It had been a while since Millenia had legs. They’d been gone far longer than she’d been in a state to notice, and many other parts required fixing before the limbs were to be bothered with, but she distinctly remembered being without them for a while. Long enough to adapt.
Automatons, cyborgs, robots, call them what you will (and everyone seemed to argue so much about the names that it cemented their stubborn usage forever) they had true range. Simple things performing menial tasks with no consciousness, or at least none that the engineers would talk about. All the way up to highly-functioning body replacement systems that kept a slice of a beloved personality and took off into the world. These ones were better regarded, as they could argue their own case better, in the vernacular of intelligent human speech with none of the hollowness of robotics. Millenia was one of that type. And she was in therapy.
Mainly, the focus was physical. Wiring systems together, exercising them back and forth until they no longer shorted out or locked up. A lot of that could be done without a conscious form, but Millenia was a special breed and her personality couldn’t stay dormant long. It was imperative to keep her internal, semi-organic structures, no matter how small, alive and well. Which meant a lot of bug-fixing was something she’d have to undergo while aware. There was no way to knock her out for the surgery, for instance.
Pain was something of a factor, in whichever way her kind could experience it, which manifests as a deep mental burden more than an agonizing reaction. Automatons feel things. They merely feel them very differently. Their mental processes overload.
Mostly, her arms were fine, which was very helpful in her recovery, and luckily her head (one of the trickiest parts to engineer) was in fine shape. She was still emotive, responsive, eloquent. Anything below her chest, though, that was almost entirely destroyed.
“Good time for an upgrade,” one of the engineers joked as she jockeyed a refrigeration unit into Millenia’s shell of a torso. She stayed silent and tried not to react; she could tell the trauma surgeons were uncomfortable. The hardest part wasn’t resisting the need to cry out, it was not blinking.
Reconstruction was a lot for any automaton to handle, most got scrapped if they were cheap and didn’t have a consciousness. There were a fair amount of survivors in the bunch though, important enough to the efforts of the world to undergo a second (or sometimes third or even fifth) chance at existence, cost be damned. Millenia had never really known about reconstruction therapy, purely from lack of necessity. She had been lucky, as had the beings she knew. In her social circle, she surmised, she was the first. Therefore it came as a deep surprise to learn that there was counseling. Group therapy. Acclimation and re-assimilation meetups. Places where robots talked about their feelings.
Who had even considered such a thing?
It was a nightmare, those sessions, and they never got better. It was everything horrible that could happen to a self-aware automaton concentrated into four-hour meetings, like walking into a ghastly slasher film and realizing you’re one of the victims and still in the middle of it. There was no respite in those sessions. The only things she felt for others was pity, not hope, not unified strength. She looked at Joylin with her misfiring spine, watched as Tungstein struggled to show expression on his blank, forgotten face. It was a carnival of horror, a robot show of suffering and Millenia knew that deep under the pity, she also felt disgust. Already shameful that she was inoperable, these broken, pathetic mechanicals could not help her redeem her power. She felt nothing for them. They knew she didn’t belong. Even among the broken ones, she was ‘other.’
The hardest thing, that she could not reconcile in herself, was that she no longer saw the point of existing at all. Her systems had all checked out, thorough in the neuro and personality areas and all were operating quite well. But the haunting question of “why?” invaded her thoughts with every session and rehabilitation surgery.
“Now wiggle your feet for me? Side to side.” The panel of engineers were rapt, clipboards at the ready.
Mindless robots are scrapped all the time. Delicate cyborgs are destroyed purely by accident. Somehow, these clinics deemed that she was too special and valuable to have left behind, but in the wake of all her physical reconstruction, she still had one thing missing: her purpose.
Automatons, with their advanced minds, were supposed to care.
Millenia had utterly stopped.
The steps she took were shaky and confused. Her knees didn’t work right, didn’t bend, sparks flew on occasion. Her hip was leaking. She trudged on and did the task immediately in front of her, supervised all the while. She went to the therapy sessions and watched Tungstein’s mouth gape into a grotesque attempt at a smile, averted her eyes as Joylin snapped backwards and shrieked. Her refrigeration and internal systems were testing normal. It’s down to the re-learning.
Automatons can learn things very easily. They adapt. What they have trouble with is reverting to old data, processes that had been partially written over in the short span of, for instance, not having legs.
It wasn’t like “remembering how to ride a bike.” It didn’t all come back. It felt foreign and archaic. Trying to pick up the pieces and become what she had been a year ago, regressive, impossible. Regaining an existence that was ordinary to begin with, and had grown stale in her mind.
Millenia took the steps, stumbled, took them again, waiting to get a high score on her daily report card, just wasting time until they asked if she was ready to get on with her life and she could answer honestly, “I don’t know.”