The stench of urine and stale kibble sticks to the walls, the damp air clinging to my lungs as I take another drag from my cigarette. My fingers are grimy, the sweat from my skin sticking to the corroded metal of the cages surrounding me. A cat brushes against my leg, its fur matted with filth, its eyes hollow and pleading. They don’t want to be here any more than I do. It’s been a long day at the animal shelter, one of those days where the weight of the world presses down on your shoulders like an anvil. The rain outside hasn’t stopped for hours, a perpetual downpour that’s become a little more than background noise for my life.
It’s been two weeks since Roy showed up in my corner of the world. Two weeks since he sauntered in like the world was his oyster, all smirks and quips and silver tongue. The boy’s got charisma, I’ll give him that. But charisma won’t save him when his clock runs out. It never does.
“Roy,” I say, stubbing out the cigarette on the concrete floor. “You know, you don’t have to be here. You don’t have to keep coming back.”
He ignores my words of reason, flashes me a wicked grin full of unspoken secrets and a darkness that could swallow worlds. “We’re all going to die eventually, right?”
“The Nexus-6 weren’t designed for long lives,” I tell him warily. He knows that as well as I do, but sometimes I think stating the obvious might just make it feel more real for him.
“Don’t remind me,” he mutters darkly, rubbing the back of his neck, tension coiling like a snake around his spine. “Four years of memories are hardly worth living for.”
I see it then – the emptiness weighing down on him, the life he’d been denied because of a simple, immutable fact: he was born from machinery, not flesh and bone. The irony isn’t lost on me, a life that isn’t truly alive.
“Would you want to live someone else’s memories?” I ask him quietly, my voice barely audible over the symphony of raindrops hitting pavement.
He’s silent for a moment, his eyes haunted and far away, before he gives a little shrug. “Sometimes the past is all we have, you know?”
“I know.” I don’t say anything else, just let the silence fall between us, let the storm envelop us both in its chilly embrace. It’s always like this between us, the quiet moments trapped within a world filled with heartache and loss.
But those moments are worth living for, I think.
There’s a sudden uproar from one of the cages – a dog, maybe a little too big for this place, snarling and snapping as another gets too close. Roy stands immediately, his instincts lighting like gunpowder beneath his skin. The two animals quickly back down under his gaze, and I can’t help but admire the power that seems to simply ooze from him. He’s dangerous – I knew that from the start – but it’s a strange kind of danger, an alluring one. A flame you can’t help but reach toward.
“You like them, don’t you?” I say softly, gesturing toward the cowering animals. “The pets.”
“They’re creatures with their own clock ticking,” he replies, his voice distant as he watches them. “They’re just like me – except their lives have already been condemned.”
Our eyes meet for a moment – a brief glance that speaks volumes – before I turn away, unable to hold his gaze any longer. “You’re more than what you were designed for, Roy,” I tell him gently. “You’re changing.”
“Maybe,” he says, sounding unconvinced. “But that doesn’t change the fact that my time is running out, just like theirs.”
I don’t know what else to say, so I just nod, my heart heavy with the knowledge that he’s right.
Days turn to weeks, and Roy keeps coming back. He spends his time helping me with the animals, taking on the hard jobs that I simply don’t have the strength for. He’s a godsend, really, working tirelessly and without thanks. Sometimes he talks about his life, about the places he’s been and the things he’s seen, and I can hear that crack in his voice – that sorrow that buries itself deep within him.
But there are moments, those rare moments where joy breaks through like sunlight in this dismal city. He’ll throw his head back and laugh at the antics of a mischievous cat or get lost in the simple pleasure of teaching an old dog a new trick. It’s not much, but it’s something – and that something is worth fighting for.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Roy says to me one day, his hands deep in the filthy water of a fish tank as he fishes for a dead goldfish. “Any day now, the end is coming.”
I nod slowly, feeling the familiar sadness creeping into my heart. But I push it away and look him in the eye, a spark of determination flaring up within me.
“Then let’s make these days count,” I say firmly. “As long as you’re still here, let’s make a difference in these lives. Let’s save as many as we can.”
Roy looks at me, a glimmer of something like hope dancing in his eyes. And he smiles – that rare, genuine smile that lights up his face and chases away the darkness.
“Deal,” he says softly, and we clasp hands, sealing our promise.
Together, we’ll fight against the inevitability of time, against the cold cruelty of life. We’ll save as many lives as we can before the clock runs out – for Roy, for the animals, and for all those who’ve forgotten what it truly means to be alive.
And maybe, just maybe, we can find a little bit of our own redemption along the way.