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PINOCCHIO TURNED and saw a large cricket crawling slowly up the wall.

“Tell me, Cricket, who are you?”

“I am the Talking Cricket and I have been living in this room for more than one hundred years.”

“Today, however, this room is mine,” said the Marionette, “and if you wish to do me a favor, get out now, and don’t turn around even once.”

“I refuse to leave this spot,” answered the Cricket, “until I have told you a great truth.”

“Tell it, then, and hurry.”

“Woe to boys who refuse to obey their parents and run away from home! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it.”

“Sing on, Cricket mine, as you please. What I know is, that tomorrow, at dawn, I leave this place forever. If I stay here the same thing will happen to me which happens to all other boys and girls. They are sent to school, and whether they want to or not, they must study. As for me, let me tell you, I hate to study! It’s much more fun, I think, to chaseafter butterflies, climb trees, and steal birds’ nests.”

“Poor little silly! Don’t you know that if you go on like that, you will grow into a perfect donkey and that you’ll be the laughing stock of everyone?”

“Keep still, you ugly Cricket!” cried Pinocchio.

But the Cricket, who was a wise old philosopher, instead of being offended at Pinocchio’s impudence, continued in the same tone: “If you do not like going to school, why don’t you at least learn atrade, so that you can earn an honest living?”

“Shall I tell you something?” asked Pinocchio, who was beginning to lose patience. “Of all the trades in the world, there is only one that really suits me.”

“And what can that be?”

“That of eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and wandering around from morning till night.”

“Let me tell you, for your own good, Pinocchio,” said the Talking Cricket in his calm voice, “that those who follow that trade always endup in the hospital or in prison.”

“Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry, you’ll be sorry!”

“Poor Pinocchio, I am sorry for you.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a Marionette and, what is much worse, you have a wooden head.”

At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket. Perhaps he did not think he would strike it. But, sad to relate, my dear children, he did hit the Cricket, straight on its head.

With a last weak “cri-cri-cri” the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!

SHE GAZED at James, at his sunlight-through-the-water eyes and the dark hair falling over them. He seemed genuinely thankful. It was so frustrating, not being able to read him. They had the same emotions, but humans seemed privy to nuances that she, having spent most of her time with other synadroids, had yet to fully grasp.

But it was obvious James cared about the older man. And he had remobilized her. And thought enough of her to thank her. For now, she would give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it would preserve this fragile new beginning between them. “No, of course I’m not.”

“You know, if you really want to help Joseph, next time, do what you’re told.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

The delicate connection smashed like a wave against rock, obliterated. “Be a good little robot, is that what you mean?” she flared. She’d been an idiot to think his opinion of her might have changed.

“Look, you’re very lucky—” he began, echoing her earlier thoughts.

“Lucky? Lucky? We were created to clean up your mess. To do whatever you told us—fight, farm, die. Then we were given the sentience to understand our situation but denied the right to do anything about it.” How could he not see what a sick, cruel joke it was?

“And you think I should feel lucky?” Pine couldn’t stop; everything that had built inside her over the last few weeks rushed out in a torrent. “Why? Because we’re free? We’re not free, James. We’re just in a different prison.”

She advanced on him. A tiny thrill of pleasure shot through her at his shocked expression. He’d probably never had a synadroid shout at him before. “How can you be so blind? So arrogant? The only difference between us, James, is that my flesh is synthetic—that, and the fact I have to submit to things that would be considered illegal and inhuman for you.”

James stepped back, putting a chair between them. “But, Pine, you’ve got to understand our position. Without humans, you wouldn’t exist. And I agree, they shouldn’t have given you human emotions, that it is problematic—”

“It wasn’t the giving that was problematic. It’s your reaction. Once we started acting human, the emotions you gave us on a whim became inconvenient.”

He gave a brittle laugh. “It’s not about inconvenience. It’s about them being dangerous.

“Dangerous? Did you not see what happened earlier? A single word and I was paralyzed. Does that seem dangerous to you?”

“Safe words don’t always work.” His fingers dug into the back of the chair.

“You mean the master can’t always make his puppet dance to his tune? How devastating to your human ego.”

“Stop.” The chair began to warp under his hands as his voice rose. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I—”

“Of course not. How could I? I couldn’t possibly fathom—” Her voice rang in her ears, her frustration reaching boiling point. She didn’t need to keep hearing about what she didn’t understand, especially from this man.

Sentient androids kill people, Pine. They’re unstable and dangerous, and they never should’ve been created!” The top rail snapped, splintering in his fists. He looked down at the wood in his hands with an expression akin to surprise. The color rose in his cheeks and he dropped the fragments on the table.