Professor Dante Crosswire was one of the most respected academic minds in Millwood. He had a hand in a range of scientific subjects, from chemistry to robotics, and held a long-established chair at the local university, where he had taught two generations of students. He was unrivalled, unchallenged, and fiercely proud.
Unfortunately, his glorious reign of intellect was not to last.
Dr. Vladimir Sparx was, in short, a prodigy. As a student in Sunset Beach, he had dazzled his professors, graduated with high honours, and had won a string of prizes and accolades in the short years that followed.
Itching to progress further, Dr. Sparx moved to Millwood to take up a lecturing position - one at the same university where Prof. Crosswire taught. The Dean, impressed by Dr. Sparx's achievements, felt it only appropriate that Sparx share a workspace with Crosswire, in the hope that the elder academic might lead a path for the other to follow.
From the get-go, things grew tense.
Crosswire saw Sparx as a whippersnapper - an arrogant young fool who was prepared to rush into things in the vain hope or progress. In other words, he was all flash, and no substance. Sparx, meanwhile, regarded Crosswire as a grouchy old man - someone stuck in old ways and old methods, afraid to move towards the future and live in the 21st Century.
Hell, when it came to contactless bank cards, the man didn't even have a bank account - he preferred to hoard his earnings in a locked case that he kept inside his office, where he could "keep an eye on it", like some bizarre Scrooge. He treated his research in much the same way: sealing it under lock and key until the time was right to publish it solo, allowing him to claim all the glory... even though sharing it, or God forbid, working with someone else, would let him finish the work faster and benefit the world sooner. Crosswire was selfish, and Sparx despised him for it.
Well - if you can't join them, beat them.
And Sparx did. Regularly. His youthful good looks and warm, charismatic attitude had students flocking to his lectures - often transferring from Crosswire's. His new and forward-thinking hypotheses impressed his fellows in academia, leaving Crosswire's research overlooked. Knowing Crosswire thrived on fame and glory, Sparx stole it from him any chance that he could. To begin with, the wealth and the attention meant little to Sparx, who preferred merely to focus on progress... but after a while, even he had to concede that it did boost the ego somewhat.
Three months after Sparx's arrival, Crosswire had had enough. It was time for him to take action - to unveil a project so impressive, so clever, that the world had to sit up and take notice. In the weeks that followed, Crosswire stayed in his lab at all hours, working on his piéce de resistance, forever dropping subtle hints to Sparx in the faculty corridor that he was "on the verge of something big".
Sparx seemed unfazed by this, saying that he, too, had a major development in the pipeline. Crosswire merely laughed this off. After all, what could this young upstart possibly be working on that could upstage this?
A life-sized, humanoid robot. One capable of independent thought, performing actions of free will, and quite possibly, of feeling and displaying genuine emotions. It was a game-changer. A marvel. An invention that would mark his place in history. Naming his droid the RCH-17, he made plans to unveil it during a grand faculty gala, where his co-workers and peers would witness his creation as they sipped champagne and nibbled on canapes.
On the night of the gala, Sparx was nowhere to be seen. This was a massive ego boost to Crosswire, who took it as a sign of the young man's cowardice. Once the guests were settled with their bubbly and nibbles, Crosswire introduced RCH-17 to the assembly. Just as he'd anticipated, they were enthralled and dazzled by this technological wonder. It could think, walk, and talk... in a warm Edinburgh accent, no less. That had been Crosswire's little indulgence - an homage to his beloved homeland.
Everything was going swimmingly - until an unexpected guest barged into the room mid-presentation.
Dr. Vladimir Sparx. With an android of his very own.
Whilst the robots were not identical, they were certainly similar - Sparx's creation, the JK3000, was of much the same build as RCH-17, with similar capabilities. However, whilst Crosswire's device seemed to have a calmer, more submissive "personality" (for want of a better word), the JK3000 seemed brasher, and more confident - its own voice carrying a soft, slow, Cajun drawl. All-American... rather like Sparx himself.
The two androids approached one another in the centre of the lab. The crowd watched eagerly, waiting to see how the pair responded to each other's presence. The most keen spectators of all were Crosswire and Sparx - each secretly hoping that their creation would destroy the other, securing them the final victory in this battle of wits.
However, the robots were both designed to act like humans - and humans, generally speaking, don't attack each other on first sight. Instead, RCH-17 offered JK3000 his hand to shake, which the latter did in a friendly manner, before engaging his new acquaintance in amicable small-talk.
Crosswire and Sparx were shocked... but the crowd was delighted.
"How marvellous!" the Dean exclaimed. "A joint project! Kudos to you, Crosswire and Sparx!"
For the rest of the evening, the two scientists wore fixed grins on their faces as they posed together for photos and chatted to the press of their "joint" success. Deep within, however, the hatred in their hearts grew ten-fold.
Back in their lab, Crosswire and Sparx both worked furiously - each one now utterly driven to ruin the other's reputation.
Their two creations, intended by each to be their magnum opus, were now primarily left to their own devices, aside from the occasional barked order to clean up or pass a tool. RCH-17 occupied itself by reading books about the human condition and the local culture, whilst JK3000 engaged in basic scientific research of its own, keen to master the craft.
In the years that followed, neither of them would forget their creators' screams.
It was a terrible disaster. A horrific accident. Plumbing leaking into the electrics. Sparx was the first to die - killed instantly by a violent electric shock. Crosswire witnessed this in horror: any feelings of vengeful joy he might have felt at his rival's death drowned out by overwhelming fright.
The robots found the bodies after hearing the two men cry out. It was they who called for the ambulance, who made the required arrangements: all the while, dealing with the same shock and grief that a human would, with RCH-17 being the worse affected. It might have had similar components to his peer, but JK3000 was, somehow, made of stronger stuff - able to stay calmer, to cope better, and to support RCH-17 whilst dealing with its own grief.
One question remained: what where they going to do now?
"I... I don't think we have a choice," RCH-17 concluded. "We need to look after ourselves from now on. To do our best to blend in amongst humankind."
"'Blend in'?" JK3000 scoffed. "And how are we going to do that? We're made of metal, damn it - we'll stick out like sore thumbs!"
RCH-17 approached its late master's desk and picked up a paper file, which it handed to JK3000.
"The Professor was working on something for me," it explained. "A type of covering. Do... do you believe you have the expertise to create it for us both?"
JLK3000 browsed the blueprints carefully.
"Well, I'll give it my best shot," it replied.
Two nights later, RCH-17 examined its new body in the mirror - stroking its soft, pale skin, and ruffling its bright blond hair.
After much thought, he had concluded he was male, and instructed JK3000 to construct a covering that would reflect this, whilst he went to gather some old clothes from the student union's jumble sale - taking money from the locked box his creator had hidden. Now, after a lot of work and preparation, he most certainly passed for a normal, everyday man. JK3000 had done a great job.
"What do you think?" the other robot asked, as it entered the room. RCH-17 turned to see that his friend had also chosen a male body, but was clad in a slightly more stylish outfit than himself.
Smiling confidently, JK3000 approached the mirror, admiring his own new features - a slightly tanned skintone, and hair as red as flame.
"You... you look good," RCH-17 said shyly.
"Thanks," JK3000 told him - before adding "You ain't so bad yourself," followed by a cheeky wink.
RCH-17 turned his head to hide the fact he was blushing.
"So, that's the appearance taken care of," JK3000 said. "What else do we need to pass a human?"
"Well, we'll need names," RCH-17 answered. "From my reading and observation, I've learnt that most humans have one or two personal names, and one name that comes from their family. As such, I feel my familial name should be Crosswire. Since I now look like a young man, I may be able to pass as the Professor's hitherto-unknown illegitmate son. That should make things easier for us amongst society."
"And what about me? I'll hardly pass as Sparx's son."
"A long-lost brother, perhaps. Or a cousin. Otherwise, a sheer co-incidence."
JK3000 considered this, and relented.
"All right. I'll be "Sparx", then."
"As for personal names, that's a different matter," RCH-17 added. "Recently, I've been attempting to use the letters in my unit number to form one. R-C-H... R-ch... er...chuh..."
"'Archie'?" JK3000 suggested.
The blond android smiled.
"A wonderful suggestion. Most appropriate. I'm now Archie Crosswire."
"And mine? J-K..."
"How about "Jack"?"
"What, like the computer port?"
"I assure you, it is a common name for men."
"If you say so. I guess it fits. Call me Jack Sparx."
"So, that's another problem sorted."
"Good, but... well, where are we going to live? And what are we going to live on? We don't need food or water to survive, I know - but we may need spare parts someday, just to keep us going."
"I have realised this. The Professor owned a house on the outskirts of town, in a quiet, unassuming area. He lived alone, so we'd be the only occupants. Word of his death is bound to travel, but if I pose as his long-lost son, I can claim I inherited the property, and that you are living there as my tenant."
"Again, not an issue. There's a fair few thousand in the Professor's safe-box. That should last a long while. In the meantime, we can look for employment."
"You've really thought this through, haven't you?" he said.
"Well," Archie replied. "I like to be prepared."
He led Jack to the heavy money-box, which the redhead easily scooped up onto his arms, before picking up the keys to the Professor's house from a hook on the wall.
"So, shall we head home?" he said.
For the first time in their existence, the two androids walked together off of the university campus - uncertain of what challenges the human world would hold for them, but excited and ready to face them.
Little did they know, they would soon carry one of the greatest responsibilities of all on their shoulders...
Hope you're enjoying this new story. You will not believe how tempted I was to call one of the Servos "Tom"...