Kenji adjusted the carbonized breastplate and finished his couture by placing the bulbous lenses under his eyelids. He looked in the mirror, but did not smile, though he was pleased. They did not smile, thus he would not.
He left his aparto, a small green light on his chest blinking with every step, and took the service lift to the mechanical level, below the car parks. When the doors slid open, he strode purposefully to the laundering stations past rows of silent, registering eyes. Not one set of eyes dipped in a bow. Kenji almost shook with glee, but restrained himself.
Ever purposeful, he entered the broiling laundry room and without pausing at the blast of heat that assaulted his carbonized enclosed torso and limbs, he crossed to Bay 1 and picked up Bin 23, being careful to lift with methodical precision from the knees and elbows.
From the corner of his disguised eyes, he noted the others lifting bins in the same manner. None stopped to interrupt or countermand him. He was halfway home.
Clutching Bin 23 tightly, he slowly pivoted, an awkward swivel of hips that was almost too fast. A red light blinked to his right. Plastoid eyes locked onto his. Kenji could swear he spotted a frown—though that was impossible. The red light remained blinking and other synthetic eyes fastened on him.
Not hesitating at the disturbance, Kenji strode back the way he’d come, Bin 23 held straight before him. Though he sensed an unusual amount of activity behind him, he dared not turn his semi-encased head. As he neared the lift, the pinging started. Chest status displays began blinking yellow. A few quickly turned red.
Kenji stood at the door of the lift, willing it to open when he heard the auto-tuned voice at his side: “Sumimasen.”
He did not respond to the polite request. It was repeated. A carbonized hand appeared next to his; the gesture was clear. The servitor wished to relieve him of the burden of Bin 23.
Already sweating heavily from the heat of the laundry room, Kenji felt close to a swoon. He was so near his goal. The gleaming hand of the servitor remained next to his.
“Sumimasen,” it chimed again.
With a welcome shoosh, the lift door opened and Kenji entered, blocking the opening to prevent the servitor from following him onto the lift. As the door began to close he swung his encased head around to see a dozen or so servitors, their chests blinking yellow and red, pinging one another in confusion.
It had almost worked. He had almost gotten away with it. They had almost accepted his presence.
The lift doors opened on the floor of his aparto. He carried Bin 23 towards his door marked 23. Just as he was about to enter, the door to aparto 22 slid back and his neighbor Yayoi came out into the hallway. She glanced at Kenji and stared right through him.
Kenji froze for a moment and then quickly dipped his head to mimic the precise servitor bow. Yayoi frowned ever so slightly at the delay and then turned towards the main lifts without further acknowledgement.
Once in aparto 23, Kenji dropped his bin of neatly pressed laundry and did a little victory shuffle in his carbonized suit. He gingerly prized out the plastoid bubbles covering his eyes and looked at himself in the mirror again. Maybe he hadn’t completely fooled the servitors doing the laundry. They’d noticed something different about him, something uncanny. It meant he had more research, more rehearsing to do.
Yet, his neighbor, the beautiful and distant Yayoi, had not known it was him. He had fooled her, a fellow human. It was a start. Someday he’d be able to fool them all. Man and machine. He’d fit in both worlds.
Outside the aparto building on the bustling Tokyo slidewalk filled with citizens and servitors, Yayoi considered her neighbor from aparto 23. What was he up to decked out like a servitor? What was his game?
She knew he was an odd duck, but his behavior had gone beyond strange. Creepier still, and in a most uncanny way, it seemed to suit him. A chill went down Yayoi’s spine and she made a mental note to upgrade her domestic servitor for home defense. You couldn’t be too careful these days. These amazing days.