Sentenced to Life
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Chapter 17E – Memories
Dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the “Clan Short Universe”
Which began on October 22, 2002, with the launch of “Memories: By ACFan”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Tuesday, March 06, 1900 (Date according to the “Clan Short Universe” Calendar)
“I love you, Uncle Dan.” He said as he reached across the middle console and gave the man a hug.
“Love you too, Shadow. See you next week?” The man replied with a smile that lit up the boy’s young face. It was obvious that the two were very close, despite the almost 15 years that separated them.
“Yup, I get to drive home next week, right?” He said with a grin, provoking the man into an overacted laugh at his expense. This was their way.
“In your dreams, Buddy,” He said, getting a giggle from the boy as he opened the door and climbed out. “It’s supposed to be a little warmer this weekend, your mother said that if you wanted to take one more long weekend, we can go back up to the camp and finish the work we started.”
“More work?” The boy whined as the crisp March wind made him shiver. “Okay but only if we get to go in town again. You owe me a rematch.” The boy laughed.
“No rematch, I’m the Tron Champion.” The man loudly announced with a laugh.
“You cheated!” The boy quipped. “If we’re gonna play old arcade games the rule will be that distractions will be grounds for disqualification.”
The man smiled as he knew this conversation, just like many before it was designed to prolong the goodbye. He was okay with it but, knew that he needed to get the boy inside as he was under-dressed for the cold. “Deal, and if I hold you out here too long, frostbite will take your fingers and I will be uncontested!” With a laugh he pointed toward the house. “Inside, before you get sick and there is no next weekend for me to clean the arcade floor with you.”
“You are so gonna get it!” The boy feigned anger before laughing grabbing his backpack and closing the door. After running to the steps he turned and waved before quickly disappearing into the house. He rushed to the window to watch his friend in the Camaro slowly pull away from the curb. He always enjoyed watching that particular car in motion. It was theirs and it was special.
Three hours later, the boy was in his room, listening to music and putting his clothes away when the phone rang. Ignoring it, he could hear his mother walk past the base of the stairs on her way to answer it. “Don’t worry Kevin, I’ll get it.” She shouted with mock sarcasm.
“Sorry Mom.” He replied, knowing she didn’t actually expect him to answer it anyway. He continued unpacking, putting his tickets and other rewards from the arcade on his dresser when his mother yelled up the stairs.
“Kevin, I need you down here now please.” She yelled to be heard over the music.
“Coming.” The boy shouted back as he knew that tone of voice meant she was no longer playing. Turning right at the foot of the stairs, he stepped into the kitchen where his best friend Andy from school was standing near the back door with a stunned look on his face. “What’s wrong?” The boy asked and when he received no answer from his friend, looked at his mother. “Mom? Is something wrong?”
“Sit down.” She said as she visibly tried to calm herself. “You too Andy, I know you heard some of that call.”
As they all sat down, she poured herself a cup of coffee, took a sip followed by a deep breath. “Kevin, I just got off the phone with Daniel’s mother.” She began. “There’s been an accident.”
“Is she okay?” Kevin asked as he noticed a tear work its way down Andy’s cheek.
“She’s fine.” His mother replied. “Honey, Dan got into an accident on his way home a little while after he dropped you off. From what we know, a small boy ran out into the road and he swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting him. He was taken to the hospital where his mother is now. She says it’s pretty serious.”
“I wanna go.” The boy began to cry. “Please Mom, I gotta be there.”
“Of course honey.” She replied as she looked at the silent boy at the table. “Andy, do you want us to drop you at home?”
“No ma’am.” He replied, “I can walk.”
“No. Can you come with us?” Kevin asked in almost a panic.
When another tear worked its way down the boy’s face, matched with fresh tears in her son’s eyes, she decided to answer for him. “I’ll call your mother Andrew, Kevin go get your coat and hat and I’ll see if John is home downstairs. He should be able to give us a ride. If not, I’ll call a cab.”
Five hours later a crowd had gathered in the waiting room. Andy didn’t know many of the people but Kevin seemed to know them all well. Kevin’s mother sat with Dan’s mother holding her hand as the doctor finally came into the room with an exhausted look on his face. “Well, we seem to be through the worst of it now. We have been able to stabilize Mr. Page and get him on life support but I’m afraid there have been severe complications. Mrs. Page, we are doing all that we can to ensure he remains comfortable.”
The boy heard the words, he watched as his best friend’s mother seemed to collapse back into her chair and openly begin to cry. ‘The Doctor said he would be comfortable. He said he was stable. Why is Ma crying?’ He ran through his head as he watched his own mother hug the woman he had come to think of as a second mother; his…no, their Ma. The doctor turning to leave the room finally snapped him out of his paralysis and without thinking he yelled. “Wait!” Silencing the room.
“Yes son?” The doctor turned and was met with an obviously panicked teenager.
“Uncle Dan is gonna be okay, right?”
The doctor looked at the boy’s mother and after receiving a nod motioned to the boy to have a seat in a nearby chair. Once he was seated, he knelt down in front of the boy and sighed. “Son,” He began, placing his hand on the boy’s knee. , “your Uncle Dan is in a coma following some really serious injuries. Most people in his position wouldn’t even be alive right now.”
“So, he’ll be okay then.” Kevin insisted hopefully.
The doctor shook his head and gave the boy’s knee a squeeze. “After his family has their time with him, you can go in and say goodbye.” With a pat, he removed his hand, stood back up and left the room.
The boy numbly watched as everyone else in the waiting room went in and tearfully returned to the waiting area. One and two at a time, they all said their goodbyes and left the hospital. The boy sat and silently watched as the room emptied out. They had all given up on him. This man who was his closest friend, this man who everyone turned to for help and support and friendship; now no longer of any use to them. He slowly became angrier and angrier at these people for being so selfish. Finally, the room was empty. Even his own mother had taken Andy and Ma to go get a coffee. Kevin stood up, took a deep breath and went to the nurse’s station.
“Can I help you, young man?” The nurse asked, looking down at him from the desk.
“I would like to go in and see Daniel Page please.” He managed to get out, with his back stiffened.
Once outside the room, the nurse opened the door and motioned for him to enter. “Remember honey, he is in pretty rough shape.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Would you like me to stay?”
“I’ll be okay.” He replied as he cautiously entered the room. The sight instantly brought the boy to tears and as he got closer, he silently regretted not asking the nurse to stay. “Oh my god.” He whispered at the sight of his friend, who was just fine a few hours ago. “You can’t leave Dan, you just can’t. I still gotta beat you at Tron.” He tried to laugh through the uncontrollable tears. “What am I gonna do without you?” He cried as he found Dan’s hand and held it. “Please don’t let this be real.”
After an hour had passed, the door quietly opened and a friend of Kevin’s mother stuck his head in the doorway. An older gentleman in a doctor’s coat, a man who had been a friend of his mother’s as far back as the boy could remember. “I can come back, Kevin.” He said, alerting the boy to his presence.
“No, it’s ok Chuck. You can come in.” Kevin answered wiping his face off on his sleeve.
The man approached and looked at the clipboard at the foot of the bed. Shaking his head, he replaced the clipboard and walked to the opposite side of the bed. “I’m so sorry Kevin.” He said as he eyed the equipment keeping Dan alive. “I rushed right over when I heard the news.”
“Thanks Chuck.” Kevin sniffled. “He just dropped me off at home. He was just fine.”
The man watched Kevin begin to sob. As Kevin began to calm once again, he took out a penlight and checked each of Dan’s pupils. “Well, I’m sure these doctors told you that you should say goodbye to him.”
“Yeah…” Kevin replied, his voice almost failing him.
“Kevin. What would you say if I told you that I might be able to help Dan?” The man said, calming the boy down visibly.
“How?” Kevin asked, hope beginning to flicker in his expression. “They said he should already be dead.”
The man picked up the phone on the bedside table and quickly dialed a number. After a moment’s pause, he simply stated. “Dr, Charles Strafford at LGH. The subject is a twenty-eight-year-old male named Daniel Alexander Page. Prepare the Neuro-imaging suite and standby with life support. We may finally get to use the youth model.” With a nod, he hung up the phone and nodded his head. “Kevin, the way Dan was injured leaves us a few options but, we need to act quickly.” He stated as he looked over Dan’s heart rhythm. “His brain is unable to communicate with his body. Which means it can’t keep telling his body to breathe or his heart to pump. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” Kevin replied. “How can you help with that? You aren’t a people doctor.”
The man smiled in a way that would appear warm but concealed something that could only be described as excitement. “Son, what if I told you that we could give him a new body? What if I said he would be able to come back and he’d be young again, forever. That would be good, right?”
“Yeah,” Kevin answered. “You could do that?”
“Would that make you happy?” The man probed.
“Yes!” Kevin excitedly replied as he wiped away the now drying tears. “But how would you get them to let you do this?”
The man smiled and patted Dan’s lifeless hand. “You let me handle that.”
Three days later, the difficult decision to finally take the man off life support was finally made. The boy was angry that he was not permitted to be present and even though his mother insisted that Dan would have wanted it that way, he hated the man’s family for excluding him. He was told that this would be happening the following day so, if he wanted to say one last goodbye, it was now or never. The old doctor who offered his help nodded knowingly and smiled. “I have great news.” He would whisper once Kevin’s mother was out of earshot. “It will make his family angry but, since Daniel was an organ donor we will be able to overrule his being taken off life support. Legally, the moment they try, we are permitted by law to remove him from their care.”
This news pleased Kevin to no end, so with a hop in his step; he asked his mother for one last visit. The next day came and went without so much as a phone call. The deed was done and Kevin knew that Dan’s family would be upset and angry. He didn’t care. He went back to school the following Monday and spent his evenings in the small lab where his mother’s friend worked tirelessly to bring Dan back to life. Which finally happened on April 7th with a whole staff and media present.
“So, as this unit comes online, you will finally witness the very first artificially intelligent, man created being in our history.” He said as he tapped away at the keys on the portable computer connected to the seemingly sleeping boy on the table in the lab. “We have decided, as his personality is based on the life of a friend to this young man here, it was decided that his field testing will be performed by people who already love and care for him. This will make for a much more realistic testing.”
As the cameras snapped away and random questions were shouted, Kevin studied every inch of the sleeping boy’s face. ‘I can’t wait to be able to talk to you.’ He thought as the press began to get louder.
“His name?” The old doctor asked in response to the one question he chose not to ignore, silencing the rest of the crowd instantly. With a smile, as he continued to check the computer he announced: “We decided the prototype would maintain the name of the person who volunteered to act as the A.I. model. His legal owner, my young friend Kevin here; worked with us as we chose D.A.N.N.Y. which stands for Developmental, Artificial-intelligence, Networked, Neuro-imaged, Youth. Just Danny for short.” As the press fired off even more questions, one particular question was asked that silenced the entire group once again.
“Dr. Strafford. There have been rumors that you illegally acquired the body of a human to create this supposed artificially intelligent operating system. Would you care to comment?”
As all eyes turned toward the doctor, a sound came from the table that startled Kevin and made the unanswered question go forgotten. The entire team of technicians gathered around the table, leaving room for one thirteen-year-old boy with freshly tear-stained cheeks to take his place for the proposed imprinting that the good doctor claimed must happen as the unit woke up. As if the new unit didn’t already know the boy. With cameras snapping away, the boy on the table took a deep breath and finally opened his eyes for the first time, locking his gaze on Kevin.
“Uncle Dan?” Kevin sobbed in a hopeful tone.
The boy quickly looked around the room and grabbed Kevin’s hand, his own shaking. “Kevin? Where am I?”
Knowing recognition meant the upload was successful, Kevin rushed forward and hugged his missed friend. “Oh god Uncle Dan, I missed you so much,” he said before he buried his face in the little android’s shoulder and cried like a baby. “Please, don’t leave me again. I love you.”
“Yes, he got quite attached to this personality in simulated testing.” The doctor said with a huge smile to the group that was now confused at what they had just heard. “Remember, this unit’s personality is modeled on a friend of his that had tragically passed away.” An answer that seemed to satisfy the questioning glares of the press.
One month later, the media reported that under the cover of night, the new android was installed in his new home to begin field testing. He would be expected to interact with Kevin as well as his friends and family. When good reports came in and promising interviews began to air, people fought over the rights to expand the doctor’s practice. People actually began to volunteer themselves as candidates for newer models. Four months more would have protests flaring up and the movement to discontinue using living subjects would begin to be heard.
“Time to get up Uncle Dan.” The boy said as he stretched and yawned, not getting a response from the occupant of the upper bunk. “Uncle?” He repeated, now grabbing the headboard and shaking the bed.
“What are you doing?” Dan asked from the doorway. “I’ve been up for about an hour already.”
“Figures.” Kevin smiled as he finally sat up. “You excited yet?”
“Excited to go back to school?” The android giggled. “Cause I didn’t get enough of it when I went the last time? Oh sure.”
Kevin stood up and stretched before walking over and giving the pouting android a hug. “But this time you get to go to school with me.”
That was part of the experiment though, could this artificial life form blend in? Would he be convincing? Dan didn’t care. What mattered and made him willing to put up with it was the fact that Kevin was so happy. The first day at school became the first week at school. Then the first month and so on. In time, Dan was just another kid in class and he even remembered some of the activities that he enjoyed years earlier and had all but forgotten.
“How did you get so good at field hockey Dan?” Kevin’s friend Andy asked as the boys changed out of their gym uniforms.
Dan laughed and sat down on the bench as he began to tie up his sneakers. “Cause I used to play when I was your a… um…” Dan sighed.
Andy sat down and put his arm around the android’s shoulder. “I’m sorry bro.” He said with a squeeze.
“Not your fault,” Dan replied with a smile. “What are you up to after school?”
Andy thought for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. “Nothing I guess. You don’t have plans with Kevin?”
“Nah.” He forced a smile. “He’s gonna be spending the weekend over at his friend Brian’s house.”
“Brian?” Andy huffed as he dropped his gym shorts. “Brian, ‘I hate androids cause they creep me out’, Brian?”
“That would be the one.” Dan laughed at Andy’s impression of the kid. “You wanna skate? I just got a new deck.”
Andy pulled on his jeans, stood up, zipped and buttoned, then sat back down shaking his head. “So what are you supposed to do all weekend?”
“Wait.” Dan shrugged. “It’s kinda weird with his Mom when he’s not around. I think I make her nervous or something.”
Andy shook his head before slapping Dan on the back. “So then you’re staying at my house for the weekend. We’re having tacos and I planned to camp out in my backyard. I got two sleeping bags and a bag full of junk food. You in?”
“Serious?” Dan smiled. “You don’t have to mess up your weekend. I can find something else to do.”
“I invite you to my house for a weekend of fun in the wilderness, not to mention my mom’s world famous ‘Taco Night’. Follow that up with the fact that I don’t bring friends home that often so my dad will have to show you the man cave and we’ll have to sit through at least one old movie.” Andy laughed. “I’m not messing up my weekend, I’m using you to keep my parents from thinking I have no friends at all.”
“Sounds like fun Andy. Thanks.” Dan smiled as he stood up and closed his locker. “I should let Kevin’s mother know I’ll be gone and I need to call Dr. Strafford and report in because I won’t be near the computer.”
Andy stood up and crammed his dirty clothes into his locker, slammed it shut and both grabbed their bags and walked toward the door. “Is it a problem that you’ll be away from the computer?” He said as he dug an apple out of his backpack and took a bite.
“No,” Dan replied as they left the locker room. “Kevin and I are supposed to journal every day for the official reports. They’ll live if we skip a couple of days.”
“So it’s not like you need it to charge up or anything then, right?” Andy laughed as Dan took a playful swing at him.
“You’re kidding, right?” Dan asked, shaking his head when Andy just shrugged his shoulders. “Dude, I survive the same way you do. What would be the point of eating food and drinking water if I didn’t need too?”
“That would be kind of a waste I guess.” Andy smiled. “I just figured you ate so you would fit in.
“Nope,” Dan replied, quickly stealing Andy’s apple and taking a bite. “Everything’s real and needs the same thing you do to survive.”
Swiping his apple back, Andy gave him a playful swat and took another huge bite. “Try that with my taco at home and we fight to the death.”
“Is that a challenge?” Dan laughed.
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”
And that weekend became the first of many that Dan would hang out with Andy. It became such a regular occurrence that on the weekends when Kevin was home, he would either join them at Andy’s house, which absolutely thrilled Andy’s parents; or he would spend some time with his mother who was progressively getting annoyed at never having time alone with her son. Eventually, Kevin stopped going over to Andy’s house and started having his friend Brian come over when Dan wasn’t home. Brian’s hatred for androids continued to grow and as that first year in school came to a close, the living arrangements began to become an issue.
“Kev, can we talk?” Dan asked as he sat down in the chair at the desk in the bedroom.
Kevin continued to stuff clothes in his backpack, as he had planned to spend the first week of summer vacation with his friend Brian and a few other boys from the school. “If you make it quick. I have to get out of here soon cause they’re expecting me.”
Dan looked at the floor and sighed. “I guess it’s not that important.”
Finally, with a huff, Kevin turned to face the android. “You don’t like Brian. I get it. But he’s my friend and you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
Stunned, Dan looked up and shook his head. “He doesn’t like me because of what I am. I don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him. I do know that I don’t trust him.” Dan stood up and walked over to the bed and sat next to Kevin’s bag. “I want to go see my mother.”
“Wait, what?” Kevin asked, obviously not expecting the sudden change in topic. “I thought you were upset cause I was going camping with Bri and his friends.”
“Do what makes you happy, I don’t care who you hang out with.” Dan sighed. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I know it’s against the contract that they made us sign but, I want to see her.”
Kevin sat on the bed and shook his head. “She doesn’t want to see you. She blew up at me when she learned that I had something to do with messing up your funeral plans.” He finally looked the android in the eyes. “She doesn’t believe that you are really Dan. Forcing her to accept you now would be bad for you both. Doctor Straf…”
“I don’t give a fuck what that asshole had to say about it.” Dan raised his voice. “He had no right to do this and you know it.”
Kevin stood up and roughly grabbed his bag. “He did it to save you. He did it so you could still be here.”
Dan shook his head and tears began to well up in his eyes. “I wish he hadn’t sometimes.”
Kevin began to get red in the face as anger could clearly be seen in his expression. “When you talk like that, so do I.” He spat and left the room.
Two days later, Dan and Andy rode three hours on their bikes to the android’s mother’s house. Outside as they rounded the corner, Dan stopped and watched as his mother appeared to be preoccupied out in her garden. Andy stopped as well and after a moment of absolute silence reached over and rubbed Dan’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do this if you aren’t ready you know.”
Nodding his head, Dan smiled at him in reply. After building up the courage, he rode forward until they were both outside the fence. “Andy? Is that you?”
“Hi Mrs. Page” Andy smiled as she stood up and walked over to the fence, “Haven’t seen you in a long time so, we took the ride over.”
The woman smiled as she approached the fence. “That was sweet of you.” Looking at the boy with him, she nodded questioningly but she smiled when he gave her a small wave. “You aren’t hanging out with Kevin anymore?”
“Not as much lately, no.” Andy shrugged his shoulders. “I mean he comes around but he’s been hanging out with this kid who doesn’t like him.” He said motioning toward Dan.
“Well, he’s made quite a few questionable decisions.” The woman sighed. “I think my son helped to spoil him.”
Dan swallowed hard before clearing his throat to find his voice. “He di… He did what he did trying to help.”
“Oh?” She raised her eyebrows. “As if there is any help in depriving someone’s family the right to say goodbye. What would you know about it?”
All three stood in silence before Dan took another deep breath. “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
Finally looking the android in the eyes, Dan’s mother appeared to get angry. “I thought you looked a little too much like my Daniel when he was a boy. That doctor friend of Kevin’s mother did this too, didn’t he? He’s the doctor that forced the courts to take my son away from me so he could what, make a copy of my son?”
“Ma, he offere…”
“DON’T CALL ME MA!” His mother yelled, cutting him off in mid-sentence with tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know what you are but I will make one thing very clear. My son is dead. I don’t know who or what you are but, you are NOT him!” She shouted before turning away from the android. “Andrew, it was good to see you and you are welcomed in my home anytime, just don’t bring THAT with you again.”
Andy had never seen Dan’s mother angry and only snapped out of his shock because she had turned toward the house. “Mrs. Page, Dan and I spend a lot of time together. It really is him.”
“Then maybe you both should stay away.” She said opening the door and letting it slam shut behind her.
After silently staring at the closed door, Dan put his hand on Andy’s shoulder and squeezed. “We should go. She’s not going to hear either of us right now.”
“I’m sorry.” Andy shrugged. “How could anyone turn their back on their own son like that?”
Taking one last look at his former home, Dan turned to leave. “She’s right. I’m dead. It’s not just wrong that I’m here now but to them, it’s just cruel.”
“Maybe she’ll change her mind,” Andy said as they began to ride away. “She’s your mother, she has to. Right?”
Leaving the question unanswered, both rode down the street and back toward home. Hours later, they found themselves on Andy’s front porch where his parents sat, each with a coffee.
“I’m sorry to hear that Dan,” Andy’s father said, shaking his head. “I really did hope that after this much time she would have reconsidered how she felt.”
“If I ever become an android and you two tell me to kick rocks, we’re gonna have words!” Andy said wagging his finger at his parents, lightening the mood as only he could.
The next day Dan and Andy went to Kevin’s house to grab Dan’s skateboard not knowing Kevin was home. For an hour or so, the three sat down on the steps and joked with each other as if they had all been hanging out all week. That is until Kevin’s friend Brian came into the yard.
“Oh great, the corpse is here.” Brian sneered. “Kev, you want me to come back after the séance?”
“Brian, you’re such an asshole,” Andy said trying to stand up, being stopped by Dan. “Why are you here anyway? Get tired of kicking your dog?”
“Stop it guys.” Kevin raised his voice. “Bri, I thought you said you were going to your Dad’s this week. Why are you here?”
Brian smiled smugly at Andy before redirecting his attention to Kevin. “His girlfriend wanted to go away for the week so I stayed home. I figured you’d wanna hang out with someone other than these losers.”
“Hey, there you go Kevin,” Andy said as he elbowed Kevin in the ribs, “Trade in two smaller losers for one big one. How can you pass that up?”
“Andy please,” Kevin said as he finally stood up and walked closer to Brian. “I’ve asked you to stop talking like that about them. They never did anything to you.”
“Oh, sure, okay.” Brian shrugged. With a smile, he began to turn away before quickly sucker punching Kevin in the gut. “And I’ve told you that I don’t take orders from you.”
As the boy doubled over and gasped for air, Andy and Dan rushed Brian and tackled him. Even outnumbered, Brian got a few good hits in before the commotion in the yard got the attention of Kevin’s mother.
“Okay! That’s quite enough!” She yelled as she began pulling the boys apart. “I said that’s enough!”
Leaving Brian laying in the grass, Dan and Andy stood up and stepped back. Andy’s lower lip already beginning to swell and Dan’s nose a bloody mess. Kevin finally regaining his breath, walked over to the bigger kid and pointed toward the gate. “It’s time to leave Brian.”
Brushing off the grass and the dirt, Brian staggered to his feet and after checking that all his teeth were intact, spit in Andy and Dan’s direction. “Fine, but when these losers get boring, don’t come crawling over to my house.” Then looking at the two other boys; “You two better watch your backs.”
In the house, Kevin’s mother had the boys get cleaned up and made a phone call to Andy’s mother to let her know what happened. Coming out of the bathroom, she looked at Dan and tilted her head. His nose was badly swollen and bruising was becoming visible beneath both eyes. “Is it possible for you to get injured?”
“Mom, his body is human just like ours,” Kevin said looking at Dan’s nose. “That’s broken dude.”
Andy got right in Dan’s face and grinned. “Danny my boy, the new body has been christened!”
“Great.” Dan moaned as he humored Andy and gave him the high five he was looking for. “We better call Strafford I guess.”
After being examined, Dr. Strafford seemed to be overly pleased with the events. He had his medical team look after both Dan and Andy while he came out and spoke with Kevin and his mother.
“No permanent damage.” He said as he sat down behind his desk. “Just proves my theory about that skeletal design.” He brought up a display showing a metallic skeleton and how the biologics seem to attach, as they would to a real bone skeleton. “See, right here is where real cartilage attaches itself to his skull. All that impact did was cause it to become unseated, making him appear to have a broken nose.”
“It wasn’t really broken?” Kevin asked, leaning in and squinting at the diagrams.
“Realistically, yes it was.” The doctor laughed. “But the nasal cavity in this case is a metal alloy instead of bone. The worst that would happen by just being punched would be what happened today. The cartilage would simply be torn away from the skull. You’d have to take a jackhammer to his face to do any real damage.”
Kevin’s mother shook her head and looked out the window. “So, what needs to happen to fix this and how do we care for it when we get home?”
Doctor Strafford got up and let Kevin sit at his desk so he could look at the images more closely. “We’ve already gone into his nasal cavity and reattached the cartilage. Thankfully it was undamaged. Just like any other 13-year-old boy, it will take time to heal. We could accelerate that process but, I think allowing his system and biologics to do the work would be a much better test of his abilities.”
Kevin smiled as he flipped through the images. “Put everything back where it belongs and let it heal. Right?
“That’s about the size of it.” The doctor smiled as he patted Kevin on the head. “Signs of infection would be the same as with a real person.”
“What about Andy?” Kevin asked quickly. “Is he okay?”
“He needed a couple of stitches inside his lip. I’ve already contacted his parents and let them know that he’s been taken care of.” The man said as he opened the door to hear Dan and Andy talking and laughing. “They both are going to be fine.”
Seeing the group re-enter the lab, Andy hopped off the exam table and threw both fists in the air. “Yo Adrian! I did it!” He shouted, causing Dan to almost fall over laughing as Andy winced in pain with his outburst.
“Weirdo.” Kevin laughed as he walked over to Dan, whose bruising was beginning to make him look like a raccoon. “Does it hurt?”
Dan shook his head no and looked at the doctor. “It registers as pain and localized damage, but I don’t really feel it.”
“Lucky.” Andy pouted as he poked at his lower lip and winced.
“Unfortunately, we are only able to read the signals sent by his natural nerve endings at a fairly primitive level.” The doctor said as he rolled a task chair over and sat down. “We’re learning all the time so, hopefully soon we’ll be able to upgrade his main operating system to read the impulses with more accuracy.”
“I’m fine with it as is right now.” Dan volunteered as he watched Andy continue to poke at his sore lip. “Maybe we can dumb him down a little so he’ll stop poking at it.”
Pulling out a prescription pad, the doctor scribbled something and handed it to one of his assistants. “I’ll give Andy something to ease the pain a bit. Danny will be fine as long as he takes it easy long enough for the cartilage to set.”
“Yay,” Dan said flatly, getting a laugh from Andy who instantly winced in pain.
“Don’t make me laugh.” Andy cried, trying really hard not to move his mouth.
After that day, things seemed to go back to normal for all three. Kevin spent a lot more time with them both having had a reminder who his real friends were. Toward the end of the summer, a letter arrived that was forwarded from Dan’s mother’s house. The forwarding address was written in his mother’s writing.
“What is it?” Kevin asked as the two boys sat down at the kitchen table.
“It’s about my car.” Dan shook his head as Kevin’s mother entered the room. “It’s been at an impound lot this whole time and they are expecting payment.” Dan put the letter on the table and sighed. “They’ll go after my family if I don’t take care of it.”
“Dan, you haven’t read the legal agreement that came along with your maintenance agreement, have you?” Kevin’s mother asked as she reached up on top of the refrigerator and brought down a thick manila envelope. After removing all of the documentation, she turned a couple of pages and smiled. “It’s right here. Any and all financial obligations, incurred prior to and following personality imprint will be the responsibility of the legal entity maintaining warranty of said unit.” She placed the opened packet on the table in front of Dan. “Just call that number and inform them of the debt. They will clear it up since it’s their responsibility.”
“Awesome, thanks Mom.” Kevin smiled as he grabbed the phone and handed it to Dan.
Two hours after the legal department had been contacted, a lawyer called and asked for Dan. “Sir, the financial situation has been settled but, there is one last item to contend with. The vehicle one…um…oh, here it is, one silver and blue Camaro belonging to the now deceased Daniel Page. The vehicle is in the clear and they would like to know what your intentions are for it.”
“I want to see it,” Dan said without thinking. “I want to see if it can be repaired and I’d like to turn over ownership to the family I’m living with.”
“Very well sir. I will handle what I can for you.”
“Thank you,” Dan replied, hanging up the phone and smiling at Kevin and his mother. “I’d just give it to Kevin since I’ll never be big enough to drive it again but, if it’s any good, it’ll give you something to drive for now.”
She won’t drive it.” Kevin grinned. “That’s why she doesn’t own a car. She’s never driven.”
As it turned out, it didn’t matter since the car was in fact totaled. Against the advice of the lawyer, Dan and Kevin jumped in a cab and went out to the lot where the car had been stored. After another call to the attorney, the boys were allowed in to view the wreck and inform them of their intention to scrap the remains. Kevin gasped when they turned and faced the familiar rear end of the car. Filthy, with other car parts piled around it. With a smile, he ran over and began to uncover the vehicle, until he caught a glimpse of the driver’s side and what was left of the engine compartment.
“Oh my god.” Kevin almost whispered as he just stood there stunned.
“I don’t know what I expected either,” Dan said as he got closer and looked in through the broken window. “Having a seatbelt on didn’t help either. Look how the steering column got pushed in. I’d love to know how they got me out in one piece.” Dan managed to say before he turned around to see Kevin sitting on the ground hugging his knees to his chest. “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to come here.”
“I almost forgot.” Kevin got out barely above a whisper. “You were in there.”
“But I’m fine Kev,” Dan said sitting in the dirt next to Kevin.
“No, you’re not. You died.” He said shaking his head. “How could I have forgotten? I wanted you back so bad and for almost a year treated you like a brother that I just wanted to get away from.” He said as he stood up and walked over to the car. “The last time I saw you awake was in this seat and just after that, you were gone. We were supposed to go out again the next week.” He put his hands on the door and took a deep breath. “I miss this car. I miss you driving me around in this car. I miss you being you.” He cleared his throat and turned around. “I’m sorry. I’m so selfish.”
“No,” Dan said getting up and pulling Kevin into a hug. “You’re human. We all dealt with this in our own way.”
Turning to look at the car one last time, Kevin sighed and then kicked the door, hard.
“Hey, don’t kick the car, she didn’t do anything to you.” Dan grinned.
“She took you away from me,” Kevin said, giving the car another boot. “I was supposed to get to drive her.” He booted again. “You were supposed to teach me to drive in her like your mother taught you.” Another boot. “And now I’m not gonna drive her and you can’t teach me anymore and if I don’t blame the car…” He stopped and the tears started to fall.
“Then you have to blame me,” Dan said as Kevin rushed him and cried into his neck.
“I’m sorry Uncle… I’m so sorry…” Kevin cried.
“Me too shadow,” Dan said, remembering his almost forgotten nickname for the small boy who followed him everywhere as he hugged Kevin tight. “Me too.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“You know, Andy, that wannabe beard makes you look less 16 and more 12 trying to be 16.” Dan laughed as Andy slammed the door to his beat up old station wagon, twice since it didn’t want to latch.
“Says the guy who will never look older than 13.” Andy shot back with a laugh. “You coming tonight or are you playing the bratty little bro who’s above hanging out with his big brothers?”
Before he could respond, Kevin yelled out the window of his room. “I thought you were borrowing your mom’s car! What happened?”
“Oh, now I get it. Before I got here you both had a meeting.” Andy said as he faked hysterical laughter. “Ok, you pick on his car and I’ll pick on him.” He added before pretending to double over. “Comedians, the both of you.”
“Aw, poor Andy,” Dan said as he hopped up and sat on the hood. “Kev! Stop picking on the Party Wagon!”
“Yeah, Kevin!” Andy laughed and ruffled Dan’s hair. “So are you coming tonight? Guy’s night out. Beach, music, food… For you, we can stop at McDonald’s and pick up a happy meal. You can go play in the play-space. I know that’s your favorite part.”
“Shut up.” Dan laughed.
“Seriously,” Andy asked as he hopped up and sat on the hood next to Dan. “Anyone has a problem with you being there and they’ll have to answer to me.”
“That’s cool Andy, really.” Dan sighed. “But the friends who don’t know me just see me as some kid that shouldn’t be there and the ones who do know me, half of them are creeped out by me.”
“You don’t know that,” Kevin said as he came out of the gate and joined them at the car. “Sorry it took so long. I had to take the trash out.”
“He’s not wrong bro.” Andy shook his head. “Ever since they decided to investigate Insane Doc Strafford, just about everyone knows that our little bro here is the only robo-human hybrid.”
Dan watched as Kevin struggled for something to say but could find nothing. “Look, to be honest, I don’t want to go hang out with a bunch of dudes who dwarf me. I’m actually getting sick of looking up to fucking everyone.” He said as he hopped off the car. “I love you guys and appreciate you looking out for me but, I think I just want to go for a walk and then read a book or something.”
Stunned. Both boys looked back and forth between Dan and each other. Finally, Andy nodded his head and hopped down. “I gotcha.” He said motioning to Kevin to get in the car. “But tomorrow we go out to the beach. Just the three of us. Rides and arcades man, for those, I need you both.”
“That sounds like fun,” Kevin said as he walked over and gave Dan a hug. “Tron rematch?”
Dan laughed finally and hugged him back. “Another rematch? You can’t win! Face it. I am, and always will be, Tron Champion.”
With a wave, the two teens were off to gather their friends. After staring at the house, Dan decided to give Kevin’s mother some space and took a walk. After two hours of aimlessly wandering the neighborhood, he walked past the little league baseball field a few miles from the house. He stopped for a few minutes and watched one lonely kid about his size with a ball and his glove tossing a ball high in the air and catching it in a one-man game of catch. With a smile, he turned and started to walk back toward the house.
“Hey!” A voice shouted after him. “You wanna play catch?”
“Who me?” Dan asked turning back toward the kid, who was now jogging up to the fence.
“Yeah,” the boy responded. “I got another glove you can use. You wanna?”
“Why not.” Dan smiled and walked around toward the open gate. “Why are you here all alone?”
The boy shrugged his shoulders and dug another glove out of his duffel bag. “Practice got canceled and they never let me know. Now I’m stuck here until my brother comes to get me.”
Trying on the glove the boy handed him, he smiled and nodded. “Fits good.” He punched it a couple of times before the kid tossed him a ball. “Well, if you’re playin‘ on a team, you may need to go easy on me. I never played anything more than after-school baseball and that wasn’t exactly organized.”
“I just started on the team last month.” The kid smiled as he walked backward and caught the ball Dan tossed back to him. “I’m Craig by the way. I’ve seen you around the neighborhood but never at school.”
“I don’t go to school in the area,” Dan said as he caught the ball and threw it back. “I’m Dan.”
“Dan or Danny?” Craig asked throwing the ball with a little more force than the last time. “Nice catch!”
“Danny’s cool.” He smiled throwing the ball back with just as much force. “What position do you play on the team?”
“Second base.” He said as he shook his glove. “You’ve got a good arm for someone who doesn’t really play.”
Catching the next throw, Dan smiled. “I used to pitch when I played.” He threw the ball back and shrugged. “I got okay at it.”
“Made my hand sting.” Craig laughed. “You ought to try out for the team. How old are you?”
Dan almost started to laugh because of course, there are three possible answers to the question. ‘How old would I be, how old since I was activated or, how old am I designed to be?’ Unfortunately, only one answer wouldn’t totally confuse a kid. “Thirteen. You?”
“Twelve,” Craig shouted back as he tossed a high one toward Dan. “We are looking for a decent pitcher, you should totally sign up. They’d take you.”
About an hour later, both boys were sitting in the dugout sharing a snack Craig had brought with him, just making small talk. Looking out at the field Dan just started to smile. “I should get out more.” Dan grinned.
“Are you homeschooled?” Craig asked innocently.
“Kinda,” Dan replied. “I spend a lot of time at home or with my older brother and his best friend. I wonder if I could try out. It sounds like fun.”
With a big smile, Craig ripped his PB & J in half and offered half of it to Dan. “You gotta! Then I could say I found you and when you out pitch our current pitcher I’m totally taking credit.” He finished with a giggle as both boys ate. “This was fun, we should do this more often.”
“No joke.” Dan smiled back. “Do you live far from here?”
“A few blocks. I could have walked home but my brother is supposed to pick me up.” Craig sighed. “He’d be mad if he came back here and I was gone.”
“I’m sure he’d understand if there was no practice why you left.” Dan tilted his head, “Is it normal for there to be no one here when he drops you off?”
“No,” Craig replied. “He’s actually not supposed to leave me here if the coach isn’t here but he wanted to hang with his friends so, he told me to occupy myself until he got back.”
“That sucks.” Dan folded his arms and sat back against the dugout wall. “Well, if you have a pen, I’ll give you my phone number.” Tearing a piece off the brown paper bag the snack was in, Dan wrote the number down, adding his name. ‘Danny’ a nickname he hadn’t heard all too often since he was a kid himself, which made him smile. “If you get stuck here again, I only live one street over.”
“Cool.” Craig grinned as he tore off another piece and wrote his own phone number and name down. “Just in case you get bored and want to toss the ball around.”
“Deal. I’ll need to buy a glove now.” Dan laughed.
“You don’t have a glove?” Craig almost laughed. “That’s my old one that you are using. I got this new one for my birthday. You can keep my old one. It’s still good and all broken in.”
“I can’t keep your glove.” Dan giggled and handed the glove over to Craig who just folded his arms and shook his head.
“No, you can keep your glove. I don’t need two. Besides, this one is way cooler. Check it out, just like a major league glove.” Craig smiled. “Besides, if you have a glove then you might have more reason to want to use it.”
“That’s awesome. Dude.” Dan smiled. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
Just as a car pulled up by the gate Craig sighed. “My brother’s here.” He said as he rustled through his bag and tossed Dan a baseball. “Here, keep this in it.” Before yelling toward the car: “Bri! I’ll be right there.”
Getting out of the car, the teenager started to walk onto the field. “What? Don’t tell me you found yourself a little boyfriend.” He taunted, startling Dan at how mean he was to his own brother. “When I say meet me at the fence, I mean at the fence.”
“Is he always like that?” Dan asked quietly as they both put the rest of his stuff in his bag.
“Yeah, sorry,” Craig replied, not able to look Dan in the eye. “Try to ignore him. He’s a jerk.”
Entering the dugout, both boys looked up and Dan’s breath caught in his throat. “Brian.”
“I’ll be damned.” The teen sneered. “If it isn’t the corpse. Where are those two pussies who act as your bodyguards?”
“Leave Danny alone Brian!” Craig raised his voice. “He didn’t do anything to you.”
Brian smiled and shook his head. “Aw man Craig, you know what you are hanging out with? Your little buddy Danny isn’t even real. He’s like a freakish clone of some dead guy and you got suckered by him.” He said grabbing the boy by the shirt collar. “Let’s go before I need to take it apart right here and now to show you.”
“Any time asshole.” Dan spat, startling Brian for a moment before he continued to drag his little brother toward the car. “From now on, you walk to practice. I don’t care what your Dad has to say about it.”
Watching the car speed off, Dan picked up the glove, ball, and the paper with the boy’s number scribbled on it. Hugging it all to his chest, he started for home in the dying sunlight, sad to have made a new friend who made him forget what he was for a while and losing him in the same day. Looking at the glove, he tucked it under his arm with the ball in it, stuffed the paper into his pocket and mumbled to himself: “It figures.”
Three days later, after watching Andy and Kevin drive off to go have some fun, Dan just sat on the steps and wanted to cry. Once again he was invited and once again, he knew that would mean tagging along. Completing that thought, he was just about to wander out of the yard when Kevin’s mother yelled down to him.
“Daniel, there’s someone on the phone asking for you.”
“Okay, thanks.” He shouted up to the window as he turned to run up the stairs. Seeing the phone on the kitchen table, Dan entered just as she was leaving the room. “Do you know who it is?”
“Nope, just asked for Danny.” She smiled and went into the living room.
“Thanks,” He said as he picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Yeah, who’s this?” Dan tilted his head.
“Craig. You know, the kid with the asshole for a brother.”
“Oh wow.” Dan smiled. “I figured after what he said you wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”
“I’m not like him.”
Dan pulled a chair out and sat at the table. “So, what’s up? Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just bored and wanted to know if you wanted to hang out. Maybe play some catch or something.”
Still a little shocked, Dan thought for a moment before sighing. “You know, what your brother said wasn’t totally wrong.”
“I’ve read the papers, I know who you are. Out on the field, you really were having fun, so was I.”
“You don’t care?” Dan grinned.
“I don’t if you don’t.”
With a smile, Dan nodded his head. “Cool, do you own a skateboard?”
“I do.” Dan grinned. “You?”
“Better than you I bet.”
“Oh really?” Dan laughed. “I guess I’m gonna have to skool you then.”
“We’ll see about that. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“My birthday is next week. What are you getting me?” Craig laughed as his friend dropped his bike on the field.
“Same thing I got you last year,” Dan replied with a big smile.
“Nothing?” Craig laughed. “I turn 16 next year, you better get me something nice for that one.”
“That’s easy,” Dan said tossing his backpack down and pulling out the well-worn glove the boy had given him a few years earlier when they first met. “I just don’t know how to wrap a smack in the head.”
“Oh, Ha, Ha.” Craig groaned. “Seriously, a bunch of us are sleeping over at my house. We’re having cake and watching a movie. You’re coming, right?”
“Probably not a good idea.” The smaller of the two said as he sat down next to his friend in the grass. “I don’t exactly fit in anymore.”
“You worry too much. They all know you from when you were on the team.” Craig said as he lay back and watched the clouds. “It sucks that you stopped playing. You’re the best pitcher that team ever had.”
“Sure,” Dan sighed. “Until the coach started being accused of cheating.”
“The pitching machine,” Craig mumbled. “That was stupid.
“Well, they weren’t completely wrong,” Dan said as he lay back in the grass. “I am that good.” As a silence seemed to settle over the two, Dan sat back up. “Wait, where’s your brother going to be?”
“He’s going to be at his father’s house.” Craig smiled. “I’ll be glad when he moves there for good.”
“I bet your dad’ll be happy too,” Dan added as he gave the situation some thought. “Is Brian’s father anything like him?”
“You still haven’t met him, huh?” Craig laughed. “Let’s just say that if given a choice between spending the day with Brian or an hour with his father, I’d pick the day with Brian.”
“Okay then.” Dan laughed. “As long as Brian isn’t gonna be there, I’ll go to your sleepover.”
“Cool.” Craig smiled without breaking his gaze on the clouds. “You know all of the guys that are gonna be there and I’m telling you, none of them care that you’re an android.”
“I know,” Dan replied. “It’ll be fun.”
And as it turned out, Craig was right. The six other former teammates were genuinely happy to see “Danny” as they all had come to call him. They ate cake and pizza and watched some really corny horror movies until the last dropped off to sleep at about 4 am. The next afternoon, everyone went home and Craig walked back to Dan’s house with him.
Once the two boys turned the corner to the house, they both froze at what they saw. An ambulance was out in front of the house and someone was being brought down the stairs on a stretcher. Running up to the gate, they could see it was Kevin’s mother with Kevin following behind her with a bag.
“Kevin!” Dan yelled. “What happened?”
“Step back son.” One of the EMT’s said as they swung the gate open.
As they loaded her into the back of the ambulance, Kevin stopped and hugged Dan. “They think she had a stroke. She went in to take a nap and when she got up, she just crashed to the floor and couldn’t get up. Dan, can you stay with Craig or go over to Andy’s house? I gotta go with her to the hospital.”
“You sure you don’t want me to go with you?” Dan asked, watching the EMT’s work.
“They said only one of us in the ambulance.” Kevin began to sniffle. “Maybe Andy can take you.”
“On it, I’ll go call him and if he can do it, we’ll meet you there,” Dan said as Kevin climbed into the ambulance. “We’ll lock up the house and meet you.”
Three hours later, Kevin, Andy, Craig, and Dan were in the waiting room outside the Emergency Room when a Doctor pulled Kevin aside and softly spoke into his ear. The teenager visibly staggered and began to cry.
“Oh my god, no.” Dan gasped as all three rushed to him and helped him back to his seat.
The following month was a blur to them both. The funeral was small and as most of Kevin’s family didn’t like having Dan around, he left the wake not to return and would skip the funeral altogether. Kevin’s Aunt decided that until Kevin went off to college, he would move in with her family as the apartment they were living in would be lost. The final week, Dan, Andy, and Craig helped to pack up everything and put it in storage which was covered by Dr. Strafford in an attempt to help out. This would be the final time any of them would see the doctor as the authorities would soon begin to seize his work and cease his organization’s operations. Safely hidden at Andy’s house, Dan’s existence would go forgotten during the investigation and all financial support just stopped.
The following year, Kevin and Andy both went off to college. For a few months, Dan continued to live with Andy’s family until the sale of their house was final. Then once the sale had been closed, he stayed at Craig’s house. That is until Craig’s brother learned what was living with his mother. Walking to school one morning, in an attempt to frighten him, Craig was run down by his own brother’s car. He was pronounced dead at the scene, right in front of Dan who watched as Brian was dragged off by the police. Knowing that Dan was the intended target of Brian’s attack, Craig’s family asked him to leave. Being an android who appeared to be a thirteen-year-old boy made it impossible to find a job or a place to live on his own.
“Hey kid, come here.” A man leaning on his car in the city said as Dan walked by. “I see you out here every day. Why aren’t you in school?”
“I don’t go to school,” Dan replied, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his ratty looking sweatshirt. “I lost my family. I lost my home. I lost my friends…” He got out as tears began to well up in his eyes. “Not that you’d care. No one does.”
Appearing to size up the situation the man folded his arms. “Look, kid, I live right around the corner. If you want, you can go there and get a shower and some food. We can wash those clothes of yours and see if we can work something out. Maybe we can help each other.”
Dan looked the man over and decided that he didn’t care about the risks anymore. He wanted to gamble that the man was genuinely being nice and wanted to help. He nodded his head in agreement and got into the car and right or wrong, they pulled away from the curb. The house was one of those three-story apartment buildings. The man led him in through a side door and down to a basement apartment. ‘Well, if this guy is going to kill me or something, this is when it will happen.’ He thought as the man opened the door to the dimly lit room.
“Shower’s through that door. Just leave your clothes out here and I’ll wash them.” He said as went to the kitchen area to clean the many dirty dishes off the table. Dan took a quick look around before going into the bathroom. The whole apartment was one open living space. As you came in the door, you were between what would be considered the kitchen space and the living space. There were basic appliances that looked a little grimy from years of use but, nothing disgusting. On the wall opposite the entrance was the stove, refrigerator and two doors. The one on the left was the one the man identified as the bathroom and the other had a deadbolt on it and must have exited into the rest of the basement. The living space had one chair and a fold up couch that was left open and unmade. A small television sat opposite the couch and next to that was a small desk with a computer on it.
Wasting no more time, Dan went into the bathroom and emptied his pockets into his backpack, he stripped out of his clothes and as the man had instructed, put the small pile outside the door. He wasted no time hopping in the surprisingly clean shower and even though he couldn’t actually feel better, he knew he didn’t look as miserable when he got out. Wrapping himself in a towel, he opened the door and saw that the clothes were still in a pile on the floor.
“Mister?” Dan called out before realizing, there was no one in the room. A few minutes later, just as he was about to put his dirty clothes back on and leave, the man entered with a grocery bag and smiled.
“I had no food in the house.” He said with a shrug. “You definitely look better now.” He said as he went about making sandwiches for them both.
Still only clad in a bath towel, Dan opened up to the man and explained his situation. Surprisingly enough, the man not only didn’t seem to mind at what Dan was, but he smiles, even seemed to brighten up some.
“So, no one is out there looking for you?” He asked, getting up from his seat and putting his dirty dish on the pile in the sink.
“No,” Dan replied with a sigh, “the only two people who may look for me probably don’t even know I’m missing and won’t for a long time yet.”
Walking over to the door, the man turned the key on the deadbolt and removed it from the lock. Slipping it into his pocket, he turned and folded his arms. “Lose the towel.”
Stunned, Dan’s eyes shot to meet the man’s gaze. “Wait, what?”
“Time to pay for your meal. Get on your feet and drop the towel.” The man smiled. “The way I see it, I just found me the best looking Rabotoy I have ever seen. Now, show me my new toy.”
“I’ll leave,” Dan said getting up from the table. “Where are my clothes?”
Chuckling, the man sat down at the table and crossed his arms. “You got superhuman strength?”
“No, of course, I don’t.” Dan spat out.
“Then I’d like to see how you are getting through that steel door.” He shrugged and smiled.
“I’ll scream for help.” Dan threatened.
Just then the man cupped his hands around his mouth and began to scream: “Help! Help! I’m being murdered! Call 911!” and at Dan’s shocked expression he began to laugh. “We’re in a well-insulated basement. No one will hear you. Scream all you want.”
“I won’t do what you want. You can torture me, I won’t actually feel it so you’ll be wasting your time.” Dan announced, tightening the knot holding his towel up.
“Oh, unless you’re heartless, you will.” The man smiled as he pulled another key out of his pocket and walked past Dan to the locked door next to the bathroom. Unlocking the door he swung the door open and stood in the doorway. “Come out here.” The man shouted into the room. “Now!”
Dan gasped as a small boy, probably about 9 years old, dirty and wearing nothing but a pair of cut off shorts that were a couple of sizes too small for him. The man raised a hand and the child flinched so violently that he almost fell over. “What have you done to him?”
The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “If I were you, I’d be more concerned about what I’ll do to him if you don’t do as I tell you.” The man said as he unclasped his thick leather belt. “You may not feel pain, but he does.”
Just as the belt cleared the final loop on the man’s pants, Dan let his towel drop to the floor.
After the man was through with the android for the night, he locked Dan in the room with the small boy. Dan learned that the boy got lost during a school field trip and the man offered to help. He brought him here and keeps him locked in the room almost all the time except when he brings him out to “do sex stuff” or to wash the boy when the man says he “smells like a foot”. After a few days, Dan learned that the man occasionally “traded” with a couple of other men. Overall, the boy was happy that Dan was in the room to keep him company. Even happier that Dan purposely drew the man’s attention to him so he would leave the boy alone.
One morning about a month later, Dan sat down with the boy and told him that he had a plan. It seems that the man had finally decided that Dan wasn’t going to try anything so, he was becoming relaxed, and careless. He told the boy that he planned to wait until the man was engrossed in what he was doing, and when he didn’t expect it, hit him with the lamp on the bedside table. If he does it hard enough, he should be able to knock him out long enough to get the keys off of him and release both of them. Later that night, the man announced that he was taking the boy, and he never returned him.
Instead, over the next few months, other children would come and go. Dan attempted his plan once the next young boy was tossed in the room. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough or strong enough to successfully knock the man unconscious. He was brutally thrown back into the room and the child was taken out. After the door was closed and locked, Dan kicked and punched at the door as the child’s tortured screams could be heard on the other side. The boy was thrown back into the room, a bloody mess. The man stared down the horrified android and hissed “You did this.” Before closing the door. The boy did not survive the night.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into what could have been centuries from Dan’s perspective. He just knew that he shared that small room with more than twenty other children. Finally one day, fate finally sided with him and his current roommate. The man, while pleasuring himself at the androids expense, had a heart attack. The man grabbed his chest and fell off the old fold up couch and onto the floor. Broken, Dan simply stood over him and watched as the man begged him for help and then slowly lost consciousness. Three hours later, still just standing over him, Dan watched as the man took his final breath. Then he searched the room for the keys, opened the room and allowed the boy to come out. They both ate and got cleaned up and dressed and then just after opening the door and asking the boy to step outside and wait, Dan returned to the man. He knelt over him and after a long pause whispered “Fuck You.” With a satisfied smile, Dan returned to the boy and walked them both to the police department. As it had turned out, three and a half years had passed.
The first to show up at the police department was the Boy’s parents, who after hearing the boy’s story, thanked Dan for watching over their son. After realizing that Dan had actually been listed as missing, Kevin and Andy were both contacted. Kevin was the first to arrive and since Dan didn’t know anyone had been called on his behalf, seeing him put him over the edge and he broke down and finally cried.
As it turned out, Kevin had reported him missing just after he heard about his old friend Brian being arrested for vehicular homicide. Knowing that it was Dan’s friend Craig that had been killed, he came home from school and began searching for him. In that time, he traveled back and forth and his girlfriend at the time, stood by his side the whole time. They had given up on ever finding him and moved into a house in the old neighborhood. They got married five months ago.
“You can live with us.” Kevin smiled as his wife Kelli smiled and nodded.
His sobbing having finally subsided, Dan pulled both into a hug and cried all over again. Then once again when Andy came running into the room.
At first, the new living arrangement was fine. Dan split his time with his new adoptive parents and Andy’s place, which was the typical bachelor pad. Messy studio apartment that both loved to hang out in. Until Andy came home and threw recruitment paperwork on the coffee table in front of Dan.
“What’s this?” Dan asked as he picked up the bundle and unfolded it. “You enlisted?”
“I did,” Andy said as he plopped down on the couch next to his friend. “I’ve been thinking about it for years and finally decided, that it was time to grow up.”
Laughing uncontrollably, Dan only stopped when he realized that Andy was being completely serious, for once. “Oh my god.” He said as he began to actually read the letterhead. “You’re serious.”
“Yup.” Andy smiled. “My mom is mad at me and my dad is excited. I’ll be fourth generation Navy.”
“Hard to imagine you not being here,” Dan said putting the bundle back on the coffee table. “I feel like I just got you back.”
“Dude, you’re family. Always will be.” Andy smiled and ruffled Dan’s hair. “Kev said that I can crash at your place when I get leave and on holidays and stuff so we’ll all get together. Trust me, this is gonna be awesome.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Twelve years Kevin!” Kelli yelled as she threw a suitcase on the bed. “Look, I understand that you feel obligated but enough is enough.”
“Kelli, he’s right in the next room.” Kevin loudly whispered as he stepped into the bedroom and closed the door. Muffling the conversation only slightly.
“Danny, what are they arguing about now?” The couple’s eight-year-old daughter asked as Dan walked past her bedroom. “It’s not about you again, is it?”
Dan sighed and came into her room and sat next to her on the bed. “It is.”
“Mom sounds really mad too.” She said as the yelling got louder. “I hope we don’t end out going to Nana’s house again. I’ll miss you.”
Hugging the little girl that had become his baby sister, Dan had to fight back the tears. “I think it may be better if I call your Uncle Andy and see if I can stay with him for a while.”
Before she was able to respond, a door being thrown open made them both jump. “Trista, get your suitcase out of the closet and put it on your bed, and you, get out!”
Seeing the tears well up in the little girl’s eyes, Dan leaned in and kissed her on the forehead. Then stepping around Kevin’s wife, left the room and went into his own. Picking up the phone, he took a deep breath and dialed the familiar number. “Andy, when you get this message, I kinda need you. Kevin’s wife is doing it again and I need to get out from underfoot. When you get this message, I should be down at the baseball field.” He hung up the phone and grabbed his backpack as he tried to ignore the slamming and yelling in the next room. After packing some clothes in his bag, he walked out into the living room where Kevin was sitting on the couch. “I’m so sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about.” Kevin shook his head. “This isn’t your fault.”
“You’re right about that,” Kelli said as she dragged her daughter’s suitcase out of the room. “You deserve each other.”
“Do you think you could save this for a time when the kids aren’t forced to listen?” Kevin said in a raised but calm voice.
“Kids?” Kelli laughed. “Is that what we’re calling them?”
“Mommy?” Trista started to cry. “I don’t wanna leave. Danny was reading Cinderella to me and he does all the voices and I don’t wanna leave.” Rushing to Dan, she latched onto him, bringing the android to tears.
Thinking Kevin and Kelli had calmed down enough, Dan watched as Kevin stood up, took their daughter’s suitcase and motioned to the small girl to come to him. In his arms, he picked up the suitcase and walked out the front door with Kelli following on behind.
At that moment Dan grabbed a notepad on the counter and scribbled a note. Unhappy with what it said, he folded it up and stuffed it in his backpack.
Now standing all alone in the deathly silent living room, Dan took a deep breath and walked to the back door and left.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“But it’s my wedding Danny.”
Dan shrugged his shoulders and laughed to himself. He never could say no to her. “Trista, your mother is gonna freak when she finds out you want me there.”
“Not just there, you are going to be Mathew’s best man. We both decided that’s what we want and if she doesn’t like it she can stay home.”
“What about the rest of your family?” Dan said as Kevin came into the room and sat down.
“Your war.” He laughed. “Your dad just came in, you wanna talk to him?”
“Oh yeah. I have a favor to ask.”
Dan shook his head and laughed again, “That’s nothing new. When are you flying home, or are we expected to fly to Michigan?”
“No, I want to have the ceremony back home. You do know that means Matt and I are taking your room over for a few days.”
“I knew it!” Dan shouted into the phone. “Worst sister ever!”
“Yup, and you love me anyway.”
Dan smiled and walked over to Kevin. “Yeah, yeah. You can have the room but I’m expecting fruity pancakes for breakfast and you better have whipped cream or else I’m telling your dad to put you up for adoption.”
“Deal. Love you lil brother.”
“Love you too lil sister.” Dan grinned as he handed the phone to Kevin. “It’s the terror of Niles, Michigan.”
“Hi princess.” Kevin laughed as Dan motioned that he was heading out. Giving a nod, Kevin shook his head. “Oh no, he’s dead serious about the pancakes.”
Outside, Dan sat on the front steps until the truck pulled up out front. “Danny my boy!” Andy shouted as he climbed down out of the raised vehicle.
“Could you have raised that thing any higher?” Dan laughed as Andy turned and seemed to think about it.
“Sure.” He laughed. “And then I could bring it to monster truck rallies.” Walking up the walkway Andy looked around. “I don’t see Kevin’s alimony check parked out here. Where’s Kelzilla been lately?”
Dan laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
“I miss her.” He laughed making it to the steps and ruffling the android’s hair. “Even after I got the steering fixed, I try but I still miss her.”
“Ha, ha.” Dan stood up. “She needs to come around more often. Your jokes are getting weak without a steady diet of her insults.”
“She just hates everyone and everything.” Andy threw his hands in the air. “And she works really hard at making sure the rest of the world knows it.”
A few minutes later, Kevin came out and all three climbed into the truck. Dinner and a ride to the beach, something they did when they were kids. As always, Dan outlasted them both but now, it simply appeared to be one teenager running a couple of adults ragged.
“Race you to the car.” Dan laughed as Andy looked at Kevin and both simultaneously flipped the android off. “Oh, that hurts.” He said grabbing his heart in emphasis.
“I’d kill for half of that energy.” Andy groaned. “Should have ordered my perma-teen before Dr. Frankenstein got the book thrown at him.”
“No joke.” Kevin shrugged. “And I used to tease him about being an old man.”
“Not my fault,” Dan said as he reached the car. “Wanna let me drive Andy?”
“Sure.” Andy laughed. “When you can see over the steering wheel, shrimp.”
After everyone climbed into the truck, Andy sat a moment before turning in his seat. “So, Trista and Matt will be here tomorrow night. Why don’t we head back out here after they get settled in?”
“I’m game,” Dan said, giggling when Kevin started throwing things from the front seat at him.
“Hey! You’re messing up my filing system!” Andy shouted, redirecting the attack to himself. “Time out! Time out!” He shouted and when the other two paused, he started pitching stuff at them both.
“You really need to clean this truck out someday.” Dan giggled as he swept the napkins, ketchup packets, salt and pepper packets and empty soda bottles into a pile on the back seat. “If you ever got into an accident deep in the woods, it would look like a fast food restaurant exploded.”
“Or,” Andy replied as he started the engine, “I hunt for squirrel and have condiments to make it a killer sandwich.”
“Just drive.” Kevin laughed.
“What? I heard squirrel was really good with ketchup.”
The next morning was a blur of activity until just after noon time when they all piled into Andy’s truck to head for the airport to pick up the bride and groom to be. In his lap, Dan carried the copy of Cinderella that he had held on to for years after Kevin’s ex-wife refused to bring it to their new home because “It” bought the book for her.
The airport was bustling as always but the trio was able to get something to drink and relax until the flight arrived.
“Oh man, it’s delayed,” Kevin said as his shoulders suddenly slumped. “Not even an updated time.”
“No worries,” Andy said as he pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket. “52 pickup anyone?”
“You’re nuts.” Dan laughed as they found a seat where they could watch for arrival updates.
About an hour later, Dan looked at the board and tilted his head. “Kev, her flight number is missing.”
“It can’t be.” He said as he turned in his seat. “What the hell?” He mumbled as he got out of his seat and walked to the counter. After a fairly animated conversation with the woman at the desk, Kevin waved for them both to come to the counter.
“What’s up?” Andy asked as they both got to the counter, looking completely confused.
“We need to go to a different gate,” Kevin said giving the lady a dirty look. “On the other side of the airport.”
“There aren’t any commercial gates on the other side,” Andy questioned. “That makes no sense.”
“Sir, that’s all the information I have at this time.” The woman replied sincerely.
“Okay, thanks Ma’am,” Dan said and lead them down the long corridor. Once out of the crowded portion of the commercial area, the airport seemed to be asleep as there was one small group waiting for a flight, 6 empty waiting areas and one large group at the far end of the building. “There’s a sign down there with Trista’s flight number on it.”
Just as the group reached the area, they realized that it wasn’t a waiting area at all, it was a conference room that was just about packed with people. As Kevin was about to push his way to the front of the room, an announcement stopped him.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, if you could find a seat, please. We do have some information for you all.”
A panicked woman shouted “I knew it, somethings wrong…” and began to cry. Most everyone attempted to ignore her as the man stood and waited for silence.
“As I’m sure you have all noticed, this flight number has been delayed for approximately two hours. As this does happen from time to time, we were forced to wait for communication with the pilot. Unfortunately, before resuming communication with the tower, we received news that the plane suffered a catastrophic failure of some form. It has been reported to us that the plane was forced out of its flight path and,” the man whispered something to a uniformed man standing at his side. After the other man responded he resumed: “the flight has crash landed fifteen miles south of this airport. We have no information regarding survivors and we urge everyone to remain here as we investigate the situation further. Counselors will be made available to anyone in need of one…”
Dan couldn’t see clearly, nor could he even hear what the man was saying. The tears blinded him and his breath burned in his chest. Just as he turned to his best friend, his brother, the man who sacrificed his marriage to ensure he would have a place to call home, he watched as Kevin collapsed to the floor.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The funeral was handled by the groom’s family in a very beautiful ceremony that both married and put to rest the pair that should have been newlyweds on this day. Dan accompanied Andy as Kelli insisted he not ride in the family’s limo to the cemetery. After a brief argument between Kevin and Kelli, Dan asked Andy if he could go with him.
“I’m worried about Kevin.” Dan sighed as he watched the families disperse. “He’s not talking to anyone.
“Give him time bro. Both of you have been through hell. We all have been.” He said resting his hand on the android’s shoulder. “Better days are coming, they have to be.”
Once he saw that everyone had left, he felt it was safe to finally approach the casket. With a sniffle, he pulled a book from his suit coat, flipped through a few pages and began to read, moistening each page with his tears as he did. “Cinderella’s mother died while she was a very little child, leaving her to the care of her father and her step-sisters, who were very much older than herself; for Cinderella’s father had been twice married, and her mother was his second wife. Now, Cinderella’s sisters did not love her, and were very unkind to her. As she grew older they made her work as a servant, and even sift the cinders; on which account they used to call her in mockery “Cinderella.” It was not her real name, but she became afterwards so well known by it that her proper one has been forgotten…”
From a distance, Andy wept as he watched his closest friend fight through the tears, to read his little sister one last bedtime story. Once Dan went silent, he quietly closed the book and placed it on her casket.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Two years passed and Kevin was unbearable to be around for any of his friends or family. Dan often tried to comfort him but, was usually responded to with angry drunken slurs. Often he would need to dodge an object that was thrown in his direction or worse, would be forced to leave after Kevin would become physically violent. He decided that his presence was making things worse so, he went to stay with Andy, who also had given up on trying to get through to the man who was once his closest friend. For the next three years, Dan would spent most of his days alone for months at a time as Andy had returned to the military and was gone more than he was home. It was at this time that Dan received a disturbing phone call. Apparently, he was still listed as Kevin’s next of kin. The person on the phone identified himself as Kevin’s surgical oncologists and that Kevin has been under his care for several months. He was required to contact the android to inform him that Kevin was being allowed to return home after being hospitalized for two months following a failed procedure to remove tumors that had spread out of control. He stated that at best, Kevin had possibly a month left to live and required round the clock hospice care. Dan decided to work with the doctor and arranged to be dropped off at Kevin’s tiny apartment. For the first two weeks, Kevin refused to say anything to the android beyond “Get Out!” and at the very end, he finally cried, long and hard.
“This was all my fault.” He wailed. “Everything I touch turns to shit. Even worse, I dragged you into it too. I’m so sorry Uncle Dan.” He coughed. I promise to make it up to you someday. It’s my fault you are so alone all the time…” After pressing the button to dispense a dose of morphine, Kevin coughed until he drifted off to sleep. Dan would sit by his side that night, and watch as his best friend took his final breath. The next morning, Dan tearfully called the number that was provided and Kevin’s body was silently whisked away by what Dan could only assume was a coroners team.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“I’m so sorry for your loss.” An unfamiliar distant relative muttered as she offered her condolences.
“Kevin always spoke so highly of you, Daniel.” Another muttered as he seemed to only half-acknowledge what was being said and walked over to kneel beside the casket to say his final goodbye.
“You look like you’re sleeping, please wake up. I can’t go on like this on my own.” The android said as he reached over to brush Kevin’s hair to the side as he wore it in life.
“Get your hands off of him!” Came a shout from behind. “That’s that stupid little android that Kev got hooked into taking care of.” She yelled.
“Leave him alone, Amy,” Another voice could be heard whispering to her. “You were rarely there for your cousin and he was with him until the end. This isn’t the time and place…” The whisper began but got cut off.
“Bullshit! That little piece of scrap plastic is the reason Kevin never had the time to be bothered with any of us. He was too busy waiting on that little junk pile to even have the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the little leech were to find another person to leech off of before Kevin is in the ground.” She yelled, making a total spectacle of herself.
Dan looked around the room and saw a mixture of family members nodding in agreement and embarrassment at her outburst. ‘They all feel this way.’ He thought to himself before turning back and taking one more look. “I don’t know how long this body will last. They say forever, but that can’t be true,” He said to Kevin with tears running down his cheeks and onto the man’s arm. “If this is the price I have to pay for the years that you gave me to be with you, then it was worth it,” and with that, he leaned over Kevin’s lifeless form and kissed his forehead. “I love you, my shadow, now and forever.”
Without another word said, Dan turned and walked toward the door. Just as he was about to open it, Andy cut him off.
“Danny, don’t leave. His family was never there for him. Only you were, no matter what the situation, no matter how good or bad things were, right up until the very end. If anyone deserves to be here with him, it’s you.” He said frantically.
“Thanks, Andy,” he replied. “But let them win. He’s not here so I don’t need to be,” he answered still wiping tears from his eyes. “Only you understand what I owe him. You know I was only able to enjoy my time with him because of what he did for me. He’ll always be a part of me, now and up to the moment this body fails. I don’t need to be here, cause he’s not lying in that box, he’s right here with me.” he said as he pointed to his heart.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Back at the small apartment, Dan emptied his pockets and changed into his regular clothes. Looking through his bag one last time, he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. The note he had written when Kevin’s wife walked out on him. The note that he decided not to leave behind, knowing that Kevin had no control over the situation after being battered by his wife at the time. He read the letter one last time and lay it on the bed before calling a local cab company. “Yes sir, I need a cab. One way to the Merchant’s shipyard please. No, I won’t need a return ride thanks.”
The note read:
To my best friend,
If you are reading this note then I am already gone. I’m sorry to have been such a burden for so many years and today I will do as you have stated in anger many times over the past few months; I will just go away. I know my presence stopped being as important to you once your friends began looking at me like I was the little brother. It hurt back then when you would push me away to appear cool. I knew why you did it but, it hurt no less. I stepped aside. And when you went away to college, I spent days alone at the park we used to play at when this body was new. I rode your bike there to keep you close and sometimes just didn’t bother going back to the house. And after you got married, and gave me the best little sister anyone could ever hope for, I stepped aside because I really shouldn’t have been here in the first place. Now, it’s all gone and it’s my fault.
Thanks to Andy, I’ll be okay. If you ever need to get in touch with me, just ask him. Luckily, he remembers that I’m more than the 13-year-old pain in the ass that I appear to have become. He also remembers why I’m here. I hope someday, you’ll look back and remember as well, and forgive me for making such a mess of everything.
I hope to hear from you again. I really do miss you.
Still your best friend,
* * * * * * * * * * * *