Characters: Fox, Mouse
Trigger warnings: None
Summary: Two automatons have a conversation in a malt shop, among the ruins of humanity.
Notes: Written for a creative writing course, because I was looking for an excuse to write about these guys.
The malt shop is silent, save for the humming of electricity and the quiet clinking of metal gears. Most of the place is dark, moonlight streaming in through the grimy windows. The landscape outside is much the same as the inside; silent, dark, and dirty. In the shop, only the stage is lit, a single flickering lightbulb illuminating the half-rotten wood. It’s a low stage, like one would find in coffee shops of the past, with a broken microphone and shredded curtains.
There are two humanoid figures sat atop the stage, huddled close together. Their skin is tan, but it glints like metal under the light. As they move, their mechanical insides whirr and sputter. They used to move as smooth as butter, dancing and singing up on stage like any human pop star would. They used to be pretty, faces printed on merchandise sold around the world. They used to be happy, too. But that was all many years ago.
The taller one, with fox ears and a tail, stretches out with a great big yawn. Her joints creak, and something in her back gives a harsh metallic screech.
“What did you do this time?” says the shorter one, sounding annoyed. His mouse-like ears flick, displeased, and his tail curls around a box of diligently organized mechanical parts. “I swear I just looked at your back last week.”
“Lots of things can happen in a week,” she says lightly. She tries to lean forward and her back clicks. She stops moving altogether, except her eyes, which lock onto his. Her lips open only slightly, and the speaker embedded in her throat emits a casual, “Whoops.”
“I’m gonna kill you,” he mutters, grabbing a wrench and positioning himself at her back. “I really am, Fox. I mean it this time. I really, really will.”
“I’d love to see you try,” says Fox, smirking. “Your scrawny a-a-a—” Her head ticks to the side. “Your scrawny butt is no match for me, Mouse.”
He hums as he screws open the maintenance panel in her back. “Profanity filter is turned on, I see.”
“I dunno what happened,” she says. “It should only be on if we’re performing, and you know we haven’t done that in... a while.”
“Maybe it’s ‘cause we’re on a stage,” says Mouse absentmindedly. “Visual triggers connecting to dormant programming.”
Her shoulders twitch, as if she’s trying to shrug. He places the panel on the floor and stares at the mechanical insides of Fox. Her silver skeleton nearly matches that of a human’s. Instead of veins and arteries, bunches of multicolored wires wind around her entire body. Organs are replaced with thick, heavy processors that connect together using exposed circuitry.
He spots the problem immediately: a metal vertebrae has been popped out of place. There aren’t many things in the way, so he simply reaches inside and pushes it into the right position.
Fox yelps and straightens up. Then she wiggles around, and upon hearing no unpleasant noises, she says, “Ooh, that feels so good. Thanks.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t need new parts,” he says. “We don’t have anything for vertebrae. Now let me see your leg.”
She kicks out her right leg and he begins to unscrew the plating near her knee. When she speaks, it’s quiet and soft. “I saw a cat yesterday.”
He pauses for just a moment before continuing to braid wires together. “Interesting.”
“That’s how I broke my back. And my leg.” She twirls a finger through the scraggly red strands of her hair. “I tried running after it and I fell.”
“You shouldn’t run after cats,” he says. “They’re skittish.”
“I got excited,” she says. “We haven’t seen a cat in years. I miss them. Dogs, too. Oh, and giraffes!”
It's silent for a while. Mouse wraps her delicate, millimeter-thin wires together, laying out the ones with frayed ends. This is always the most tedious part of repairs, the part that requires a steady hand. It’s also the most boring, and Fox nods her head towards the derelict jukebox near the door.
“D’you think they’ve got any of our stuff in there?” she asks.
“In the jukebox? Maybe. We were pretty popular in America.” He pulls apart two matching wires and sets them aside. “You did mention a malt shop in one of your songs. I’d bet on that one.”
“I did that for the nostalgia. Or like, the aesthetics, y’know, from all the pictures. No one remembered what these places were like to actually be nostalgic about it. Unless they were super old. Or got their brain uploaded.”
“Digital brain recreation was only publicly available after 2065,” he reminds her, and she sticks her tongue out at him. “This place looks to be around that old, too. Wasn’t built when malt shops were around the first time.”
“Nostalgia for places you’ve never been,” she says. “What a weird feeling.”
She hums that old song, the one that mentions a malt shop. It doesn’t sound the same at all without the backing instrumentals and the harmonies, but it’s not like there’s anyone around to listen. If she wanted, she could sit back, pull up the audio file, and play the complete studio version from her speaker, but she doesn’t. She just hums.
She’s just finished when he spots a purple wire, hanging together by a single copper thread.
“You stretched a nerve too thin and it snapped," he says, frowning.
"That's why it hurts every time I move?" she asks, and his frown deepens. "I'll take that as a yes."
"We don't have any nerves left," he says, and starts unscrewing his own leg.
"Woah, wait a minute!" she says, voice glitching high in panic. She slaps a hand over his plating. "What are you doing?"
He glares at her and pushes her hand away. "Fixing you."
"I can go without a nerve until we find another one," he cuts her off. "There's a factory nearby that might have some."
"I can go without one too," she whispers.
“You already have too much missing.” He wraps a finger around his own purple wire and pulls. He flinches as a spark jumps out of his leg. "Let me do this for you."
Her ears flatten against her hair as he twists the wire into her leg and braids it in with the others. She hisses when it connects, and a wisp of smoke trails out from her mouth. She stretches out her leg. All they hear is the whirring of gears and clicking of joints.
“Doesn't hurt anymore,” she says quietly. “Thanks.”
He smiles. It doesn't quite reach his eyes, and she wraps her hand around his own.
“Alright, Mousey-boy,” she says, grabbing the wrench. “Your turn.”