. Like big one. Nuku Nuku likes big one."

Kyusaku's relief that his son was all right was swept away by his amazement. How had she known that she had been named Nuku Nuku? Was it an accident, merely parrotting the words spoken to her?

He walked slowly over to her, crouching next to the cyborg. She looked at him carefully as he came close, but didn't flinch or cower.

She reached out and put her hand on his knee. "Mother?"

He smiled. "I'm more like your father. Call me Papa-san."

Her brow wrinkled, and Kyusaku cursed himself for making the sentence too complex. She cocked her head. "Papa-san?"

He nodded, pleased and amazed that she had figured that much out. "Yes. I'm Papa-san."

"Happy. Nuku Nuku loves Papa-san." She turned to Ryunosuke. "Mother?"

Ryunosuke's grin grew wider. "My name is Ryunosuke."

"Happy happy." She lifted her head and licked his cheek. "Nuku Nuku loves Ryunosuke."

Kyusaku rocked on his heels, stunned. Her speech patterns had taken a quantam leap forward in the space of a minute. She had begun intelligently processing spoken words, and had even grasped the concept of names to the point that she wanted to know their names and talk to them.

"Papa-san. Ryunosuke." She turned and fell on her side, clutching Ryunosuke's leg and leaning her head on it. "Nuku Nuku not afraid. Papa-san and Ryunosuke make all right. Nuku Nuku loves Papa-san and Ryunosuke."

This just wasn't possible. It should have taken months just to get her to this point. These things were so far outside her experience and ability to understand that she shouldn't have even been able to speak at first.

It was quite a humbling experience for Kyusaku. No matter how brilliant his inventions were, no matter what he accomplished during his career, he would never be able to surpass the simple miracle of life.

A wave of affection washed over him. He realized that she was no longer a cyborg. She was as far removed from his designs for the NK 1124 as he was from an anatomical diagram. She was Nuku Nuku, a living being, learning about her new world and dependent upon him for help in surviving in it. He would not disappoint her.

He would not disappoint his daughter.

He flushed at that thought and turned to Ryunosuke. "Let's get her into the living room. She'll need quite a lot of time to adjust, and she'll probably need us to be with her. We may as well get comfortable."

"Okay." Ryunosuke looked down. "Nuku Nuku, stand." He stood up, still holding her hands.

Nuku Nuku watched him intently. Her extended sensors popped out from her head. Kyusaku blinked; he hadn't realized that the extended sensors were online. Very likely the interface program had interpreted her signal for more information as a request to acitvate the sensors. Now that he thought of it, the sensors did make her look a little like a cat with its ears swivelled forward.

She looked down at her body, then back up at his. Finally, she gathered her legs underneath her and stood up. She swayed on her feet, Ryunosuke's grip on her hands the only thing that kept her from falling over.

"High so high. Nuku Nuku very high." She slowly stopped swaying, and smiled at Ryunosuke. "Nuku Nuku big one now!"

Ryunosuke beamed at her. "You're a girl!"

Kyusaku winced slightly. It actually wasn't true; she looked like a girl, but she still had an android body with the mind of a cat. There would be limits to how much she could pretend to be human. Still, such lessons could wait until later.

"Girl." Her gaze turned inward, which Kyusaku interpreted to mean she was scanning her internal databases. "Nuku Nuku is girl." She frowned. "Nuku Nuku not... cat?"

Ryunosuke's face turned serious. "Umm... well, I guess you're sort of a cat. And sort of a girl."

"Catgirl!" She smiled happily. "Nuku Nuku is catgirl!"

Kyusaku's mind boggled again. She had just made up a new word. It wasn't in her database, and it certainly wasn't from her previous existence. He had hoped she would be able to learn. He had never, ever imagined that she would be able to create.

Kyusaku's mind reeled under the possibilities.

"Can you walk, Nuku Nuku?" Ryunosuke seemed to enjoy playing the teacher.

"Walk?" She looked inside herself again, then back at Ryunosuke. "Ryunosuke walk?"

"Sure!" We walked around the room a couple of times, with Nuku Nuku watching his every step.

She stood there, processing the information. She looked at Kyusaku. "Papa-san walk?"

She had just figured out that one sample wasn't enough; she needed more data. Kyusaku couldn't help but be a little frightened, wondering where her development would end. He walked around the room, feeling her intense gaze.

She stood for a few seconds, thinking. "Walk." She put a foot forward, put weight on it, then brought her other foot forward as well. "Nuku Nuku walk!" She did, somewhat clumsily but gaining proficiency rapidly. She nearly fell on her first turn, but managed two circuits of the room. By her last steps, it appeared to Kyusaku as if she had been walking all her life.

"Very good Nuku Nuku!" Ryunosuke grabbed her hand again. "Follow me." He began to lead her from the room.

She took two steps, then stopped and looked back at Kyusaku. "Fear! Papa-san not come Papa-san leave Nuku Nuku?"

Kyusaku was simply amazed at what a good job the cultural databank and the interface program were doing. Nuku Nuku sounded sad and afraid, and her eyes were wide and seemed to be on the verge of tears.

While part of him was thinking of the technical aspects of what he'd accomplished, another part of him was deeply moved by her fear that he would leave her.

He came up to her and took her other hand. "I will never leave you, Nuku Nuku. Even if I'm not here, I'll always be with you."

She looked thoroughly confused, which was just as well, since he wasn't sure what he meant himself. He patted her hand, which caused her to smile and laugh. That made Kyusaku feel good. She was adjusting, much more rapidly than he had thought possible. She was making connections, attaching herself to him and Ryunosuke, which would probably help her a lot in the weeks to come as she found a place for herself in a completely new world.

He looked over at his son. "Merry Christmas, Ryunosuke."

Ryunosuke beamed. "Merry Christmas, Daddy."

Nuku Nuku laughed. "Merry Christmas, Ryunosuke and Papa-san!"

They laughed with her. Kyusaku was fairly certain she had no idea what 'Merry Christmas' meant; she just heard it being said with love and wanted to say it back.

More than ever, he was convinced of the rightness of his decision to leave MHI. How else could he have ever come to know Nuku Nuku? Her simple, unconditional love was already giving him more joy than he had known in the past year living with Akiko.

Maybe, given enough time, Akiko would be able to learn how to love from Nuku Nuku. Maybe Kyusaku could, as well.

Together with Ryunosuke, he lead Nuku Nuku out of the workshop and into the living room.

***

No matter how full my storage capacity gets, I always keep the memories of my first Christmas. Everything was so new and scary, but Papa-san and Ryunosuke were there, helping me and letting me love them and loving me back. It isn't the same as having my fur petted, but maybe it's better.

It took me a long time to understand what Papa-san meant when he said, "I'll always be with you." At first I got so scared if Papa-san and Ryunosuke weren't with me all the time. We all had to sleep together before Papa-san insisted that I sleep in my own room. I was so terrified that night, but there came a point where I could see Papa-san in my head and hear his voice telling me everything was all right, and at last I knew what he meant.

Life has gotten so interesting lately. Mama-san is always sending people to play with me, including my new friend Eimi. Ryunosuke has a new friend, too, and sometimes I play with them. Papa-san and Mama-san still fight all the time, but sometimes one of them will give the other a loving look when they think the other can't see. I keep trying to get them back together, because the more people you have in the family, the more love there is to share.

Papa-san says that I have too much love to keep to myself, and that I have to give it to everyone around me. That sounds good to me, because one thing I've carried with me from my previous life is that people are good, and that you have to give them a chance, and that even if they get mad and throw things at you, you have to come back and give them another chance and eventually they will give you fish.

And love.

Aren't they the same thing?

~*~

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