Sins of the Father

Mandi Jourdan

Mia’s synthetic skin felt human to the touch—smooth, the same texture as Daphne’s own—but it was too cold. Daphne supposed that when the android’s consciousness finished uploading into her new body and her mechanical heart began beating, that would change. When Mia’s pale cheeks flooded with color from her artificial blood and her eyes took on the light of life, she would be less alarming, less corpselike.

Daphne shoved this thought away. She couldn’t admit that she found the dormant android frightening if she planned to take over her parents’ robotics company someday—to take her place in her family’s legacy. From the stories she’d heard, her father had befriended Uncle Damian and Uncle Derek when they’d been children, and this friendship had brought him into their family long before he’d married their sister. The three men had completed their first android and founded Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises together when they’d been in college.

Daphne couldn’t stand the thought of falling behind—falling short of what everyone else in her family had accomplished by her age.

In high school, she had begged her parents to let her work for LDE as an intern, but they’d insisted she give it more time and think about whether joining the company was what she really wanted. She’d been certain, but they had always seemed to want her to change her mind, to find any other path than their own. Since she’d started college and declared robotics technology as her major, her parents had seemed to run out of arguments against hiring her, and she’d finally landed a paid position as an assistant in the design lab.

Even though she was now an employee as well as the daughter of the co-presidents, the holofile where she’d first seen a projection of Mia’s pale, slim figure had been beyond off-limits for her. Daphne wasn’t supposed to know who Mia was—who the first version of her had been. Daphne had heard the android’s name whispered a few times, between her father and other family members, but never in front of her mother.

Daphne pulled her hand back from Mia’s forehead and lifted one of the android’s eyelids. When she’d raided the lab at LDE’s headquarters for supplies, she’d tried for the exact shade of brown she’d seen in the holofile she’d stolen from the back of a drawer in one of the company’s disused warehouses. She thought these irises looked just a touch too light, but she couldn’t be completely certain when she’d never seen the original Mia in person.

She glanced at the holofile where it rested on her desk. The image of Mia projected above it stared straight ahead, shoulders back, chin raised. As Daphne had studied the android’s image in the warehouse, she’d tried to understand what it was about this woman that gave off such an aura of raw power. She supposed it was the pride Mia exuded. Even in miniature, it was clear that she had been designed to know she was the strongest thing in any room. Her name was an acronym—“Military
Intelligence Android”—and of the company’s founders, only one was listed in the holofile as her creator. Eddie Dodson: Daphne’s father.

Something went wrong with you, Daphne thought, releasing the android’s eyelid and taking a step back from her. He couldn’t get you right. If I can, he has to accept that I’m a good fit for the company. They both do.

At the sound of a knock at her front door, Daphne jumped. They’re early.

She stretched the sheet draped over Mia to cover the android’s head and stood up straighter, glancing into the mirror hanging above her dresser. A lock of dark blond hair had fallen from Daphne’s bun, and she tucked it behind her ear before turning on her heel and sliding through the thin gap between the table she’d brought in for Mia and her desk, stepping carefully over the wires connecting the android to her computer, where the screen read “Upload 90% complete.”

“Coming,” Daphne called as she shut the bedroom door softly behind her. Her pulse thrummed in her neck, and she told herself to calm down. She crossed her apartment’s small living room and smiled as she opened the door that led out into the hallway.

Her parents stood just outside. Her father wore a suit, as he almost always did. His hair was dark, graying slightly here and there, and he smiled back at her, as did her mother, who pulled her into a tight hug. The scent of roses flooded Daphne’s senses— her mother’s perfume.

“You should come home more often.”

“You just saw me at work, Mom.”

“That doesn’t count.”

Laughing softly, Daphne’s mother pulled back to meet her gaze. Their hair was the same shade, though her mother’s hung in loose waves past her shoulders, brushing her navy blouse. The faint white scars that had lined her arms for as long as Daphne could remember were just visible at the hems of her three-quarter sleeves. The two women had the same heart-shaped face and full lips—Daphne had often been told that she could pass for her mother’s double.

But she’d inherited her father’s eyes. Her brother and sister looked more like him in every other way, but Daphne had his gray irises, and she believed she thought the most like he did. Her father had told her more times than she could count that he’d worked to get where he was. He hadn’t been born into wealth, and when his parents had come into it, he’d felt he’d needed to prove himself worthy of his new position in the world. He’d earned a bachelor’s degree in robotics and had designed most of the software for Lila, LDE’s first creation, and she had secured the company’s future. She’d been heralded as the world’s first near-human android.

He got her right, but he couldn’t perfect Mia, Daphne thought.

She stepped back to let her parents enter, closing the door behind them. “I’m in the middle of a project right now,” she told her mother, “but as soon as it’s done, I’ll be able to get out of here a little more.” She realized for the first time that her father held a paper takeout bag, and she led her parents to the kitchen table.

“What are you working on?” her father asked as he set the bag down. He opened it and pulled out three to-go containers of pasta, laying one in front of each person’s hovering metal chair.

Daphne filled a trio of glasses with water and distributed them before taking her seat, which bobbed beneath her weight and then steadied. “It’s… for LDE,” she said.

“That’s exciting,” said her mother, taking the seat across from her and beaming.

“Can you tell us, or is it a surprise?” Daphne knew her mother hadn’t been part of LDE when it had begun—she’d been focused on her acting career—but after the death of Uncle Damian, she’d stepped up to help lead the company. She still split her time between her co-presidency and her theatrical passions, and Daphne supposed that was why her mother had always seemed to relate well to both her and her sister, Cissa, who wanted nothing to do with LDE.

“I’d rather wait and show you when it’s done,” said Daphne, removing the plastic lid from her pasta. The scent of alfredo sauce hit her nose, and her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten all day; she’d worked on Mia through lunch. “I’ve been meaning to ask you—I know we’ve talked about it before, but I’ve been thinking it over a lot since I started working for the company, and I’d like to know more.” She wound a few long fettuccine noodles around her fork and took a bite, pausing for a moment to savor the rich, buttery taste. She swallowed and pulled in a deep breath. “What inspired you to start LDE? What made you decide to build Lila?”

“Well…” Her father took a drink from his glass and set it back down on the table, staring beyond it, back to a time before Daphne’s memory. “I guess at first, we wanted to prove that we could. The robotics market had gotten way more competitive over the past few decades, but the models we saw on the market always seemed to be missing something. They weren’t quite realistic enough to pass for living beings, and we were intrigued by the idea of what it might take to bring someone to life in that way.”

“And you did it.” Daphne sipped from her glass of water. “It’s incredible.”

“We did. We couldn’t believe it, but we did.” A smile crept onto her father’s face. “Lila was everything we could’ve hoped for. She thought just like one of us—her feelings were all her own.”

“What made you decide to build for the military?” The question burned Daphne’s tongue, and she regretted it instantly. Her mother dropped her fork and frowned into her takeout container. Her father’s smile vanished. Slowly, Daphne returned her glass to the table.

“Daphne,” her father said quietly, “I don’t know how you found out about that, but I don’t really want to—”

“I’m sorry. I—” Daphne sighed, closing her eyes.

Her computer dinged from behind her bedroom door. The upload was finished. Daphne’s stomach churned.

“I was looking for supplies at the warehouse on Fifth Street,” she continued, “and—”

When she heard her mother inhale, she tensed. The room around her was silent, and as she opened her eyes again, she saw that her parents’ hands were joined on the table.

“I’m sorry. I just… don’t understand.”

Her parents exchanged another look, and then her mother let out such a heavy breath that she seemed to deflate before Daphne’s eyes.

“No, I’m sorry,” her mother said. “We’ve wanted you all to grow up only seeing the best in LDE. It’s always been your dream to work for the company, and we were afraid that if you got too close, you’d… see that it hasn’t always been the place you think it is.”

A small thud came from the bedroom. Daphne’s hands curled involuntarily into fists, and she watched as her father, who apparently hadn’t heard the noise, leaned over and kissed her mother on the cheek.

“You don’t have to tell me. I shouldn’t have asked, I just… saw a file in the warehouse, and I wondered why you’d never told me about her.”

“Her?” her father repeated. Within an instant, understanding slid over his features, and his eyes narrowed. “Mia,” he said flatly. “Right?”

Daphne nodded. She felt the warmth of her pasta drifting upward to brush her face, but her appetite had deserted her.

“I was approached by someone from the government,” said her father. His tone had grown cool. “She’d been watching LDE, and she asked if we might consider building androids for the military. She said it would help countless people—save human lives if we could send androids to fight instead. I needed to talk with Damian and Derek before committing to something like that, and when I did, they unequivocally refused. They didn’t want our work weaponized. I should’ve listened to them.”

“Eddie, you don’t have to—”

“It’s okay. She needed to hear it all sooner or later.” Daphne’s father sighed. “I still wanted to help somehow. I really thought I was doing something good. Something my children could be proud of someday. I built Mia, and she was designed to be… different from Lila. Focused on being a good soldier—knowing how to fight. She did that all too well.”

Daphne’s mother slipped out of her chair and took her glass to the sink, though instead of refilling it, she set it down on the counter, bracing herself with her hands against the tile.

“Dad, it’s okay, you don’t have to—”

“She killed human soldiers the day she went to be tested,” Daphne’s mother interjected. “When she was supposed to show them what she could do. And she killed my parents.”

Daphne’s throat went dry, her hands cold. “What?” Her whole life, she’d been told that her grandparents had died in a car accident in Albany. Her grandfather had been a senator and her grandmother a professor. They had been on a business trip when a van had swerved into their lane and crashed into their car.

“My dad worked with the organization that wanted Mia built,” said Daphne’s mother. She released the counter and wrapped her arms around herself, staring out the window over the sink. “Apparently, he’d given them your dad’s name to start with— picked him for the project.” She paused, scowling, and then began again. “My parents were on their way out, trying to get away from her. She ran into traffic. Caused an accident. I didn’t find out the truth about that until Damian was dead, too.”

Daphne heard shifting from the bedroom. Her heart pounded in her ears, now, her pulse rapid. Her mother turned, her eyes filling with tears as she faced Daphne.

“He’d found out about her, about what she’d done.” The elder woman inhaled and pulled up her right sleeve, tracing her fine scars with her fingertips. “She tried to get rid of me, too. She was in love with your dad.”

A tear slid down her mother’s cheek, and Daphne’s chest ached. She fought down the urge to look toward her bedroom.

“Obsessed with him, really,” her mother continued. “She had human emotions, sure, but none of the life experience that would’ve taught her how to process them or how to really care for anyone. She only knew what she wanted and that she was strong enough to dispose of anything or anyone standing in her way.”

“‘I am what you made me,’ she told me,” said Daphne’s father. His voice cracked, and he pushed back his chair, moving to his wife’s side and pulling her into his arms. “I’m sorry, Desi,” he said softly. “I never would’ve built her if I’d thought, even for a second—”

The bedroom door creaked open. Daphne leapt to her feet, spinning around so quickly that dizziness flooded her senses. Mia stood on the threshold, her brown eyes wide with confusion. Looking from Daphne to her parents, the android froze. Her lips parted as though she wanted to speak, and then she shook her head, fastened the sheet around her like a makeshift gown, and moved toward the apartment’s front door in a blur of motion so fast that Daphne could barely see her. The front door flew open, and then Mia was gone.

Slowly, Daphne turned to her parents. They both stared past her, her mother’s eyes filled with pain, her father’s with revulsion. Daphne’s stomach churned as she wondered whether his disgust was for the android or for her.