The metal wind whispers through the metal leaves, and they sound like a thousand metal wind chimes.
You are on top of a metal hill, made of metal grass and metal dirt, and you are staring out into the metal valley filled with metal trees, and up at the metal sky filled with metal stars.
Metal people like you move robotically through the metal streets of the metal city beyond the metal mountains, but you pay no mind to them. Underneath the metal tree that sounds like a metal wind chime, a girl sits, the only blotch of color in a chrome metal world, reflective but impossible to look into. She holds your vision; you have never seen a real person before. You have only ever known the metal people.
She is scared of you, that much is clear. She has been crying; red lines flow down her face from where her tears fell. You do not know how you recognize that she has been crying; you have only ever known the metal world. Her pink dress is torn in several places, and her blonde hair flows down the back of her head in a long mane.
You do not really know why you are up here on this hill with her, but you know it was your job to find the girl. You were assigned this task by another of the metal men in the metal city beyond the metal mountains. You do not know why they want this girl, but you wonder if it is because she is not metal like you, like them, and like the rest of the world.
She is a color in the middle of grey.
“Please, no,” the girl whispers, pleading with you. “I don’t want to.”
You can tell that she has given up on her quest. She is tired and cold and hungry and lost, and the metal tree with the metal leaves is not helping her hide from you. You found her, and the game she was playing is over.
You silently call her to you, but make no sound, for fear of scaring her further. You wonder, for a moment, why you do not simply ask her politely; but then you realize that it is the fact that you are metal that is scaring her. You were trying to plead with your eyes, which cannot plead.
They are lit sockets, nothing more, and you feel that that is what is scaring the not-metal girl.
So you do not try to reason with her, or to trick her into coming with you. You just approach her and sit down next to her underneath the metal tree, and you hear the whirring of your metal gears begin to subside as you rest on the ground; they are not needed to support you at the moment.
The girl stares at you for a moment, debating what she should do; she decides to stay, after considering repeatedly that she should bolt while you are down on the ground, unprepared. You simply sit with her and she sits with you, and you stare out over the metal valley at the metal trees and into the metal sky with the metal stars, and the metal tree with its metal leaves provides the soft, clinking metal music to accompany the silence.
You sit and wait.
Suddenly, the girl speaks. “I don’t want to go,” she says to you. “They’re going to kill me. They’re all going to kill me. Why haven’t you killed me yet?” she asks.
You do not know, and you do not answer her. You simply watch the calm beyond. She eventually finds herself content with not knowing, though she is clearly more nervous than before. You do not know how to comfort her.
“I’m the last one, aren’t I?” she asked herself quietly. The look on her face suggests to you that you were not supposed to hear, that it was a thought spoken aloud, and so you ignore it and do not answer. You do not know what she is talking about anyway.
You sit for a while longer, simply watching her. She cannot seem to relax. You do not want to speak and show her your artificial voice out of shame; the girl is powerful in spirit (a word that you do not understand, though you know it used to mean something), and it would kill her if she heard what you were.
Mutely, you gesture to the metal grass, and you demonstrate what you want her to do. She looks questioningly at you, and then tentatively lies down next to you, and you simply stare at the stars again. You do not know and do not care if she is looking at you or the stars, as long as she is still here.
And when you turn to look at her, she is still there, so you turn back to the stars.
While you stare into the metal heavens, you come up with an idea, and you motion to the girl such that she follows you. You lead her up to the great metal tree, and help her climb up into the branches. You climb up after her.
It is quite spacious inside the branches. It becomes a private fort, hidden from the world, and the music of the metal leaves dancing in the metal wind is simple and small and beautiful. You tell her silently to stay up in the tree, and she does, though she appears to not quite trust you yet.
You descend, and start rooting around on the ground for the perfect things. You find several small, metal stones, and long blades of metal grass. You grab a few leaves off of the metal tree, hoping that it will not miss them. You begin to work with your materials, and when you are done, you ascend the tree and present your gift.
The girl is somewhat in shock when you present her with the necklace of leaves and rocks and grass, and she laughs for a few moments before she takes the offering and puts it around her neck. “Thank you,” she says shyly. “I suppose… go back down, I want to make you something too.”
You descend the tree, and try not to spy up into it, but it is too tempting, and you go back up nearly before she is done. She laughs, and you wish you could. Your artificial voice does not allow such foolish waste of energy, and it would only serve to remind her that you are not like her.
She presents you with your gift: a piece of pink fabric ripped from her dress – she apparently did not want it anymore – wrapped up in a few of her golden hairs. You wonder if she ripped them out of her head, but do not linger on the thought. You accept the gift graciously, and you and the girl unanimously decide that the tree is now their eternal metal fort, and she is the princess while you are the metal knight, and you play knights-and-castles with her for hours, until it is long past midnight. You feel happier than you have ever felt.
And then it is morning, and you are both tired from playing all during the night, and you both fall into a slumbering silence. The girl sleeps; you do not, for you do not need to. It would be a waste.
It is only when a metal cart comes rumbling up the metal hill that you remember what you came here for. The metal people from the metal streets in the metal city want this girl for some reason, though you do not know why. You are worried for her, and you try to shake her awake; but it is too late, and other metal hands are already reaching up the tree, grabbing for her.
You try to defend her, protect your princess from the many metal dragons, but there are too many of them, and they bring her rudely-awakened form down and throw it into the metal cart and lock the metal door with a metal key. They thank you for helping them find her, but you do not want their thanks. You want her. You tell them this, or try to, but they laugh and ask you why you would want a girl who is not metal.
There is no convincing them. Instead, you simply ask if you can ride along with the girl. It takes some convincing, but they eventually agree, deciding that the girl is scared, and you will be able to calm her.
You climb in with her, and she runs up to you and hugs you and cries, her tears running down your metal back. You do not feel them. It is unnecessary to feel them.
She cries into you for a long time, and then she realizes that not the entire world has forgotten about her: you are still here, and she takes comfort in the fact that you are here, though she still sniffles the slightest bit. You simply point to her metal necklace, and motion that you will always remember that you gave her that, and the gift she gave you in return.
You sit with her for the rest of the ride, which lasts for several days. The metal tree is far behind you, the metal city far ahead. As the time passes, you can feel her begin to die beside you. She does not appear to care, and keeps smiling while you are near her.
And then you are there, in the metal city beyond the metal valley with the metal trees and the metal mountains. The metal cart stops, and the metal door is unlocked with the dreaded metal key, and you are unloaded with the girl onto the metal streets of the metal city.
You are herded inside a formidable metal building that appears terrifying to the girl. She seems to recognize this place; you do not. You do not know if you want to recognize it.
Then the metal people separate you from the girl in the pink dress, and you try to follow after, but they hold you back, bringing you into a side room with metal walls and metal glass. You see the girl through the metal glass; she is struggling to get away from them, to free herself from the metal grips of the metal people. You can hear her struggle; the room is not soundproof.
She is brought toward this metal chair with metal arm and leg straps, and she screams loudly as she approaches the metal chair, trying to flee with more vigor and passion than you have ever seen her do before.
The metal people beat her into submission, and she is forced limply toward the chair, and she allows herself to be seated. She is bleeding profusely; you know she will die soon.
You are sad. Your processor does not allow you to feel such strong emotions as grief, so you feel slight sadness instead.
You watch the scene below intently. The metal people strap her into the chair and leave the room, eventually reappearing in the room where you are. You start to run to them, to kill them for what they did to her, but more metal people stop you, and they prevent you from moving any longer. You simply watch.
Some panels from the wall the chair faces start to move apart. The girl seems to know what this is, and looks around with a strange giddy devilishness that does not seem like what she should be feeling. As a long shape emerges, she begins to breathe deeply, to calm herself, and to inflate her lungs as far as they will go.
You realize it is a metal laser, and that she is about to die. You lunge forward to hit the glass, but the girl does not seem to notice the noise you made. She is in her own world.
As the laser charges up, she empties her lungs, forcing a loud scream that nearly melts your processor to interpret it. The metal laser fires, and it burns her body, dress and hair and all, to a metallic crisp. An electric shock created by the body burning spreads through the chair legs, traveling to the other end of the facility. You know that it started to power a metal version of her.
You do not want to know the metal version of her, though the metal men try to force you into it. You simply avoid them, clutching your pocket, the gift she gave you wrapped up inside it.
You run the entire way back to the metal tree where you first began to know her, and the entire time you feel and know that you can never forgive yourself for what happened to the girl. She is now metal like you, if it can truly be her; otherwise she is nothing, dead, made of metal ash and metal dust and metal nothing.
You take the gift from your pocket when you get to the top of the metal hill and look at it. The golden hairs wrapped around it have begun to fray; you try to manipulate them back into place, but find you cannot.
So you unwrap the hairs from around the fabric, and inside the fabric you find a blue stone, the color of what you think the sky would be if it were not made of metal. You know that this stone must have meant a lot to the girl, and you choose to treasure it.
You climb up into your tree, and you try to pretend that you are a knight in knights-and-castles, but you find it is hard to play without a princess, and the best princess you had ever known is dead.
Not knowing what else to do, you descend the tree and sit where the girl had sat what seemed like ages ago. You simply sit in silence.
For the first time in your metal existence, you dream.
You are sitting on the hill with the girl, and the girl asks you to speak. You tell her you cannot.
Then she says that you just spoke, and you listen in wonder to your own human voice. A real voice.
And in this alternate world, you’re together again, and you laugh together.
The not-metal wind blows through the not-metal leaves, and they sound like not-metal wind chimes and not-metal cloth. And the not-metal hill lies over the not-metal valley filled with not-metal trees, and the not-metal mountains in the distance hang right under the not-metal sky with the not-metal stars, and everything is colorful and vibrant and full of life.
And for the first time that you can remember, you feel free.