Upon reaching the other side of the reserve, Cain sat down on one of the stone benches facing the small body of water and closed his eyes, shifting his attention to his sound receptors. Hearing it all around him - the rustling grass, chirping birds, babbling water - he could almost fool himself into believing he was outside. It was made very clear to him why this would be as close as he gets to the outside, but right at that point in time he really couldn't be bothered by that.
The serenity of this little piece of nature put his mind at ease, despite not being able to feel stress in the first place. It was just the feeling that the place is handling itself, without any need for outside intervention; a natural, well-oiled machine; an enclosed body that had humbly accepted his presence, even though-
His train of thought was interrupted by a series of chirps close to him. Cain opened his eyes and looked down to see a little bird hopping next to him on a bench, curiously turning its head from side to side.
It didn't appear to be frightened, even though it was no bigger than the size of his palm. He stared at it, wondering if it might just fly off at the slightest twitch. Moving ever so slowly, Cain turned to the bird, just as curious as the little avian was, carefully moving his hand towards it.
Unafraid, the little bird hopped onto his arm, perching just above his wrist, starting peck at the hard, outer layer covering it. The tiny claws scratched at his arm and the bird flapped its wings trying to find footing, so Cain rotated his wrist and opened his palm. The bird accepted his offer and hopped onto his hand, gently pecking at it too, examining the foreign material.
Stricken with awe, Cain wondered how this small being could trust a creature who's a giant in comparison, enough to calmly sit where it could easily be crushed with little to no effort. He didn't even have anything to feed it with, yet this tiny creature unconditionally accepted his gesture and willingly put itself in harm's way.
Unless...it wouldn't know it.
Cain looked up at the enclosure. It has been here long enough for birds to hatch and mature in it, with nothing threatening their existence. All the people that come and go never show any malicious intentions and even offer food every once in a while.
If what Lillian said was true, the birds here have never experienced any threat that would be integrated into their memory as something to avoid in order to survive. As a matter of fact, the only other creatures to accompany them other than the fish are all humanoids.
"Seems that you either see them as a neutral presence...or bringers of sustenance," Cain spoke his thoughts, making the bird turn back to him with a melodic chirp, as if to complement the rhythm of his speech. "But you haven't gone through any trauma that would associate them with something to endanger you. And you even see me as non-threatening," he tilted his head to the side, and so did the bird. "You've truly been living in some sort of true euphoria, void of bad experiences. Does that mean you are always happy?"
Another melodic chirp answered Cain's queries.
He kept staring at the bird, thinking about the mere possibility that it is indeed in a constant state of happiness. If he could only learn what such a thing looks like, perhaps he could make people just as happy.
Nothing wrong with that, right?
Just a quick scan, to see what a collection of memories not influenced by fear or trauma looks like. It'll certainly be a refreshing look of things, if not a practical once.
Cain slowly brought his other hand closer to the bird, hoping not to instill a new fear into its pure little mind. Its bravery unwavering, not only did it not fly away, but it even hopped and leaned closer to his hand, pecking at the tip of his fingers, studying the circular pads on it.
The android moved his fingers to gently stroke the bird's head, making sure it's as calm as can be, just like he made sure his patients are, ensuring the most accurate reading. Once the bird resumed its cheerful chirping, now accustomed to the initially unfamiliar touch, he reactivated the receptors lining his hand, resting one finger on the top of the bird's head.
A blue spark flashed just as he made contact with its scalp, causing all of its muscle to contract in a shrill chirp before it went limp completely, collapsing and falling off of his hand and onto the stone surface of the bench, a black scorch mark adorning the soft plume on its head.
Cain stared, frozen in shock, at the motionless animal sprawled next to him. Everything seemed to have stopped around him. Everything was still and silent, as if his ears malfunctioned.
Lowering his visor over his eyes, he looked down at the bird and picked it up, waiting for the gathered data to be displayed.
No current. No pulse.
The next thing he was aware of was Lillian's voice calling for him. Cain looked up from the dead bird laying in his palms, seeing the place had already gone dark, save for some electric lanterns and a small colony of fireflies, hovering around like miniature constellations.
Unable to focus enough to figure how long he had been sitting there, Cain turned around to see Lillian hurrying to him, almost tripping several times on the slippery, recently watered grass.
By the time she reached the lake area, her breaths were quick and frantic. "There you are..." she sighed, relieved, taking a moment to regulate her breathing and comb back her disheveled hair with her fingers. "Were you here all along?"
"Since we parted after the check-up," he admitted, blinking away the flashing overlay showing details he didn't care for, as he followed Lillian's path when she went around the stone bench, smiling at him.
She leaned down, hands on her knees. "What's with the specs?" she wondered, poking at the bridge of the goggles. "I thought you've been here so much by now that there's nothing left for you to scan and study."
Cain quietly stared through the overlay on the lens, not even bothering with the idle interface labeling everything in his field of vision. He couldn't seem to conjure up a proper command to his arms to move and lift the goggles back over his head.
They felt heavy, practically numb. Not even a twitch of his fingers.
Lillian's smile slowly disappeared, seeing the android so silent and distant again. She drew in her lips, concerned, and lowered her gaze a little, noticing something softly illuminated under the weak neon glow of his palms. "What do you got there?" not waiting for an answer, she already tried to gently move his hand to get a better look.
"I'm sorry, Lillian."
She stopped and pulled her hand away, seeing Cain's fingers twitch slightly in response. He was still staring forward when she looked up at him again. She moved closer and clicked the side of Cain's visor to turn it off, moving it to the top of his head, getting a clear view of his distant stare.
It was as if he was under a state of shock, a state they've seen numerous times in patients affected by trauma arriving at the complex. The very words he just uttered sounded like they were spoken through the mouth of someone experiencing traumatic flashbacks.
Only about a minute after his goggles were removed, Lillian could hear the shutters in Cain's eyes move back to focus his vision back on her. She didn't even know how aware he was of what he was saying.
No harm in making sure. "What are you-?"
"I shouldn't have asked."
"Shouldn't have- what?" Lillian's concern grew. He seemed aware enough, but she couldn't quite find the context of his words.
Cain looked down at his hands and Lillian looked over again as he turned his palms open, revealing the motionless body of a bird resting on them. She tried to touch it again, and this time Cain didn't recoil. "Is it...?" she wondered, delicately moving her finger over the blackened plume before looking up again.
"I..." Cain lingered, rummaging through records of memories he had read of patients affected by traumas related to death. No, it wasn't just death. There was another word related to it, he knew that much. It was a lot harsher than death and dying. It was never positively associated. "I killed it."
Lillian's eyes shot straight back up to Cain's face, not sure what would be an appropriate response. "Wha-?" she stopped, unable to even blink, staring into the light blue shutters. "Why?"
Cain stared back, not sure what to make of her reaction. "I didn't mean to," his usually monotonous voice almost sounded pleading, and his limited range of expression managed to convey an unmistakable look of guilt. "It was so fearless, and carefree. I thought, if I could find how a mind unaffected by fear and trauma looks and operates, we could make people a lot happier."
Realizing now where the first two statements came from and how the bird ended up this way, Lillian brought her hands to his face, gently stroking over the visible partition of his jaws with her thumbs. "Being without fear does not necessarily mean happiness," she spoke softly, still a little hunched to match his eye-level. "But that is a really noble thought. Still, what concerns us might not concern the birds. Humans are a bit more intricate than that."
The robot kept staring in complete silence before looking down at the bird, repeating Lillian's gesture and carefully nudging the bird with one of his thumbs, stroking the length of its wing. "Was it for naught, from the very beginning?"
"Well...not really," Lillian let go of Cain's face and gently grabbed his hands, moving them to close around the small feathered body. "I suppose that's a lesson you'd have to learn sooner or later, about death and how to deal with it."
"But I caused it," he stared at the blue glow emitting from between his fingers, not trying to oppose the Lillian's hardly restraining grip.
"It's like you said - you didn't mean to. And you're clearly showing regret over it," she smiled at the android, who at this point resembled more of a distraught child. "After all, death is just a natural part of life. True, we shouldn't hasten it, but it comes to everyone, eventually. And when it does, the best we can do is pay our respects to those who have passed."
Cain looked back at Lillian, confused. He never assumed there was some practice following someone or something's death. "How would you do that?"
Lillian shrugged, letting go of his hands and taking a seat next to him. "Every culture does it differently. Sometimes there are different types of ceremonies," she briefly explained. " I guess the most basic way to honor the dead is at least by giving them a decent burial."
"Wouldn't they just decay?" he wondered, opening his hands to look at the bird again.
"They would," Lillian nodded. "There's no real logic behind it. Most cultures believe that only through proper burial a soul can transcend to one ethereal plane or another, but it's really about a matter of belief, and sentiment," she did her best to explain. "By now it's so ingrained in humanity's mannerisms, that sometimes it's done just for tradition's sake."
Cain listened intently, still staring at the bird this whole time. "Can we..." he spoke up once Lillian fell silent too, still looking down. "Can we bury it?"
"Of course," Lillian smiled at him and rested her hand on his shoulder. "You can choose a burial place, and I'll help you dig it."
Within just under an hour, Cain was standing in front of a freshly dug grave at the foot of the bench, holding the bird that was now covered in a little piece of cloth provided by Lillian. The programmer herself asked him to wait while she went around looking for something throughout the reserve.
She soon returned with a handful of pebbles and helped Cain with placing the fresh corpse in the hole. They covered it up, and Lillian used the pebbles she collected to frame the grave, slightly pressing every stone into the overturned dirt to make sure they won't get displaced, so the burial spot wouldn't be lost.
"Would you like to say something?" she wondered, smiling in light of the android's confusion when he turned to her. "It's customary to say something in memory of the deceased. Of course, you don't have to."
Cain slowly nodded, wondering if he even has something to say. They both stood up straight, looking at the miniature grave, the edges of the dirt pile and the pebbles outlined with a gentle glow provided by the scattered lanterns.
Time seemed to have stood still, as Cain almost expected the sun to go up any minute and bathe the reserve in warm, golden light. He still didn't know how long he has been in the reserve, and he wasn't about to consult his internal clock anytime soon.
Lillian looked on as he kept quiet. Thinking he may not have any say on the matter, she turned to leave, barely taking a couple of steps before he spoke up.
"I hope it's happy," Cain spoke so quietly that one might be thinking he was talking to the buried bird. "I don't know where these things called 'souls' go to, but I hope it went somewhere where it can remain both happy and unafraid, forever."
Lillian stared in awe, never expecting him to convey such sincere emotions. Slowly, she stepped back next to him, taking a hold of his hand with both of hers. "I'm sure it is," she reassured him. "And wherever it is, I'm sure it still remembers you fondly."
"Do you think so?"
"I know so," Lillian winked at him and let go, walking towards the exit but stopping short again upon realizing he wasn't following her. "Aren't you coming? You should get some rest too."
"You go ahead," Cain looked up at her, planted in his place, "I won't be long."
"Alright. Good night, Cain," she smiled and turned around to hide a yawn, feeling the exhaustion of the day settling down and even increasing rapidly the moment she stepped out of the reserve.
Cain's eyes trailed along Lillian's path until she was out of sight, then looked down to his hands. Reactivating the receptors, the increasing glow of the electrical pads lining in palms was much more prominent now, to the point tiny sparks were seen arcing from one finger to another, and occasionally from hand to hand.
He watched as the fireflies started to fly closer, but not too close. They weren't as confident to subject themselves to live electricity.
Were they just naturally a more fearing species, being so small and vulnerable? Surely, bugs have every reason to be naturally afraid, even of other bugs. All they could do is watch, learn and prepare.
But for one, brief second, this line of logic was challenged by another one, when Cain couldn't help but wonder over a simple possibility, yet one contradictory to his very being.
Could he have, in fact, instill fear in other beings?
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