Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jackson3 walked home from the factory in knee deep snow, although the snow bothered him about as much as the sun did in the summer, which was not at all. The water couldn’t penetrate his joints, and a thin layer of laser warmed air kept the moisture away from his lenses. He dragged his boots as he walked, using his heavy angular feet to clear as wide a path on the walkways as possible for the people who might travel there after him. Most people weren’t weatherproof.

As he passed by the scaffolding where the workers were refacing the old Drake, he stopped, unclipped his carry-all and fished inside.

“Hey Jacks. Some crazy snow. How’s the factory today?” The voice preceded the middle aged man from the shadows, and Jackson3 waited as he carefully unfolded himself from the cardboard and tarpaulin shelter he kept tucked out of the wind.

“Snow is snow Peter, it has neither life nor intellectual capacity, so therefore it cannot be crazy.” Jackson3 watched as the man shook his head. “The factory also lacks life and intellectual capacity, which may be why they continue to provide three meals each day to its workers, even to those who cannot eat.”

Jackson3 held out the foil packages to Peter, who took them gratefully as he shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot in the snow.

“How come you feed me? I mean, I appreciate that you do, but I don’t understand why you come here every day and feed me.” Peter searched Jackson’s featureless bare metal visage for any sign of emotion, but there was no indication of any kind of feeling, and yet the metal man stopped each and every day.

Jackson3 closed up his carry-all, and rotated it on its strap under his armpit and back up into the middle of his back out of the way of his massive arms.

“You’re alone. I’m alone. We loners must take care of each other.” With that he turned and trudged off into the snow, leaving Peter still shuffling in the cold.

At the end of the street Jackson3 turned left, and marched against the wind the remaining few blocks to his building. Years ago his credentials would have automatically opened the front door and called the lift, but both stopped working some time ago, so he took the stairs at the East end of the lobby and climbed the four flights to his floor and let himself into room four nineteen. He took the three steps into the middle of the dark and empty unit, fished the power cable from where it dangled from the ceiling and plugged it into his charging receptacle.

There was still no power.

He could read the display in the corner of his visor. Twenty two percent. He could stay powered up while on the job, but his fuel cell was almost depleted, and clearing snow all the way home took almost as much power as he could store. It would be hard to make it back to work in the morning without a live feed to charge with overnight. When he was new, his fuel cells could maintain him for weeks at a time, but the company didn’t provide replacements to line workers, and without a wage or patron, his options were few.

As Jackson slowly powered down everything he wouldn’t need until morning, he heard footsteps in the hall, and then a knock on his door.

“Hey Jacks, I’ve got a present for you.” Peter once again appeared from the shadows and wandered blindly into the room. He took off his own backpack and, putting it down on the floor, opened it to retrieve four fuel cells still in their factory plastic wrap.

“It’s kind of funny, your factory gives you food you can’t eat, and social assistance gives me fuel cells for hardware I can’t afford.” He held the cells out to Jackson3, who accepted them tentatively.

“Why–” Jackson3 started, but Peter cut him off gently.

“You’re alone. I’m alone.” He smiled. “We loners gotta take care of each other.”

With that he turned and as he headed back through the door he called over his shoulder, “See you tomorrow Jacks”, and left one kind of cold to go back to his own.

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