Tiff’s tears made tiny sounds against the pile of metal debris. Tink tink tink. She tried to reach her hand into the pile once more and came out with a fresh scratch on her forearm. Blood welled up in it. Rain joined her tears, filling the air with the sound. Tink tink tink tink tink. The broken husk of the hovercycle that topped the refuse was far too heavy for her to lift, and her arm certainly couldn’t stretch that far in.
“Why?” she asked the overflowing dump that was her next door neighbor. They lived in an illegal apartment, barely more than a room in a basement in a slum in one of the poorest super-cities in the world. At least it was one of the poorest according to all the magazines that blew over from richer neighborhoods. Tiff’s place was currently being encroached upon by a new surge of trash. Every day it inched closer to the window she used to crawl in and out of their home. Her boyfriend Masser could barely fit through it, and risked hitting his head every time now.
He would be back any minute and she needed to recover her treasure. Without it there was no hope of building back the warmth of their home. If she could just reach it, the trash wouldn’t be able to stop their happiness. “Why? Why did I have to drop it?” Tink tink tink tink.
She scrambled around in the mud and debris, her hands grabbing for anything that could help her. There were no sticks as the last trees and bushes left the city years ago. There was no one to help, because they were among the last deciding to stay. Tiff’s fingers wrapped around something and she pulled it out of the mud. It was a balancing plate, hinges still intact, likely from a small street-cleaning robot. The plate kept such things balanced on their single wheels.
Model: Rabbitpalette. Version: 1.45 Compatibility: B Grade. The information flashed behind her eyes, a leftover from her neural-network-enhanced days at a robotics trade school. The old records would never leave her brain; they would scroll by like movie credits on her deathbed. Tiff used to work in a robotics repair shop, before it closed down. Now Masser was the only one working, and he had to take a bullet train two hours each day to do so.
She had only one thing to give him, to make up for all the time the city stole. She had bought it with the last bit of questionable cash her boss had given her when the shop closed, when the last robot wheeled out and shook its head at the economic blight around it.
Nobody could help her, but if Tiff was going to stay she needed help. There was only one solution, and it scrolled behind her eyes. She brushed the mud off the balance plate as much as she could. Intact. She looked around. Much of it was intact, if a little twisted or rusty. In fact, much of the garbage had been dumped by her boss when he got out of town. Perhaps there was enough…
She set the plate aside and pulled out everything she could from the mud. She found a tray and filled it with discarded microchips and wire coils. A folding lamp stand. Model: Brightnight. An excellent leg it would make. A smart nozzle, only partly split down the middle. Model: Sprayking. An excellent brain case it would make. A spring-loaded stabilizer. Model: Upanddownandup. A spine; it could be nothing else.
Tiff pulled her the multitool from her pocket, let the old information flow, just like assembling the kits in school, and got to work. She pretended the mud wasn’t there, getting grit between every piece. It had to work. It had to save her love, her home, otherwise she might just throw herself on top of the pile, stare at the sky, and repeat, ‘tink tink tink tink tink‘.
The legs went on fine, even if they were mismatched. The ribbing was cracked and twisted, but it would hold long enough. When she placed the nozzle on her creation’s forming head, she pushed back the thought that it looked significantly more like an ass than a head.
“It doesn’t need to be cute,” she told herself. “You don’t need to be cute,” she told it now that it was coming together. “You just need to help us. You just need to think of our love and how you can keep it going.” She whispered other things to it, using the whispers and grit as glue to make up for its shoddy construction.
After forty minutes of squeezing and pinching her fingers into its tight compartments, she flipped the switch on the back and it leapt out of her hands. It turned to look at her, its eyes bright, one green and one yellow. It was always so hard to find matching LEDs. The robot’s mind was little more than the minds put into your average coffeemaker, but she used the old knowledge from the neural network to beam instructions to it. She hadn’t used the channel in a long time, and it gave her an instant headache.
She thought it did look an awful lot like a rabbit, be it deformed, twisted, and with the wrong end under the eyes. It didn’t obey her orders immediately. Instead it hopped over to her kneeling form and nuzzled the red scratch on her arm. She gently pushed it away, towards the mountain of broken metal.
“My body is fine,” she whimpered to it. “My heart is at the bottom of the pile. I dropped it. Please, little thing, please fetch it for me.” The rabbot stood tall, its eyes blinking a promise. It turned jangling tail and looked for a way in. It squeezed under the hovercycle and started to dig. Tiff listened in, dodging the spray of mud her creation kicked aside.
It struggled under the weight of the garbage, squeezing deeper and deeper like a rat under an iron jailhouse door. Something shifted and a jagged piece busted a leg joint. The rabbot’s joint squealed and it collapsed, but the creature heard Tiff gasp above. She said her love was in danger, but the rabbot could still hear it, separate from the instruction the pitiless channel gave it.
It struggled and strained, sinking partly into the mud and nearly tangling in a plastic bag. It tore through with its nozzle-face and limped deeper. Where could it be? What did love look like? Surely it wasn’t that old engine block, or that styrofoam ornament, or that…
Yes that had to be it. The rabbot tunneled closer to the the tiny glimmering oval. A ring. A promise, though the rabbot did not know that. It only perceived the intent. Tiff had built no way to grab, but it improvised by smashing the nozzle’s crack against the ring, lodging the metal band in its head.
It turned jangling tail and scrambled for the surface, ignoring the collapses behind it. It did not know what would happen after, but it knew Tiff would be happy. It didn’t want the channel to close, but the ring was not for it. It emerged from the hole.
There stood Tiff, embracing Masser and crying. She had thought her creation crushed. She turned at the sound of its jangling and barely caught it as it jumped into her arms.
“Is this it?” Masser asked. The rabbot’s face was buried in Tiff’s elbow and he couldn’t see the ring. “Is this your present? I thought you said it was lost.” Tiff didn’t know what to say, she hadn’t quite caught her breath. “I love it,” he declared, grabbing it by its metal shoulders and lifting it into the air. “It’ll be our pet! Our best friend! And made from the fruits of our garden as well! This is wonderful Tiff. I love you.” He wrapped one arm around her and hugged her close. They both cried in the rain, which bounced off the haunches of the delighted rabbot. Tink tink tink tink tink.
Tiff discreetly jiggled the ring free from her creation’s head and pocketed it. They didn’t need to wed when they already had a family. She stroked the twisted creature’s head and its lights blinked back. Their minds were full of warm new channels, like the burrows of a hundred rabbits.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by pinkeyepoxy during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!