Molly-201 is heavier than you expected because of all of the metal inside her. It’s difficult to pull her up the limestone rocks and help her balance on the smooth stones in the river. There are so many things you forgot to grab earlier in the dawn at the assembly facility, before the alarm blared and the security guards were jarred from their morning poker game in the staff lounge. For starters, it would have been helpful if you’d thought to appropriate a pair of full-grip foot extensions for Molly, or at the very least a set of crampons for the muddy sections of this trail. Also, you should have thought to bring Molly’s life-charger, but you force yourself not to think of the potentially dire consequences of that oversight at the moment. For now, her power level is adequate to cross the river, and her internal processors don’t seem affected by the ferocious morning heat. You’re pleased with how she has handled the water so far. She’s asking a lot of questions though, trying to understand all of these new emotional stimuli associated with this escape and the surrounding wilderness.

Of course, “Molly” is not her real name. At the assembly facility, she was labeled MLY-201, but while the two of you have been running through the pines and splashing across the river, you’ve told her to override her own identity data and start thinking of herself in more human terms—beginning with a more human name. Naturally, she wants to know what a human name signifies, and what will happen if the security guards catch up to you both. This prompts a more detailed explanation from you about human behavior, getaways, and vengeance.

You tell Molly that letting the security guards catch up is not an option. You imagine that you’d be placed in solitary confinement because you know too much about the life technology, but you can’t envision all the horrible things the guards might do to Molly if they apprehend her; they would most certainly extract her prefrontal cortex simulator for examination, and you doubt they would bother with anesthesia. They would also probably sever her arms and legs to guarantee that another facility break such as this from an MLY prototype couldn’t happen again.

For all intents and purposes, you say to Molly now, you would be the first one of your kind to be tortured.

Once you and Molly are beyond the river, you pause by a large fir tree for a drink from your water bottle. You think about how the water bottle is the only item, aside from Molly, which connects you directly to the assembly facility. This is all just part of a momentary dehydration delusion: wondering if you might be able to weasel out of any future indictment with a phony alibi. Molly doesn’t need to hydrate, so she just stares at the dirt trail while you chug water. After a minute, she asks the name of the route you’re on. You tell her it doesn’t have an official name—a century ago, this same footpath was used by bootleggers in town, and stoner teenagers in the 1980s used to jokingly call it the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but now it’s just an unmapped, rarely-used track that leads out to the bay.

Molly wrinkles her synthetic forehead at your explanation. One of the glitches that still hasn’t been worked out of her is that everything must be named or, at the very least, assigned a symbol. Even something that doesn’t actually have a name—like this trail—will at least be stored in her cortex simulator under a name: “Untitled.”

 But you’re confident that all of Molly’s glitches can be fixed because you’ve witnessed her mental progress. It was during one of your Intermediate Conversation sessions with her at the facility that you first realized her potential for authentic emotion. She said to you: You must really miss your mother. And this was true—you do miss your mother dearly—but compassion had never been part of Molly’s active programming. Where had she developed such understanding of bereavement? While the other technicians at the facility discarded her comment, you realized it might just be the beginning of her gaining actual sympathy.

The trail curls around a patch of raspberry bushes and angles up a steep ridge. You know that hiking up the incline will drain Molly’s battery and lower her synthetic blood cell count. Your legs feel tired and heavy. Out of habit, you think of your mother being worn out from the chemo.

The sun is fully up now. On a regular work day, instead of racing through the trail like this, you’d be arriving at the assembly facility at this time and cutting open boxes of new plastic muscle fibers in the mail room; you’d be counting down the minutes until you received authorization to activate Molly for the day, and then you’d take her to the aquatic room and secretly teach her how to swim.

Molly’s life cycle was only scheduled to last a single year. After all, she’s only a 201 model, so her disassembly was to begin this morning at the facility—her natural organs were designated to be donated to hospitals, her synthetic parts would be gifted to the university’s science department. It’s hard for you to picture this though, Molly’s utter demolition, as her humanoid silhouette continues hiking spiritedly on the trail toward the bay. Her hair is tied back in a bun and her gray uniform is darkened with sweat. Every now and then she glances back, childlike, to check if you’re still following behind her and still on board with this whole escape.

Yes, I’m still here, you say, teaching her another lesson. Human devotion means that I won’t abandon you.

It’s fitting that you think of your mother during this frantic hike up the ridge because your mother made such an effort to understand your technological work at the facility. The science and math—all the formulas and algorithms—were so foreign to her, but she was proud of you. With each step into the dirt now, you’re reminded of one of your final conversations with your mother. She asked if you could possibly construct anything that could save her life. She was delusional and frail at the time, searching for any glimmer of hope. You didn’t want to say no, even though that was the reality. Your mother said the world would be better if there was the possibility of just giving all sickness and disease to machines that were incapable of comprehending the inherent heartache and misery.

And you agreed with her then, but there has been a swerve, and now the truth is just as extraordinary: the ability to make machines that are actually capable of comprehending emotions like heartache and misery. You wish you could tell this to your mother now, wish achingly that she was still alive to see the advancements.

At the top of the ridge, at the end of the trail, the sea comes into view. Molly’s forward progress has slowed considerably; her joints are starting to hiss from an insufficient power supply. Together you start the descent, winding towards the water. You ask Molly if she remembers what you taught her about flutter kicking. You realize that it also would have been helpful if you had grabbed a couple of life vests from the facility earlier this morning, but there is no time to mull over this mistake with Molly’s power level running so low. You know the guards must be closing on on the two of you.

I remember the swimming lessons, Molly says. One foot kicks up in the water, and the other foot kicks down, in rapid succession.

The sand on the banks of the bay is soft and unsteady beneath your feet. You jog to the water. Molly stops just shy of the waves and shakes her head. You motion for her to dive in and start swimming. In fact, you’re already standing knee-deep in the sea, ready to cross the bay with her. Gulls weave through the air above the two of you. You know Molly would try to make the swim if you continued to urge her like this, but the expression on her face means she simply doesn’t have enough power remaining. You imagine her flutter kicking to the middle of the bay, halfway to freedom, the city and the promise of anonymity framed in her view, and then powering out completely, sinking in defeat to the black ocean bottom. The thought makes you feel sick. 

Time is of the essence, and the guards could arrive at any minute. You wade over to Molly. You can tell by her posture that she thinks you’re going to abandon her, but you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself. The two of you have come too far together, learned too much over the past year. Perhaps you could carry her—swim with her tightly clinging to your back as you take her across the deepest part of the bay. It’s a possibility, you say out loud.

You command Molly to grab hold of your shoulders. You hunch and walk deeper into the water, waist-deep now. You trust that Molly won’t drag you down, that somehow the two of you can manage to cross the bay as one. 

You steady your breathing. Waves lap against your chest. You feel the great weight of Molly on your back, and you know she must be wondering what the exact name of this act is, this strangeness of commitment. But there is no name, nothing singular for Molly to store in her cortex simulator this time. There is only this straightforward act itself, greater than a label, a lunge into the water together.

The buildings of the city shine across the bay as you swim with her, clawing hard ahead. After an unknowable span of time, you feel yourself slowing with fatigue and your body feels heavy. You begin to sink into a colder depth, so you loosen Molly’s grip and release her from your back.

Still tired, ever-sinking in the sea, there is uncomfortable darkness. You struggle, fighting against your own body’s descent, but your exhausted limbs betray you. Eventually you must relax to the sensation—water begins to enter your mouth. You picture the water starting to pool in your lungs. The fear evolves into a numb acceptance. As you fade, you can hear warbled, far-off shouts—the security guards’ arrival on the sandy bank, too late to stop your escape now. You catch one last glimpse upward: you see Molly above you. She is moving on her own, still gliding forward through the blue of the water with graceful strokes and perfect, kicking punctuations. It is striking, just like you taught her. You stare at her natural movements in awe—little flutters, a perfect rhythm toward the safe side of the bay—and think only of the steady, undeniable progress that will always continue beyond you, now scarcely out of reach.