Those were the years after the polar ice caps had melted because of the greenhouse gasses,
and the oceans had risen to drown so many cities along all the shorelines of the world.
Amsterdam, Venice, New York...
all of them, forever lost.
Millions of people were displaced.
Climates became chaotic.
Hundreds of millions of people starved in poorer countries.

Elsewhere a high degree of prosperity survived
when most governments in the developed world
introduced legal sanctions to strictly license pregnancies.

This was why robots, who were never hungry
and who did not consume resources beyond those of their first manufacture,
were so essential an economic link in the chain mail of society.
The Director stood quietly for a moment after entering the lecture room, his back to the people who had come to hear him. They knew his propensity for the dramatic. They would be patient. He gazed from the oversized window that looked out on the grey downpour outside. The giant silhouette of the Cybertronics statue loomed beyond the window, its arms spread wide and hands fanned like a bird awaiting a lifting breeze. Its featureless face stared sightless into the grey. His own eyes, old beyond their years, scanned the dismal horizon and saw nothing there too. Behind him someone coughed. There was a whisper of chair legs against the carpet.

His team was restless, awaiting his announcement. What they needed was a vision, a spark. They were the best in their field and they had made Cybertronics an innovator in the world of mechanical life simulators for decades. Their achievements had sparked numerous attempts at copycats and the company had ruthlessly pursued intellectual rights litigation when competitors had crossed legal boundaries.

Today he had something new for them. Something special. He had spent weeks, months checking and rechecking his data. He had designed dozens of programs to simulate his desired result. Now he was sure that he could accomplish his goal. He had the genius. He had the impetus and desire. Most of all he had the right people at his side. He turned to address the room.

"To create an artificial being has been the dream of man since the birth of science. Not merely the beginning of the modern age when our forbearers astonished the world with the first thinking machines. Primitive monsters that could play chess." The room tittered at this. They had all seen the old NASA videos, salvaged from ruined military libraries, depicting the original HAL series and its crude predecessors. The director paused to let their laughter subside. "How far we have come," he said thoughtfully.

He made his way though the group of anxious scientist and technicians. He smiled up at those seated along the balcony of the room. They regarded him more like an entertainer about to perform some sleight of hand than the director of the most advanced Mecha manufacturer on the planet. He caught individual eyes as he passed, fixing each one with a look that spoke of his expectations from them.

"The artificial being is a reality of perfect simulacrum; articulated in limb, articulate in speech…" he stopped next to a young attractive woman seated near the back of the room, "…and not lacking in human responses," he finished, and reached into his vest pocket. Something glittered when he withdrew his hand. Without warning he grabbed the woman's arm and quickly thrust a pin into her the back of her hand. She yelped in surprise at the assault, pulling away from his sudden abuse. The junior members of the team gasped, unlike the group of engineers at the front of the room who recognized the woman and had expected some display of this sort. After a shocked silence the woman placed her hand back where it had been. There was no blood. She shed no tears nor spoke a single word of protest. Her handsome, angular features betrayed no emotions at all but a vacant smile.

"And even pain memory response," the director continued. He reached for the woman's hand again but, she pulled away, fixing him with an impatient glare. This look was a programmed response and was quickly replaced by her noncommittal default smile as the room erupted in laughter.

The Director let the room humor play out and knelt before the seated woman. He spoke softly to her. "How did that make you feel?" he asked. Her eyes were blank as she processed this question. "Were you angry? Shocked?" the Director queried further, already knowing the disappointing answer.

"I don't understand" she replied finally, her eyes scanning his facial expression for some visual cue on what he might mean.

"What did I do to your feelings?" he elaborated.

The blonde woman was quiet for a moment as she crossed referenced this question against her millions of response sequences and references. She found an appropriate answer.

"You did it to my hand." she said, displaying her assaulted appendage to show her understanding.

The director stood and faced the room again. His face was pensive. "Aye, there's the rub," he said. He moved behind the woman's chair and slid her gently into the middle of the room. She was the center of their attention now. "Undress," he requested softly. She stood obediently and began to disrobe, slipping off her jacket as the Director continued his presentation.

"At Cybertronics of New Jersey, the artificial being has reached its highest form. Universally adopted: Mecha, the basis for hundreds of models serving the human race in all the multiplicity of daily life." He gestured to her then, the highest achievement thus far in Cybertronics long line of artificial life. The room burst in applause. They had all been part of this achievement. They had all had some small, yet crucial duty to perform to make a robot like this almost indistinguishable in a room full of her organic creators.

"That's far enough," the Director said as the woman began to unbutton her blouse. He waved his arm to quiet the round of applause. There was something more he had to say to them. "We have no reason to congratulate ourselves," he said as he moved to her shoulder and pressed her down into the chair. "We are, rightly, proud of it. But what does it amount to?"

The room was quiet. This was the height of their abilities: Sheila, the latest Cybertronics model of Mecha, used in multiple functions from indispensable secretaries that take hours of dictation sans notepad, to custom designed pleasure models that can perform various acts of pleasure while simulating every enticing human response with precise mimicry. No other artificial manufacturer had accomplished so much. What more could he expect from them?

The Director knew what they were thinking. He paused to let these thoughts play out in their heads. "Sheila open," he ordered finally, and the Mecha obediently opened her mouth wide, tilting her head back. The Director placed a finger against the inner jaw in back of her front teeth and pressed. The silicon-based material gave way with a barely audible snick and her face changed subtly. He then placed the palm of his hand on the central vertebrae between her shoulder blades, and pushed quickly down on the bone.

Sheila was revealed.

Across the room an apprentice to the great man noticed something as the woman's face flicked open like a canopy, revealing the gray metal of her true Mecha face. It was something that had welled in the robot's eye socket as the Director clicked on the release valve in her mouth, and had dropped from her flesh simulating silicon skin to glisten against the metal face beneath. Was it an excess of lubricant, or perhaps a trick of the Directors, to make a point? It looked oddly like a tear. But these sim's weren't designed for emotions. The director seemed oblivious to it as he continued. He pulled from the opening in Sheila's forehead the small black box of data processors that was everything the robot had ever seen and known. He held the box up for the room to see. It fit in the palm of his hand, this thing that simulated life itself.

"A sensory toy," he continued, "With intelligent behavioral circuits using neuronal sequencing technology as old as I am." They had all seen the box before, even the newest members of the Cybertronics team. They had all contributed to its creation in some grand or small way. The Director held it up for their scrutiny for a moment longer. It was time to tell them his vision.

"I believe that my work on mapping the impulse pathways in a single neuron can enable us to construct a Mecha of a qualitatively different order. I propose that we build a robot who can love." He waited for their reaction. This was where he was not in control. This was the place at the fringe of his genius. He heard someone in the room repeat the word. "Love". It hung in the silence like an anachronism.

"But, we ship thousands of lover models each month," a member of the marketing team said, his voice full of confusion.

"Of course" teased another, "Your own best customers!" There were snickers from the group.

"Quality control is very important," the marketing man replied, and laughter erupted again.

The Director didn't share their humor. He walked briskly back to Sheila's side and reinserted her brain. The Mecha's head whirred with the activity of minuscule pulleys as her face plates clicked back into place. Her engineered flesh melded smoothly, making the outline of the plates impossible to distinguish without intense scrutiny. She looked up at him, her creator. No time had passed for her.

"Tell me," he asked her, "what is love?"

Sheila smiled. She knew this answer. "Love is first widening my eyes a little bit and quickening my breathing a little and warming my skin and touching my..."

"Exactly so," he stopped her. "Thank you, Sheila," he said and excused her from the presentation. There was the sound of applause to which Mecha responded with a nod and a smile. She had experienced this reaction before, in earlier presentations, and knew the appropriate response.

The Director waved his hand to halt the applause. "But I wasn't referring to sensuality simulators," he explained. "The word that I used was 'love'." He let his point sink in. "Love, like the love of a child for its parents." He scanned the room as he presented his mission, "I propose that we build a robot child who can love. A robot who will genuinely love the parent or parents it imprints on with a love that will never end."

"A child substitute Mecha," an engineer said behind him, an excitement behind his words. His vision was igniting them already. But there was more.

"But a Mecha with a mind," he elaborated, "with neuronal feedback. You see, what I'm suggesting that is 'love' will be the key with which they acquire a kind of subconscious, never before achieved; an inner world of metaphor, of intuition and self motivated reasoning..." He had their minds going now and decided to brave the gates, "…of dreams."

A skeptical silence fell over the room. "A robot that dreams?" someone asked incredulously. "How exactly do we pull this off?" asked another. The Director smiled at their questions and the talking that broke out among them. He took a seat as the conversations heated across the room.

But one of them did not share their amusement at his vision. She had been disturbed by something in this presentation, something that always seemed missing in these discussions. History had given a name to the results of this unmentioned aspect, a name to the presumptions that drove the markets their robots filled; the idea that Mankind, or Orga, (as organic life forms had come to be delineated from their mechanical servants) and the services of Orga, were the ultimate function of all science and human endeavor.

In history, before the calamities that had united them, these boundaries had been drawn along racial and religious lines. What were the Mecha now, but a new subgroup? What were these devices but a new race of being built specifically to serve as mankind's eternal subculture, as their butlers, maids and sexual toys; discarded when their parts wore out or their processors developed some malfunction? Like her own ancestors, as slaves, had been discarded centuries ago when their hands could no longer pull the cotton or push the plow. And like those slaves, there were no rights, save those of property, that protected Mecha. A telling statement, and a symptom of the repeat of historical ills that few seemed to notice was occurring. Mecha were now held as the symbols for all Mankind's problems. They were the perfect scapegoat for those whose lives had been destroyed when the world had been ruined by the greed of long dead men. Men, who in the relentless pursuit of power, had been unwilling to heed the warning of Science. Now there was a target for this anger, someone to blame: Robots that were programmed not to fight back because Orga were always right. These things that stood passively and let themselves be destroyed were to serve a function for man that none here seemed to acknowledge.

They were the outsiders. The 'other'.

But was there more to them than met the Orga eye? The Director was talking about building a robot that would develop it's own innate understanding of the world. And what would it see? What horror would that be?

Had that been a tear?

She spoke before she had really accumulated her thoughts "It occurs to me with all this animus existing against Mecha today, that it isn't simply a question of creating a robot who can love." She had the room now and she chose her words carefully. "But isn't the real conundrum: can you get a human to love them back?"

The Director responded to the challenge quickly, "Ours will be a perfect child, caught in a freeze frame, always loving, never ill, never changing. With all the childless couples yearning in vain for a license, our little Mecha will not only open up a completely new market, it will fill a great human need." He leaned back into his chair, a satisfied grin on his face.

The apprentice considered this response for a moment. She greatly admired this man. He was a true genius and his vision and guidance were the reason she had come to Cybertronics in the first place. But in his reply she heard a trace of the unspoken arrogance that was at the crux of her question.

"But you haven't answered my question" she said cautiously. "If a robot could genuinely love a person, what responsibility does that person hold towards that Mecha in return?"

The Director was quiet. He gazed at this woman as if from deep thought. The room watched the cerebral confrontation carefully. Was this something the Director hadn't considered? How were Mecha feelings an important part of the equation?

"It's a moral question, isn't it?" she said, after his silence had grown uncomfortable.

"The oldest one of all," he replied finally, "but in the beginning didn't God create Adam to love Him?"

The room filled with talk, speculation. Was this really possible? Ideas were forming. Programmers were already discussing strategies, and technicians pondered aloud the materials they'd need to satisfy the no doubt countless demands they would have from engineers in the ensuing months. Marketing people began to huddle among themselves. Lawyers whispered about regulations and intellectual rights.

The Directors spark had ignited a flame that was growing before his eyes.

Across the room Sheila applied her makeup, apparently oblivious to the engaging discussions around her; about her. She finished quickly and tucked her kit back into her purse. This was all a programmed routine made to look spontaneous by the most ingenious code sequencing ever devised. She had no reason to be pretty, save the whim of her Orga creators. She would never love, nor seek love. She would never feel the ravages of age or the loss of loved ones. The sights and sounds filtered by her sensory interpreters were meaningless numbers until some combination agitated a string of neuronal triggers that required a response. No original thought would ever inspire her to do something outside of the range of activity prescribed for her. She looked around the room and smiled her pretty, vacant smile.
1.

The lush rainforest passed by without the Swinton's notice. It was the result of climate changes that had happened long before they were born. They knew no other world. They were used to it. They'd been along this route dozens of times before and Henry could maneuver the winding road without thinking. But the silence was new.Beside him his wife applied makeup. It was a routine of hers; a repetition of movements that seemed to be a device to keep her hands and mind preoccupied more than anything else. She had not said a word since they'd left home over an hour ago. She played no music, none of the 20th Century folk songs that she collected, or the Strauss waltzes that he'd always complained about when they'd been just dating. The only sounds were the mechanical whir of their cruiser and the occasional call of some forest creature from the wilds outside. Her silence disturbed him more than the reasons they were on this trip; again.

She was a beautiful woman, but her eyes had been growing distant in recent months. Initially she'd been able to deal with the pain. She had never let hope slip from her grasp and Henry had let her optimism affect him. He'd let her refusal to accept the inevitable keep him too in this state of emotional limbo. But the fortress from which she defended her breaking heart had barricades insufficient to challenge the relentless siege of fate. Her once spontaneous chatter had disappeared, replaced by short and evasive responses to his attempts at conversation. Darkness had overcome her spirit. He was at a complete loss to deal with this shadow on her heart, and loss was the one thing he'd had enough of.

Henry turned his attention to the passing landscape outside, wondering how many struggling souls made their encampments in the forest beyond the road. For the Swinton's life had been a series of jumps up the corporate ladder. He was established, an insider with a firm that had nothing if not longevity in its field. They were never in want for food or shelter like so many in the shanties and the streets of broken cities that had been starved and washed away in the deluge ages ago. They'd never want for the simple conveniences of life that so many fought for every day. But he'd trade it all in for one irreplaceable thing. The groan of an old pain welled up in his chest and he suppressed it. He turned his thoughts away from that. He had to be strong for her. He was all she had left, and she; he. They would get through this. She would learn to let go, just as he was learning.

Somehow.

As their cruiser whirred past a young and changing landscape, something cried out from the depths of the forest. It was a shrill sound that penetrated the humid gloom. Neither of them noticed it.


2.

In the cool darkness of the Cryogenic Department a respectful silence was dutifully imposed. Sharp noises were muted by tonal dampers set in the corners of the room. This was a place where death was immanent, a patient specter; always waiting at the door to taunt those who visited their resting loved ones. Of those that slept here only a handful would leave alive, and among those the chances of ever returning to the life they had once known was minimal. They were the wounded and ill-stricken spouses and lovers, who would sleep until their bodies could be revived safely; they were the aged mothers and fathers of the wealthy, whose sleep was a last futile attempt to beat death. Perhaps they thought they would stay in this state until some cure for human mortality was magically chanced upon.

But the Swinton's passed this place by without a glance. They were headed for a different ward; one where lay the injured or disease-stricken sons and daughters of those who could not bear the loss; for it was not just the loss of a child, which was in itself enough, but it was the loss of the chance at having a child at all. The Federal Government had invoked and strictly enforced restrictive licenses on birth. It would be many years before lovers would bring another life into the world at their own whim.

She was here now, walking briskly through the artificially silenced room. The whispers of visitors and doctors and the hum from the banks of life preserving cryogenic tubes were inaudible to her. Henry followed quietly behind. From a silent space inside, his heart was calling to out her. She did not notice.

As she arrived their sons cryo-tube was being lowered from its parking place in the wall where he slept in frozen stasis, awaiting a miracle that would bring him back to her. It had been years since she had cried entering this sterile room. It had all become routine, a routine she desperately needed. It kept her from being consumed by the darkness that loomed at the edge of her world, the gloom that she caught desperate glimpses of when she was at home trying to go through the now meaningless motions of daily life.

When the tube was at rest, she sat down in the viewing well that surrounded her sons glass home. He was peaceful. He was sleeping. This she let herself see. The ice encrusting the inside of the glass was invisible to her. She did not notice the occasional wisps of gas that floated over her sleeping boy's face and momentarily fogged his image. His blue and frozen flesh made no difference to her. She did not acknowledge Henry as he moved into the well and sat beside her, nor the troubled look that he wore.

She took from her satchel a small music player that Henry had bought for her. On it were hours of music samples of her choosing. This week she had chosen some of Martins favorites; the lilting waltzes to which he used to bounce around the house as a little boy. She planted a small virba-speaker against the glass tube, so her sleeping boy would hear his mothers loving voice, and pulled from her satchel the book she had brought. It was the book he'd loved as a little child. An image came into her minds eye then; a memory of his childish wonderment as she'd read to him all those years ago arose and threatened to break her heart. But she forced the image away and began to read.

"Robin of Sherwood Forest, " she read the cover and opened the book, "The baby was born as the first leaves of autumn fell; a baby boy. And Marion's wish came true. The boy had white hair. He was baptized Martin, after his grandfather..."

As she read a man in a white lab coat entered the room behind them. His quick footfalls were softened by the dampers but Henry had been awaiting his arrival and jumped up to greet the man. "Dr. Frazier Hello. It is so good to see you," he whispered excitedly.

Dr. Frazier returned Henrys handshake, feeling the nervous anticipation in the man' grip. He could see the new creases along the man's forehead and knew what worries had created them. It was always the unspoken questions: 'Is there anything new? Any sign of hope?' Henry had become the most devoted of all the parents of the young patients in his ward. He had began to scan the medical reviews himself, desperately seeking anything that even hinted at a solution to the puzzling illness that had taken his son away. That this thing had taken its toll on him was plain to see.

Henry whispered urgently about something he'd found. "Listen, there was an article by Randenbach in the journal of Chinese medicine about these virus locators; synthetic, microscopic hunter killers..." Frazier let the man ramble on. He knew what article Henry was talking about and didn't have the heart to tell the man what he thought of it. It was better to let him cling to the idea of a possibility for now. There were more pressing concerns.

Frazier knelt down behind the woman seated in the visiting well. "Hello again, Monica." he said. But she did not respond. She was lost in her routine, as distant from the world as her sleeping boy. Frazier was greatly troubled by this. She was not the same woman that he had met when their son had been brought into Cryogen. She was withdrawn now, and guarded, working on a level of rote behavior like an automaton. Behind him, Henry went on about Randenbach's futile research. This was his form of denial. Frazier sighed, understanding that it was time for them to deal with reality. He stood and started to reply to Henry.

"I can still hear you!" Monica cried suddenly. The men were silenced at the outburst. She continued to read.

3.

Had it been really five years since she'd last heard her Martin's boyish laughter? Five years since she last tucked her little boy under the covers after he fallen asleep while she read from this very book? Five long, insufferable years since she'd fussed over, scolded and held her beautiful son in her arms as he laughed and wriggled, trying to escape before the tickling started? Her heart had so long been broken that the pain was a continual presence in her chest. It was part of her now.

And what was it that had taken him away from her? What was this mysterious malady that had invaded their life? Sinclair Syndrome by name. A syndrome? This was a scientific term. It described symptoms; events announcing the onslaught of unnamed swarms of microscopic marauders. But what it really meant was defeat. A syndrome was not an answer; it was an unanswerable question. This was not what had happened to her Martin. He had been stolen from her. From the first dizzy spells, to the horrible convulsions and finally that unforgettable morning when he would not awaken from his sweat-drenched slumber, science had not been able to solve this riddle. Now they had a name for it and somehow that was supposed to explain all?

How long had it been before they'd known the name of this thief? A month? No, she recalled, it had been less. It had been 28 days of unknowing; of awful uncertainty, as their only child spiraled down the edge of some undetected abyss, never to return. Her heart had gone there with him.

Sinclair Syndrome was not always fatal, but those who were diagnosed could be left in a state of coma until their bodies were simply useless. Even Cryogenics had its limitations. The only thing that kept her going had been the possibility of misdiagnosis. They had been accepted for a stasis module and Martin had been asleep here for five impossible years.

She had been the champion of the fight during those first years. Like any parent she had clung to the thin fabric of hope that came from the multitude of new treatments and designer elixirs introduced by numerous corporate labs that built fortunes on selling dreams. She would not surrender to the claims of hopelessness by detached experts whose only stake in the game was whatever book or medication they were fronting. But She had to gamble with her son, the only child she would ever be allowed to have. She had to stick this one out no matter what. And she had.

But how long could she keep this up? This dream? She had been raised on older values. Her old friends had gone on their corporate games of 'King of the Hill' and she had chosen to marry and be a mother, knowing from her own loving mother that this was a noble pursuit. But the one thing that she lived for, had sacrificed her own ambitions for, had been mercilessly ripped from her grasp.

She could not go on. She could not go back. Her heart had come to a place where it would have to stay. She could not imagine saying goodbye. She'd never allow that.

She read.

4.

"I worry about her, Henry," Frazier said, as the two men made their way across the room.

"Yes, I know… I..." Henry stopped, lost for a response. On the wall before him paintings of fairy tale characters tried to pretend that this was not a place of death. In one image, men carried a naked Emperor on a sedan. Who had chosen that drawing? How devastatingly apropos.

"She really has me worried," Frazier continued. "She is in the most difficult position of feeling that she should mourn the death of your son, and after five years, Henry, your instincts tell you to mourn him too." Frazier shook his head and raised his arms as if in surrender. "But all this medicine assures us that mourning is inappropriate; that Martin is merely pending."

"Pending..." Henry repeated the word. Wasn't that how their whole life had become: pending; an image on pause, frozen, like their son, in a time that should have ended years ago?

"And all her grief, just goes undigested" Frazier said. He gazed at this loyal, loving man and his heart sank. He'd seen lesser men give up before the fight had really began. Why did the good seem to suffer more?

Henry didn't want to acknowledge Frazier's gaze. He didn't want to look the man in the eye, he knew what he'd see there. But he had to be strong for Monica. He forced himself to return the doctor's gaze, and saw an unspoken statement.

Frazier saw the conflict in Henry's face. "Henry, your son may be beyond our science," he admitted, "but it's your wife who can still be reached."

Henry turned to watch Monica read to their dying boy. Martin would not hear her from the depths of his cryogenic slumber, and in all likelihood he'd probably never hear her voice again. Henry shuddered. He loved his son, loved him more than his heart could stand. But there were those moments weren't there? He'd deny them if anyone ever asked, but there were those awful moments when he just wished it were all over…

…one way or another.
1.

It had been twenty months since the presentation; almost two years since his idea, his vision, had ignited the fires of the great minds with which he had the honor to work; the greatest minds in their field. Now the time had come to put that work to the test.

He had watched over every aspect of his vision's creation. There had been times when he could not sleep from anticipation of the next day's tests. But the Director was a man of routines, of discipline. He had forced himself away from the lab at the close of everyday.

There had been moments when things did not go well. There were times when nerves became frayed and feelings were hurt. Still the project drew them on, past the point where emotions were ignited. They were engaged on a feat that had been deemed impossible by their contemporaries; deemed impossible by all precedent.

And now, finally, they were here deciding who would be the one to take this machine into their home and their heart and prove once and for all that dreams and vision conquer all obstacles. The Director was a man of dreams and vision. His heart swelled as he entered his office with the screening crew to sort through applicants.

"The screening process was extremely difficult," his lead man said. "It was almost tougher than building the prototype." This was not an excessive exaggeration. With the prototype they had at least had a working idea of what they were after. They'd had the components and the materials to bend to their design. But screening was another matter altogether. Out of over 2000 Cybertronics employees, a surprising few had met the requirements for the in-house test that was the next crucial step towards introducing their secret new product to the market.

The lead man leaned over the Director's console and ordered, "Initiate". The screen came to life. "Query. Prototype screening. Internal data" he said. The console obediently paged through images of the two dozen or so employees that had passed the rigid screening. "We screened for employment record, quality of lifestyle, loyalty to the firm, and in this individuals case," he gestured to one face among many, pressed the image and the man's face grew to fill the screen, "…a family tragedy that may qualify him above the rest."

The Director eyed the image of 'Swinton, Henry. New Jersey Division'. He wasn't far. Better if something should go wrong. 'Son afflicted with Sinclair Syndrome'. The boy was in stasis, but the chances of recovery were common knowledge. The Director analyzed the face on the screen. The pain hiding there was all too familiar.

"I'll see him," he said.

2.

The afternoon sun burnt dimly though the haze that had begun to envelope the Swinton's large exurban home. Inside Monica stood impatiently in the living room, by the inner portal of the front door. She had been preparing a new music layout for her next visit to Martin when Henry had called. He had been excited about something. "Don't leave," he had told her. "Just don't leave the house till I get home!" he'd begged before hanging up quickly. She had no problem with his request. She actually couldn't remember the last time she went anywhere except to their small pond for a quiet boat ride. Still, at first, he had been disturbed at Henry's insistence. As time passed she became annoyed. What was it that would cause him to act so? When was it that she had last heard him so excited?

Then Henry finally arrived. He paged in from the driveway and told her to wait by the front door. She didn't tell him that she'd been standing there for the last twenty minutes. She was very anxious. This feeling of expectation was too much like the moments by the phone so many years ago as one or another procedure was tried to bring their son back to them. She fought to put the memory aside. Her husband was excited about something and she wanted to share this with him, whatever it was. But the feeling would not go. She was becoming irritated now. It was safer not to feel anything.

The door hissed open suddenly and Henry dashed in. His face was flush. He set his briefcase down by the door quickly, and placed his hands on her shoulders. He looked like the man she remembered bringing her little trinkets and gifts every time he saw her. What was up?

"Henry?!" she said, her face pinched in annoyance and concern. What game was this? Was it about Martin?

"Don't kill me," he said as he embraced her. What was he talking about?

"Henry what are you doing?" she demanded, but he just squeezed her tighter.

"I love you. Don't kill me," he whispered into her ear. He squeezed her once again and then stepped away. "Doors close," he ordered the front portal and Monica heard the outer doors slip shut. Henry then waved his hand across the identi-pad and the inner door slid open.

The boy had been instructed to wait till the front door had opened again and then walk into the foyer. The boy did not know 'foyer' and had cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows pinched when the man asked if he understood. Then the man had explained that he was to follow into the enclosed area beyond the sliding doors after the man had gone inside. The boy understood now and 'remembered' the term 'foyer' for later reference. When the doors had opened again the man was gone, but the boy followed instructions precisely and walked inside. Behind him the mechanical door slid closed and after a moment the one in front of him opened.

Someone was there. Monica squinted trying to make out the features of the silhouette in the doorway. It was a short person. A child? Her heart jumped when, for one impossible moment, she thought that her little boy had come home. But then she watched in uncomprehending silence as a different boy stepped into their home. A blonde boy dressed in a soft white jump suit that hung on him like robes. His entry was pronounced by the muted click of protective plastic sandals against the Swinton's foyer carpet. His gait was quick and precise. He walked forward and then stopped suddenly at the small steps that led into the living room. Monica stepped back involuntarily as the boy took one small step into the lower area and then stopped as if frightened by something. He tapped his foot against the wooden step and seemed to pay close attention as the sound reverberated throughout the room. He then stepped back and repeated this process on the carpeted area above the step.

Whose child was this? Monica studied the boy's too smooth face. He looked blankly back at her. He seemed to be Martin's age, maybe eleven, twelve or so. But the eyes were younger; somehow… vacant. Was he challenged? Had Henry brought home someone's rejected child? The boy acknowledged Monica with a glance, but his eyes turned quickly towards the sunlit area of the big windows that looked out on the pool. His head quickly followed the path of his eyes and then he turned and purposefully walked to the window. Monica noticed the measured steps, the halting way he scanned things as he passed. She knew those movements. Recognition clicked suddenly inside her head.

The boy stopped at the window and then turned again to face Monica. He smiled at her now, a peculiar vacant smile, and in his unblinking eyes Monica finally saw what had made her step back from this harmless looking child.

David's mind acknowledged the woman was looking at him. But she'd said nothing. He did 'smile'. Still she made no response. He knew faces. The woman's face was doing 'shock'. There was 'apprehension' there too. He would calm her.

"I like your floor," he said.

3.

"I can't accept this!" Monica yelled for the third time. Her tears were streaming uncontrollably now. All the anger and anguish that she had left behind had returned suddenly, ravaging her. What in the hell had this man been thinking?! That she would abandon her only son for... that thing? "There is no substitute for your own child, Henry!! No substitute!!" she scolded him, shaking an accusing finger in rage.

"You don't have to accept him, Monica! It's not too late to take him back!" Henry countered. He'd left the prototype downstairs alone and followed her when she had fled in this sudden emotional outburst. Now he tried to console her in their bedroom. Across the hall their son's room was still full of the toys and things of his that served as a constant reminder of their denial. He'd known that she would not initially like the Mecha, but this rage was beyond his expectations. Dr. Frazier had been right. They had to begin to let go. They had to start somewhere.

"What were you thinking?" she roared at him, her voice full of pain and uncertainty. "Did you think that I could just... just..." but she didn't know how to finish.

"I'll do whatever you want me to do, Monica! Whatever you want," he pleaded. He didn't want to fight with her. He didn't want to see her in pain. This had not been what he had anticipated. "Whatever you want," he repeated as her sobs began to subside.

"I don't know," she said finally in surrender. "I don't know what to do." The powerful rage was gone from her voice. Henry was glad for the respite from her anger, but what he heard now hurt more. It was a whimper of submission. Was she finally accepting that their son was never coming home?

"I know,. I know," he tried to calm her. "I'll return it to Cybertronics. First thing in the morning, it's gone!" He hadn't wanted to push her so far. They could find someone else for the in-home test. There was still plenty of time, plenty of qualified applicants. The prototype hadn't been imprinted, so no damage was done.

Monica was quiet now. The outburst had run its course and she stood tear stricken at the window. "Ok. Take him back, ok," she said weakly. She was quiet for a moment, then her voice rose in sudden indecision, "I mean... Henry did you see his face? He's so real. So real..." she paused thinking, "but he's not. I mean... inside he's like all the rest, isn't he?"

"Yeah, a hundred miles of fiber," Henry laughed. Was something happening here? What was she doing?

Monica moved to the bed and sat down. She smoothed the sheets absent-mindedly and gazed out the window at the haze that had thickened into pregnant clouds. It had felt good to let the tears flow after so long repressing them. When was the last time she'd had a good cry? The last time she'd allowed this feeling of vulnerability to open in her? Her mind wandered as she calmed. It was a robot after all, right? A toy really. "But outside, he just looks... so real," she said almost to herself.

What had happened? It had only been a matter of minutes since this... boy, had been in their home. He had only said a few little words, meaningless words, and yet it had changed everything. Was the fabric of this safe little unchanging world she'd constructed so easily crumbled? Where had these feelings, unbidden for so long, been hiding? Just beneath the surface all this time? Who had she been kidding? Herself. She was silent for some time as Henry waited. He hoped.

Outside the raindrops fell quickly and then stopped as the sudden shower dispersed.

"I could use a child," she said after minutes.

"A Mecha child," Henry added. He meant a child that would never grow old, that would never need to be fed or punished, that would do exactly what he was told when he was told and would never interfere with the neat little life they had developed since Martin had ... left them. But most of all, he meant a child that could be easily returned if things did not work out as desired.

Monica heard him make this distinction, but it didn't mean anything to her. Something in her chest had moved every so slightly. "A child," she repeated softly.

4.

From the quiet living room, David had heard the woman 'yelling' upstairs. He 'remembered' the sound and then decided to listen to the clicking of his shoes against the floor as he walked across the room. The floor texture changed and his feet made sharper sounds.

David decided to walk some more. He did so until he came to the window again. There he watched the grey clouds overhead move slowly against the darkening sky. He watched for some time although he wouldn't know how long. Soon the window became wet. Drops of water fell from above, struck and stuck to the outside surface of the window. David watched the water streak and run down the length of the glass until it gathered at the base of the pane and overflowed. In time the droplets stopped falling and David watched the clouds pass. He 'remembered' this and then walked across the floor again. He saw the couch and the chairs and 'remembered' them. In the center of the room was a table. There was another larger table at the far end of the room. The color of the furniture was dark. It was the color of dark polished wood. The floor was the color of dark wood and the carpet was green. He 'remembered' all these things. In time he would understand them.

The yelling had stopped. He listened but heard nothing. So he walked to the table in the center of the room. On the table he saw photos. David knew 'photos' from ... 'before', and he decided to look at them. These photos were new to David. Once he 'remembered' something he never forgot that thing and he had not seen these photos before. In one of the photos he saw the man, Henry, and the woman whose name he had not learned yet. But there was a face in the photos that David had not seen before. It was of a person smaller than Henry and the woman. It was a boy. He 'remembered' this new face and looked at the other photos. They were all of Henry and the woman and the boy. They wore different clothing in each photo. They smiled and looked 'happy'.

The last photo on the table was bigger than the others. Only the boy was in this photo. But David saw another face in the glass. Quickly he realized that this other face was a 'reflection'. But it looked also as if the face was in the photo beside the boy. David saw… 'himself' in the reflection. He 'remembered' this. In time he would know what it meant.

5.

He did not perceive them, but as David digested the family images, Monica and Henry were watching him from the spiraling stairwell. They had been watching him quietly for some time. He had not acknowledged the little sounds they had made as they came down the stairs when the sudden cloudburst had subsided. They had watched tquietly as he stared from the living room window at the receding storm, and then as he walked cautiously across the room, scanning each piece of furniture with his odd wide-eyed gaze.

'What was he thinking?' Monica wanted to know. Was he thinking at all? Finally he stopped before the family photos. The Mecha stayed there for a while and when he came to the photo of Martin he seemed to lean closer. The Mecha boy stared at that photo for longer than he had the others. Monica felt something warm inside of her when she noticed this. It was a good feeling; a welcome feeling.

6.

"David, I have someone I want you to meet," the man, Henry said. He seemed 'excited'. Behind Henry the woman who had yelled and run away from him before, was standing with her hand over her mouth. Her face looked 'nervous'. David did 'smile' and said "Ok, Henry."

Henry put his arm around the woman's shoulders. "David," he said, "This is Monica."

The woman looked 'nervous', but not exactly 'nervous'. She looked 'nervous' but different. David did 'big smile' showing his teeth and said "Hello Monica. It is good to meet you." He extended his hand to do 'shake' but the woman drew her arms around herself and could not shake. Was she 'cold'? She smiled but her eyes were wet. It looked to David like tears. Was she 'sad' and 'cold'?

"Hello David. It's good to meet you too," the woman, Monica, said. David 'remembered' her voice as he had 'remembered' Henry's earlier. He kept his hand extended for her to 'shake' but she did not. Henry made a noise with his throat.

"David, Monica and I would like for you to stay here with us for a while. That way we can get to know each other a bit. Does that sound ok?"

"Ok, Henry," David replied. He did 'big smile' for Monica again and said, "That sounds great!" Quickly Monica reached out to grasp David's hand and did 'shake'. It was very fast. It was not like the 'shake' that Henry had done before. Monica's hand was 'warm' and 'soft'. After she had done 'shake', Monica's face 'relaxed' and she looked 'calm'. Henry looked at her and David saw that he looked 'happy' like he did in the photos.

Henry said, "David, I want you to wait here and we will come get you in a short time, ok?"

"Ok, Henry."

7.

They had retreated back upstairs to the dressing room and left the prototype downstairs taking in the house. Henry knew this was an important part of the acclimation process. David had to sample or 'remember' everything in its environment. Although the thing had been programmed to simulate a child's behavior, he had no worries about the little Mecha breaking anything. He'd touch nothing unless specifically asked to do so and unlike a real child he could sit and wait for hours; days if need be.

All things considered, the meeting had gone well enough. David had met Monica and sampled her voice and expressions for later reference. More importantly, she had spoken to David and shook his hand even if it was a somewhat frantic gesture. The boy-bot was designed to bring out maternal instincts. From the wide baby-blue eyes and the light voice frequencies to the olfactory simulators in the boy-bot's hair and skin, David was more real than any Mecha before him. It was a little disconcerting at first meeting. Even Henry had been a little disturbed by this when he'd first picked up the machine at the Cybertronics lab. But that had passed. He hoped Monica's reaction would pass also.

The robot would have no memories of Cybertronics, or his creators. Henry had been there when the battery had been set in his chest and they'd powered him up. Then the cavity had been sealed. Although the thing had been pre-programmed, it had never spoken a word until the 'body' had been turned on and the brain inserted. Henry had heard those first words. He had been introduced to David and surprised how realistic it felt when he took the robot's small hand in his own. They'd exchanged greetings and the prototype had been told to go with him.

David was like no Mecha before him. Every effort had been made to make him as realistic as possible. In spite of the miles of fibers and light metal joints inside him, David weighed only 60lbs. Gone were the opening facial cavities and clunky metal frames that had typified the design of the old butlers and maids. His body had no false openings for technicians to access. If he were ever damaged, they would have to go inside just like they'd do with an Orga child, by surgery. Every aspect of the boy was completely duplicated from Orga, even those functions he would never need. He had a throat, although he'd never be able to eat. He'd never have to use the toilet, nor would he ever participate in that purely biological aspect of love, but the glands necessary for these functions were also part of his anatomy.

Not only was his design unique, an almost perfect simulation of Orga structure, undetectable by those not familiar with Mecha subtleties, but he had another very special quality. The Director had explained that David was a very special and secret project because they believed they had manufactured a robot that could feel love. Real love. Henry had not known how to take that when he'd heard it. He didn't work with the technical departments of Cybertronics. Much of their work was kept secret until it was publicly released. But he knew that this might be the thing that Monica needed. And if she needed it, then he needed it. He had signed numerous documents agreeing to secrecy, limitations of company liability and to arbitration if something should go wrong. There were technical documents that he had to understand before he could leave with the Mecha. It had taken him all morning but finally he been flown back to New Jersey with a new gift for his wife.

Henry was overjoyed that Monica was now willing to give the Mecha a chance. He waited until she was seated and drew a dramatic breath. In his hand he held a red folder that he had been given by the Director. This was an extraordinary gesture and Henry had to impress on Monica the importance of this test.

"The show of faith my company has placed on me... on us! …is extraordinary. There are a few simple but crucial procedures we need to follow if and when you decide to keep David." He handed her the red folder. Monica read the warning label.

Caution!
This process is irreversible and permanent!
Do not initiate imprinting if you have any doubts about your feelings!

If Henry was trying to make her uncomfortable he was succeeding.

Henry continued, reading from a form he held, "In the Red folder is an imprinting protocol consisting of a code string of seven particular words that need to be spoken to David in the predefined order that is printed inside." He stopped reading and looked her in the eyes. "Monica. For our own protection, this imprinting cannot be reversed! The robot child's "love" would be sealed. In a sense; hardwired. And we'd be part of him. Forever. Because of this, after imprinting on a parent, no Mecha child can be resold."

Monica looked at him, uncomprehending.

"Honey, if you imprint and then we should decide not to keep David, he must be returned to Cybertronics. For destruction."

She nodded slowly, understanding now.

"I had to sign these letters of agreement before they'd even let you see David." He handed her a handful of forms. "You have to sign them too. Read them carefully, Monica."

She scanned the papers. It seemed overwhelming, all this data, all this responsibility. Was she really ready for this?

Henry saw her indecision and leaned close to her, letting her know he understood. "Honey. This can be a good thing for us. I know it can. And I know you sense that too. But don't imprint unless you're absolutely sure."

Monica sighed and shook her head. "Silly man. Of course I'm not sure."

8.

They'd given the robot the pajamas that Cybertronics had supplied. They'd also supplied a couple of changes of clothing. There really wasn't anything else they'd need. Martin's room had been prepared for their little guest. His night-lit sleeping canopy hadn't been used in five years and Monica felt another tug of reluctance at letting the Mecha sleep there. But she wasn't going to put the poor thing on the couch, and she definitely wouldn't let it sleep with them. The Mecha stood before the bed now, holding the plaid pajamas in front of him. Its posture was slightly robotic and it was staring at the ornaments hanging over the bed. The Mecha stayed in that position for some time. Monica wondered what was going on inside its head.

The light flickering against the shiny thing that dangled over the 'bed' made David stare. He watched it until he perceived the pattern of its movement and understood it. It was a 'decoration'. It was in the shape of a woman and, in its center, was a 'heart' shape. In it he saw reflections like he had in the photo. He saw himself. Then, as the thing rotated on the string, he saw the woman, Monica, in the reflection. He turned to look at her. Her eyes were no longer wet. She was calm now. They had given him the clothing for 'sleeping' and he held them up to her.

"Would you like me to sleep now," he asked.

Monica didn't know what to say. She looked at Henry for guidance. "Ahhh… sounds good," Henry offered. "Sound like a good idea to you, Monica?"

Monica shrugged. "Well, it is late you know. I mean it's after nine…" she stumbled trying to use motherly logic. "How late do they let you stay up?"

David did not understand 'they'. He processed her question though and a response came to him suddenly. "I can never go to sleep, but I can lay quietly and not make a peep."

Henry recognized the phrase as one of the hundreds of lines his department had sifted through for use in promotional materials. He hadn't known they'd be used in programming. He winked at Monica who did not seem amused by the rhyme.

"Well, " she said heading towards the door, "you've got everything you need and I guess we'll be in to check on you in the..." She stopped when David suddenly approached her, the pajama's held out as if an offering.

"Dress me?" David suggested as he approached Monica. She stepped back as if frightened by the robot's advance. Henry knew that this was supposed to have evoked a matronly response, but his wife wasn't ready for it.

Monica almost ran from the room. "I'm gonna say good night now... you boys be boys!" she said and quickly closed the door behind her. David followed her and stood there, pajamas pressed against the frosted glass surface of the door after it was closed.

Henry sighed and put his hand on David's shoulder to turn the Mecha around. "Arms up," he said and the boy-bot obeyed. Henry slipped the robot out of the jump suit and into the pajamas. She'd be ok. This was maybe a little much, so quickly.

Monica stood in the darkness of the hallway and caught her breath. This was happening so fast, too fast. She breathed deeply to calm herself. It was a robot. She had to remember that. Just a robot, not a real little boy, not like her Martin. It could never replace her son.

From the shadows of the hallway Monica peeked around the corner and watched through the door pane the blurred images of Henry and the Mecha. She listened as Henry talked to the thing while he dressed it for the night, and then swore she saw it peering out the blurred glass in her direction. She moved away from the door back into the darkness.

Had it been looking for her?

9.

Monica was sitting on the floor of the hallway. She was in turmoil. Perhaps she had overreacted. She looked around the corner behind her. Not a sound. Not a movement. She started feeling guilty.

It had all begun that morning. She had woken to find Henry dressed and heading out the door. "Have fun," he had said with a peculiar smile. Monica had screwed her face up in confusion and then she saw David standing at the foot of the staircase, looking all too real with his disheveled hair and bed-wrinkled pajamas. She'd nodded at Henry and he'd kissed her. " If you have any problems call me," he said, then he whispered to her, "David was made to simulate a little boy, honey. Don't be afraid of him. I love you," and he was gone. The inner doors slid closed behind him, leaving her alone with the Mecha.

"Good morning Monica" David said smiling flatly at her.

"Hi David," she replied. She smiled back and gazed awkwardly at the robot for a minute. She cleared her throat but could think of nothing to say. It was time for coffee. As she made her way into the kitchen she noticed the way the little Mecha's eyes followed her, then its head. She looked away as it turned its body towards her. Then she heard the pit-pat of its feet on the kitchen floor behind her as she prepared for breakfast.

Once a casual treat, real coffee was now a luxury. Fortunately their income provided Monica access to these simple pleasures and she'd become a collector of interesting blends. She began the ritualistic process of measuring the grounds and pouring the water. She didn't use any prescribed measurements. She did it all based on the results of repeated trials and errors at different combinations.

David was crouching beside her, his eyes peeking over the counter's edge as Monica spooned her special mixture of grounds into the filter. His silly smile was gone. He watched her every move with childish fascination as she measured and poured and stirred. At first Monica was amused by this. At least she didn't feel like running away from it again. But the humor shortly wore thin. She was just making coffee. What was so amazing about that?

When he brew was finished, she sat at the table to sort through the headlines of the daily news feed. When the Mecha didn't follow her she turned and saw him still staring at the coffee maker. Made to simulate a boy, eh; a not too bright boy perhaps? Monica went back to her paper.

Then suddenly David was at her side again. Shocked, she pulled back at but quickly realized the Mecha was gazing at her steaming coffee cup with his too-wide, too-blue eyes. That again? She huffed and read some more. But when she went to sip her brew, David's eyes followed the cup up from the table, to her mouth, and then back down to the table. Monica watched this for a moment and then decided that she'd had enough. She turned her back on David but could imagine the little unblinking eyes on the back of her head. This was not going to work.

Maybe it was time to do some chores.

Her routine had been her mainstay, her grip on the world, for many months now. She had always been an orderly person but with ... situations the way they were, it was crucial to have a regular schedule of activity. Just outside of that pattern the awful press of desperation loomed. Only a clear sense of purpose kept it at bay.

David was now interrupting with that course of activity. Maybe it was just the way he was suddenly there beside her as she made the bed or folded linen. Maybe it was the way he had scared her when she rounded the corner with an armful of sheets. Or the way he followed her every move with that never ending stare and his flat curious expressions that seemed to only alternate between a silly closed-mouthed smile or utter amazement. Henry assured her that was just the acclimating process. That David was brand new and even with all his programming he still had to get used to new things and places. Monica thought perhaps they'd over done the childish wonder bit. Not everything deserved the astonished scrutiny David seemed to give it.

Things had come to a head when he... it, had stepped in her way as she brought some things up from the pool. She'd been headed for the washroom when in the hallway David had suddenly stopped in her path, his face displaying a new expression: the annoying simile of a boy's mischievous grin. She had stepped aside but the robot had moved with her. She stepped back to go around but David in her path again. Monica had had it!

"C'mere, David," she whispered through clenched teeth. She led the obedient Mecha to the nearest closet and placed him inside. He'd smiled up at her as she closed the door. Finally she could get some work done without distraction!

That had been an hour ago and the Mecha had not made a sound since. It should have been an easy hour, compared to the distractions of the morning. Well, the robot was finally out of her way, wasn't it? That was what she had wanted, hadn't she? How long would it stay in the closet? Would it really just stand there until she came and got it? What if she left it there all day? All week? She shuddered as a wave of self-recrimination arose. It was just a robot right?

"Awww, what am I doing?" She said aloud.

David saw the 'silhouette' against the frosted glass door of the little dark room where Monica had put him. He did not know how long he had stayed there. He did not understand duration. Finally the door opened and he saw it was Monica again. This process seemed familiar to David He had remembered something like this from... before.

When she opened the door David was standing exactly where she had left him. He smiled up at her.

"Is it a game?" he asked.

"Uh... Yes it's a game," Monica replied feeling a little guilty. How could she place this little innocent thing (it's a robot) in the closet? "It's… hide and seek," she explained and tapped David playfully on the shoulder. It felt so real; "found you," she said and led him out of the closet. She guided the Mecha to Martin's room and pointed inside. "This is your room now, just go play."

David knew 'play'. He walked into the room and found 'toys' on the bed and floor. He took the small things in his hands and began to 'play'. He had no real understanding of the toys and their meaning. He was not in the process of learning or dealing with emotional stresses, as human children would be. It was an automated series of gestures he enacted now, picking up the toy copter and zooming it through the air. There was no fantasy of flight attached to the motion. He looked and saw that Monica watched him and he smiled. She smiled back and then left. Was she still playing?

Finally she had some time to herself. The boy was in the bedroom and he'd stay there playing until she told him to stop. That was at least one advantage of Mecha. She was absorbed in a book in her favorite reading room when she heard the door snick open. David stood smiling at her. His unblinking eyes hinted at some glee. He'd leanred a new game.

"Found you," he said

Monica yelped and dropped her book. She lifted her sweatpants from around her ankles to cover herself. You would have assumed they'd program this thing to know what a toilet was! "Get out of here!" Monica yelled! The Mecha obeyed, walking away quickly. "And close the goddamn door!" she added.

David dutifully walked back and closed the door. Monica had done 'anger'. This somehow did not seem an appropriate response to the game. As he walked back to his 'room' his mind made the necessary associations between 'toilet' and 'anger'.

She heard his footsteps against the floor as he walked away. What had she been so upset about? He was just a robot. Right? Just a robot.

10.

There was no chatter at the table that evening, but this was not unusual; there hadn't been for some time. Henry had thought that David might change that. He'd have to be patient he guessed. It couldn't happen overnight. He wondered what had happened while he was at work. Monica really hadn't said anything about her first day alone with the Mecha. She seemed annoyed about something and Henry didn't press the issue. Even if it hadn't been imprinted yet, he really didn't want to return the thing without giving it a fair chance.

Monica ate quietly. She knew Henry was anxious about the robot. He'd be wondering if she liked it and if she were going to keep it. The truth was she didn't really know. There was really nothing to talk about. David was cute enough. It did look real and in spite of its annoying little habits of appearing from around corners and blocking her path, not to mention walking in on her in the toilet (she'd have to break him of that one) it wasn't that bad. She looked over at David. She had set a place at the table for it, thinking that maybe it would help it get through this acclimation process. Now she saw that David was copying their movements.

David watched Monica and Henry. They were putting things into their 'mouth'. This was 'eating'. David didn't understand eating but knew he wasn't supposed to. He didn't know why he knew this. He observed and remembered the way they moved their arms as they used the tools to eat with. He would learn this too.

Henry glanced over and saw David begin to mimic him. Had he been doing that all day? No wonder Monica seemed so annoyed. He had explained to her that David would have to acclimate to the house, but maybe she wasn't acclimating to it. As Henry drank David picked up the empty glass and put it to his mouth. The glass was so big against his face that the Mecha had to cross his eyes to continue watching Henry's movements. Henry looked back at his wife and saw her watching the robot.

Monica shook her head at David's new game. She paid attention to her meal again. She rolled her some spaghetti on her fork and was lifting iut to her mouth when she noticed that David mimicking her She stopped eating. David stopped moving as well and fixed her with an expectant gaze. Monica knew that it would stay in this position as long as she, so she put the food in her mouth and ignored it. As she chewed strands of spaghetti hung from her mouth and dangled over her chin.

David knew 'eating'. He also knew that Monica was eating 'wrong'. Something was hanging from her mouth. He watched Monica eat incorrectly. Was this a 'funny' thing? David knew 'funny'.

Henry and Monica both jumped at the sudden staccato sound that erupted from David. He was pointing at Monica, his face drawn long in his laughter. It was a sound that they'd not heard in a long, long time. A child's laughter! It was odd sounding, like a cartoon, as if David were actually saying the words ha-ha-ha quickly, but it was a welcome variation on the theme, and soon Monica and Henry were laughing with him. She pulled the little piece of spaghetti from the side of her mouth and dangled it. Was that what he found so funny?

David did 'laugh' and watched as Monica and Henry did laugh too. This was something new. It had come on him involuntarily as he had recognized the 'funny' thing.

The boy-bot's face was actually turning red in this fit, just like a real boy's face, and Henry laughed again at this. David heard Henry and turned to face him, going into another bout of the strange, hocketing sounds.

The couple gazed at each other. Months... maybe years of tension had left them, ushered away by the unpredictable action of this little robot. Monica tried to ewxplain through her fit how much David had shocked her, but she couldn't get the words out of her mouth.

David observed Monica and Henry laugh. The 'funny' was over now. Laugh was no longer necessary. So he stopped as suddenly as he'd begun.

Henry and Monica's fits subsided as they saw David looking at them curiously. He glanced to and fro between them, his unblinking eyes turning first and then his head following in one of the few gestures that gave away his Mecha nature. Monica had figured that it was all a controlled process, that David was somehow programmed to laugh at things that seemed out of place, but that didn't matter. The sound had been real enough, and consuming. It was a wonderful sound.

Henry was encouraged to have seen Monica laughing freely and fully for the first time in years! It was a good sight, a beautiful sight. He went back to his meal feeling better then he had in a long time. David remained silent throughout the rest of dinner but in the toy's presence was something new and warm, and Henry caught Monica watching it once or twice as they ate. What had that been in her eyes? Affection? Was something happening here?

11.

She couldn't put off dealing with David forever. Henry had told her she had to make a decision sooner or later and she couldn't make a decision if she didn't try to get to know the Mecha. She had laughed at the idea at first; getting to know a robot? But after the dinner experience, so similar to the way things had been so long ago, Monica decided that she was going to try.

She decided to dress David alone that night. A couple of times, as she lifted his arms to change his shirt and as he balanced on one leg as she slipped him out of his pants, the Mecha had reached out as if to hug her. She had pulled away from those awkward embraces. She realized it was only a program, but she wasn't ready for that, if she ever would be. Somewhere she still had ... another obligation. She slipped the plaid pajama top over the little boy's head. Martin would have needed a bath but David was as clean and fresh as when he first walked into their home. Monica winced at how terribly real he seemed from even this close. His skin was eerily life like. They'd even given him the smell of a freshly bathed child. Maybe, as he got more accustomed to life here, he would play outside like other boys and get dirty. She imagined scolding him someday, fussing over the mess he'd made of himself, like Martin had made her do so many times. But that was stupid wasn't it? David wasn't like other boys, was he? He was Mecha. A robot. An imitation. She'd never scold him nor feel pride at his good grades. She'd never sit up at night worried about where he was or whom he was with. Nor would she be able to meet that someone special he brought home before he said goodbye.

Monica looked up at David's eyes. She gazed into his eternal stare. Was there something there? Could she really learn to love something that wasn't really there?

"Time for bed," she whispered as if talking to a real child. "Okay Monica," David replied with flat enthusiasm. She led him to the bed canopy and turned off the room lights. The canopy sensed the change and the night-lights came on, bathing the room in a wash of blue. David crawled up into the bed and sat.

How many times had she read to Martin in this bed? How many times had her little boy, her dear little lost boy, waited expectantly for her to lay beside him with the storybooks he loved so? She suppressed a tear and crawl up beside David. He stared into the darkness of the room with his vacant smile and unceasing gaze. Couldn't they have programmed him to blink or something? At least he should close his eyes while he feigned sleep.

Monica buttoned the boy's shirt and held the covers up. He looked into the open blankets and then slipped under them, his movements precise and mechanical. Monica wondered if that would that change after she imprinted? Would his movements become real? Could he really become the same as... She stopped herself there. What was she thinking about? She didn't even know if she was going to imprint. She hadn't had enough time to make a decision like that.

She tucked the boy under the covers and he laid back staring up into the blue lights of the canopy. He seemed to be watching the little metal mobile that hung at the mouth of the bed, but was he watching anything at all? Could he really see these things? Could he understand what was really happening around him, or was it all just a flood of numbered data streaming into his mechanical brain?

Was he alive in there?

Suddenly, unbidden and unwelcome, Martins frozen image came into her minds eye. The question came to her again; 'Was he alive in there?' She could not stop the tears this time. Would she ever see her real little boy again, hear his laughter and feel his small arms around her?

"My baby," she said, her voice thick with tears.

David could not do 'sleep', so he laid still and 'ignored' data. He would stay that way until someone addressed him directly or some unexpected stimuli caused a necessary reaction. Monica was leaning over him. Her face was 'strained' like she was in pain. She made a crying sound. "My baby" is what she said. David did not know this phrase. Was she addressing him? He did not think so. He did not react.

12.

CAUTION:
Please remember that this
program, once activated
is permanent, indelible
and unalterable.

The words forbade any further passage. And yet Monica opened the envelope. The seal broke easier than one would have surmised based on the words it bore. What now was this that she had planned? Monica wasn't quite sure she was really doing this. Henry had said that she had more time, that there was no rush. But how much long would she need to make such a decision? Days? Weeks? How could she ever really decide to replace....

She stopped that thought. Was that was she was doing?

She put those questions aside, pulled the slip of instructions from the folder and focused on the words before her. They were simple instructions. Was it really that easy to enact this permanent and indelible program?

IMPRINTING PROTOCOL
Quick Start up instructions;

Dear God, she thought, 'quick start'? What was this, a short cut to love? A portrait of the Mecha's head was featured and circular marks outlined specific places on his forehead and the back of his neck. These were activation zones. She was to touch these in sequence. Monica read on.

Step 1: Repeat the following words slowly and clearly in precise order.

Monica read the words she was to repeat, wondering how they'd come up with these things?

Step 2: State your name and then state the name of your Mecha.

Was she really going to do this?

Step 3: Restate your name clearly and release pressure from activation zone.

That was all? What then? What was David going to do then? Didn't they have enough foresight to...

And that was when she realized that she was actually going through with it. She looked over at David who had been sitting by the bay windows awaiting instructions. The bright sunlight that burned through the window was diffused by cloud cover and the room was awash in a golden light. It was surreal. David sat in this light and Monica felt a twinge at the sight. He was beautiful wasn't he? In his own way, he was a beautiful thing. Her heart raced a little. Here we go, she thought.

Monica knelt before David and studied the instructions again. The Mecha's eyes registered no expectations, no fear or apprehensions about what she was going to do, just that vacant smile and unceasing gaze. She reread the words and studied the activation zones.

"Is it a game?" David asked as she read. But Monica didn't register the question. She may not have had an answer anyway.

"Now David, I want you to hold still for me, ok?" as if it was necessary to ask.

"Yes, Monica" he replied. Such an eternally obedient child, she thought. Would that change? Who would he be after this? She pressed the palm of her hand against the first activation zone in the center of his forehead.

"Can you feel that?"

"Yes, Monica"

She let 10 seconds or more pass and removed her hand. She checked the sheet again.

"Now, I'm gonna read some words and they won't make any sense, but I want you to listen to them anyway… and look at me all the time. Can you do that, David?"

"Yes, Monica," his face was expressionless.

She waited for a moment. The first activation zone was not a trigger. The initial sequence it activated would override in 45 seconds if she did not continue. But the second zone...

She put her hand behind the Mecha's neck and felt the incredible simulation of a spinal chord. She pressed her fingers it, and felt the 'bones' give a little. No turning back now.

"Can you feel my hand on the back of your neck?" she asked.

"Yes"

"Does, uh... any of this hurt?"

"No"

"Okay," she said nervously, "Look at me..." she caught David's eyes and the boy stared blankly back at her. "Ready?"

13.

David had seen something new when Monica had touched him on the head. It was something he had not seen before. The light in the room had seemed to take on a new sheen. David had no words for these things and they were unimportant to him anyway. All that mattered now was what Monica was instructing him to do. She wanted him to pay attention to what she was going to read to him. She reached up and put her hand behind his head. The light in the room had changed again. It was more than just colors. Something more that he could not understand. This again was unimportant though, because now he must respond to Monica's question.

He did not understand 'hurt'. He knew what 'hurt' looked like and the responses that were necessary, but her question was beyond him. He told her "No".

"Look at me.... Ready?" Then she began to read.

"Cirrus"

The word meant nothing to David. The sound though seemed to make him want to respond. But he did not have an appropriate response, so he did 'smile' and watched Monica's face as instructed.

"Socrates."

Another new word, no meaning, some ...suggestion? Something new, like the water that had fallen on the window. Slowly at first...

"Particle."

...and then bigger drops, quickly building in numbers and size until they had obscured the vision to the world... .

"Decibel."

...and everything became unfocused, filtered through the wet surface of the glass...

"Hurricane"

... and there was only the water shifting against the grey

"Dolphin."

... andhis reflection in the glass ...

"Tulip"

 ...  but another face was there now ...

"Monica..."

… and the light around her was wrong; so much light...

"...David..."

... too bright, too many colors, and ...

"...Monica."

...Mommy!

14.

David's face remained unchanged as she read. Had she seen some movement behind those unblinking eyes? As she finished the protocol and removed her hand from the activation zone his face changed. His mouth dropped from the vacant smile into a slack-jawed stare. His eyes became ponderous. He looked puzzled. What was he seeing?

"David?" she said tenuously. David did not respond. He continued to stare at her as if he never seen her before. Had she made a mistake? She reviewed the words quickly. No. She had read them in the right order. So what was wrong? Oh, why hadn't they put any information on what to expect? It would have been easy enough to just...

"What were those words for, Mommy?"

Monica looked up David. What had he just said? In his face was something new; and what was that in his eyes? Above his eyes, his brows were drawn in question. Some lonely place in her heart opened and a darkness too long kept there was dismissed in that instant. A feeling that she'd not known for years welled up beneath her doubt and anxiety and threatened to burst her heart.

"What did you call me?" she asked through a thick throat.

"Mommy," he whispered the word in tender reverence, and the smile on his lips was new and spoke of impossible emotions. She had to hear it again. How long had it been?

"Oh David! Who am I?" she asked, knowing the response, needing the wonderfully alive feeling that word would bring to her, desperate for the healing the sound that simple word would catalyze.

David was suddenly moving upon her, engulfing her in his little boy embrace. Shocked, she dropped the instructions and moved as to retreat, but his small form was already folded against her, his small arms clinging to her. Those are impossible feelings to escape, those drives of motherhood. She had fought feeling this way about David since she'd met him. But yet here she was, caught finally in his simple childish trap. She could not curse the creators of this being for their genius, though. Her heart was filled with an ancient joy. She embraced David and rocked him gently in her lap, ran her fingers through his soft hair, feeling his tender face against her shoulder.

"You are my Mommy," he said.

For some time, holding each other as the golden glow waned outside, duration made no sense to either of them.


And this was another time to remember,
those first days of life for David.
Monica nor Henry, indeed none of Orga-kind had ever known
what was behind that simple Mecha gaze.
But there was something,
assuredly there was.

David had discovered a new word in that time.
The word was 'purpose'.
It was not a word he had 'remembered' or defined,
but it was a word that was the synthesis of all the drove his new 'heart'.
For David, "love' was this purpose.
Love is what drove him.

Monica had become a changed woman, and so Henry a changed man because of it.
They would never let go of Martin. David could not replace Monica's true love.
But in the little boy Mecha, she found new joy
and her face was once again full of expression.
Her talk was again of laughter and joyous things.

1.

David was not the same as when he had first come into the house. Many of his Mecha mannerisms were not that much different. His eyes still never blinked and he still fixed things new to him with a fascinated stare until he sensed a pattern or found a suitable cross reference in his head. He still had a funny, purposeful way of walking and navigating corners that would give him away. These things would perhaps never change for those devices, which regulated his motion, did not operate with the same variations as Orga. But no more he did stand idly waiting for instructions, nor were his actions simply the limited functions of strictly regulated programming. He had a purpose now. And his smile, although fundamentally the same, was not vacant anymore. Now there was something behind those eyes.

He had 'remembered' Mommy's coffee routine and at the clockwork of every morning he would prepare her cup. Monica was baffled by how well David recreated her measurements and how his brews were consistently precise. As time passed he had also taken to helping her during the daily litany of chores and other responsibilities. The Swinton's home was not overly expansive. Large, yes, and fitted with all the accouterments of their success, but not gaudy; modest even, in comparison with many of their friend's homes. But there were plenty of things to dust and sweep, and Monica would never take a maid, Orga or Mecha. Not since Martins departure had she had anyone else in their home. So David watched her, mimicking the moves of making beds and folding clothing precisely, as well as mastering the dishes and kitchen work. Soon he was doing most of the work, looking over his shoulder at Mommy with his new improved smile as if for some sign of approval. She gave him this sign always. These chores that she had once needed to keep her sanity, she now engaged in because David seemed to be the most alive and real when he was doing this with or for her; and when he was the most alive it was easier for her to imagine that she had a real son to take to care for and fuss over. Occasionally his odd laughter would resound through the house and Monica could not help but join in. The distinctive sounds mingled strangely.

Those were wonderful days.

And brief.

Henry did not feel as Monica did about David. He was happy that his wife was once again laughing and smiling, but in his eyes David would always be Mecha. He only addressed David as one would another person when Monica was within earshot, and he only did this because he would not offend her bond with David. But Henry worked in a place where David's kind were planned and constructed. He saw their actions and reactions as programmed behaviors, nothing more. He would often be impressed with something that David said or did, but only in that it was a word or gesture that he'd not expected and saw as a clever addition by some programmer.

Sometimes David's unexpected behaviors did not amuse or impress Henry at all. The man had become agitated one morning when David would not get out of his way. Monica was in the toilet room and Henry wanted to go there too. David had remembered Mommy's anger when, in the course of their hide-and-seek game, he had found her there. He did not want Henry to anger Mommy in the same way.

"David, what in the hell are you doing?" Henry had demanded in an angry tone as they jostled in the hallway. He had been in a hurry to get something, fumbling with his tie as he prepared to leave for work, "Get out of my way..." he'd commanded.

But David was insistent. "Mommy is in the toilet Henry," he had explained as he jockeyed back and forth trying to block the man's path.

"David, Mommy... Monica is my wife! Now move!" Henry had ordered and then pushed David aside with a little more force than he had intended. The Mecha lost his footing and fell to the wooden floor. He'd looked up at Henry with a surprised expression on his face.

"Oh, David, I'm sorry," Henry had whispered urgently, "You ok?"

David was not hurt for he was not so easily damaged as that, but he had a new experience to remember. Henry was not a violent man. He would never hurt a little boy, or even something that just looked like one, so he had apologized again to David and reached to help him stand. But David stood on his own. He'd smiled then, and moved aside, finally allowing Henry to pass.

Monica had heard the commotion from inside the toilet room. "Henry! Be nice," she'd called from behind the door. "He's just trying to protect me."

"Protect you from what? Me?" David had heard Henry ask Mommy as he went into the toilet room with her. But David did not hear her make any angry statements. She had not told Henry to 'get the hell out', as she had told him. Beyond the closed door David could hear their hushed voices. He did not have resentments, nor had He any anger at being knocked over by Henry. All he had was this new purpose; this new 'feeling' that drove him every minute of the day to be by Mommy's side. Now he wanted to know was what had he done wrong when he had tried to approach her in the toilet room as Henry had now done. Monica was Henry's wife. She was David's Mommy. He stored these things for later, when he would understand them.

2.

That day passed slowly. Monica had decided it was time for her to show her new 'son' a bit of the world outside the walls of their home. She would take him out to the pond for a row in the boat. The pond was just beyond the perimeter of the house but well within the network of barriers that kept them secluded from the vagabonds that roamed the forests of the deteriorating world in which they fought to survive. The Swinton's knew naught of this world.

This was the first time David had been outside for any extended period. Mommy had taken his shoes off and explained to him that this was how real... how other boys played sometimes. He was fascinated by the way the ground felt beneath his feet and amazed at the sounds and sights of the outside world; the cool breeze that caressed his face and the little animals that crawled and chirped in the trees about them. In the boat they floated aimlessly on the water. David had been amazed when, while thrusting his hand in and out of the water to process the different sensations, he had seen things moving beneath the surface. There were 'fish' moving beneath them. David tried to get a glimpse of the fish but they moved so quickly that his eyes could not focus on one before it was gone. Mommy laughed at the way his head moved quickly back and forth as his eyes scanned the water in amazement.

They passed the afternoon that way. David leaned back against his Mommy's side and tucked his head under her arm, taking joy in the way she ran her fingers through his hair and absent-mindedly stroked his cheek as she read from her book. But all too soon Mommy was tired and wanted to go back home. As they were walking up the path David saw one of the things that had been chirping in the tree earlier. It was lying on the ground, not moving.

"Come away from that David," Mommy had told him. David looked at her with a question in his eyes. "It's dead, honey," she explained. David still looked at her, uncomprehending. She knelt beside him then and some flickering shadow had grown over her eyes.

"We're not like you, David. Living things die," she had said slowly. "They can't last forever. They go away one day and ... and they don't come back." Mommy was silent then. Her face was sad and she made a tear. David did not feel good when Mommy was sad and especially when she cried. He embraced her and was rewarded by the feel of her arms returning his gesture.

"Would you like some coffee?" he asked.

That night as he laid feigning sleep, not making a peep, David's brain was very active. What bothered him and what would have kept him awake even if he had, like other children, been able to sleep, was this idea that Mommy had told him about: that living things die. She'd said that they were not like him. Was Mommy a living thing? What was David then? The questions circulated inside him unanswered, unanswerable. He could not just store them for later, as he usually did with things he did not understand. This was the way he'd been programmed, although he didn't know that. These troubling questions were blotches of darkness against the beautiful image of Mommy's face that glowed eternally like a sun lighting a secret part of his brain; that aspect of his neurological processor that had been refined and activated in the imprinting process.

There were things starting to happen in David's Mecha brain that the men and women of Cybertronics could not have anticipated. David could not have known that these thoughts he was having were not part of his prescribed activity; that the seeds of purely human leaps of logic were just beginning to take root inside him.

3.

It had been a wonderful day, but that night at the dinner table Henry had become impatient with David again. It had actually started out as an apology but turned into something else. David had set the table and placed himself close to Monica as he had started doing since she had allowed him to handle that chore. Neither she nor Henry saw anything unusual in this, but the Director would have loved to have heard of this little development.

"I'm sorry about knocking you over this morning, David," Henry said as he ate.

"That's ok, Henry," David replied. He thought for a second and then added "No problem." This seemed like an appropriate choice of words.

"Knocked him over?" Monica looked at Henry confused. "You didn't tell me you knocked him over."

"This morning, in the hall... I told you... " Henry paused thinking, "well I thought I did. No matter. He's ok, aren't you David?" Henry asked smiling. But David didn't get a chance to reply.

"Henry, you never said anything about knocking him over," Monica was irritated now. "What if he gets damaged, huh? Do you think Cybertronics is going to trust us again? I mean, how much does David cost..." She stopped at this point and smiled at her little Mecha boy, " I mean… how could we ever replace him?"

Henry didn't respond at first. He was the one who had brought David into their life to bring his wife out of her oubliette of gloom. She was above ground now and he wasn't about to challenge the attachment she had to this thing if that's what was working. He fidgeted at his food for a moment.

"Yeah. Well I apologized to him. You're ok David, right?" he asked.

David looked at Mommy. Did she have something to say? She had interrupted him the last time he'd tried to respond to Henry's question. Maybe she didn't want him to talk to Henry. He looked at Mommy and waited for some signal.

"David, I am talking to you," Henry said. He wasn't angry, but he didn't like the way the robot ignored him, the way it just stared at Monica with that annoying blank gaze. Its silence made him look guilty. There was no way that the robot could be intentionally doing this... was there? "David can you hear me?" he asked, his patience wearing thin.

"Henry. Don't get angry at him," Monica scolded. She tickled David's chin. "Did you get hurt this morning when Henry knocked you over, honey?" she cooed as she fixed Henry with a cold look. But there was a twinkle in her eye. Henry was not amused, however.

"No, Mommy, I'm fine!" David smiled and his face lit up. Mommy was talking to him instead of Henry. This made the secret space inside his brain bright and colorful. He did not understand it, but the feeling was a magnet to him.

Henry found himself suddenly annoyed at the robot's fixation with Monica. He knew this was what was supposed to happen after she read the protocol, but maybe this imprinting thing was a bit drastic after all. "David, why did you ignore me?" he asked. He tried to keep his voice light and conversational but there was impatience in it and Monica heard it.

"C'mon Henry!" she said, incredulously. "You cant' really think that he..."

"He can talk for himself, can't you David," Henry responded too quickly.

David didn't understand Henry's sudden irritation. These things were new to him. He searched for a reply quickly. "I'm sorry Henry. I won't do it again," he said in a sincere little boy voice. Instantly Henry felt like a jerk. How could he get angry at a robot? It was just a program with legs, not a real boy. He shook his head, lost for words and stared at his food. Monica suppressed the desire to tease his embarrassment.

They were quiet for a while. The dynamics of their relationship had reared up in front of them and they were not yet ready to deal with that, so they took refuge in eating, except David who only feigned this, eating from an empty plate and gazing at his Mommy in between imaginary spoonfuls.

Finally Henry looked up smiling again. "Cybertronics is throwing a seasons end ball next week," he said and winked at Monica. "Ready to get out of this house, honey?"

"Really?" Monica said hesitantly. A ball. It had been so long since she had been in society. But she knew she couldn't stay cooped up here forever. David had helped her get over her depression. Maybe she did need to get out, go someplace and get lost in the crowd. "What about...?" she nodded her head at David. Henry dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand.

"He's a big boy now, aren't you David? You don't mind if Mommy goes out, do you?"

David thought for a moment. "Will you come back?" he asked with eerily genuine look of concern on his face. Henry chuckled at the question but Monica wasn't amused.

"Of course! David. Of course," she said, not understanding the feeling of ill ease his question had struck in her.

4.

Monica hummed and preened and posed before the mirror, dabbing drops of perfume on her face and neck. She hadn't worn this dress in years, in too long. She hadn't felt this good in that long either. A few weeks ago she would have never gone to such a social event, it would have been impossible for her to carry on a normal conversation. But David had really helped with that. The week since the small contention at the table had passed without a repeat of even the slightest conflict. David, it seemed, was a wonderful addition to their home.

As she prepared, Henry snuck up behind her and wrapped her tightly in his arms. She relaxed easily against him, feeling more lovely and wanted than she had since their dating years.

"You smell lovely," he said kissing her shoulder, pressing his face into the nape of her neck. "I love it when you wear this stuff."

"Will you still love me when it's all gone?" she teased.

"No," he replied flatly. Monica laughed and scolded him with a playful slap.

"That way we can get married again and begin with a fragrance that is not in such short supply," he added. "C'mon, we gotta go now," he said slipping his arms from her waist. "We're late." As he walked into the hallway he was greeted by David's smiling face. What now?

"Hello, David, " he said politely.

"Hello, Henry," David returned the politeness.

Monica rushed out of the bedroom laughing and happy. "Walk us to the door, ok, sweetheart," she said reaching out to David, but Henry was leading her away quickly. David followed them to the steps. But then he stopped and looked back down the hallway to the bedroom. He had an idea.

"Henry, your tie!" Monica scolded as they reached the foot of the stairs.

"Ok, Ok, I'm helpless," he laughed and waited while she tied it for him. "Did you see the way he arranged the closet?" he asked, a bit of his annoyance showing through. Things had been going smoothly between them, but the Mecha's insistent attempts to gain Monica's attention were growing tedious.

"I know, I know," Monica said, placating her husband's annoyance. "He is always trying to please me. He has a way with my coffee, you know."

"It's creepy Monica," Henry said, un-mollified. "You can never hear him coming, but he's always there."

"Oh, How can you?" she said more seriously, "He is only a child."

"Monica. He's a toy." Henry's voice was a little matter-of-fact for her.

"He's a gift," she corrected. "From you." Henry started to reply but instead, looked over her shoulder and raised his eyebrows. Monica followed his gaze. David stood there, at the top of the staircase, his face radiant with an childish joy. He walked quickly down the stairs to show his Mommy something.

"David," Monica said, "when we leave, all the doors and windows will go smart, so you can't leave your room, honey. But if you'd like..." she stopped mid-sentence. She sniffed. Had she put too much perfume on? The scent was suddenly cloying.

"Do I smell lovely?" David asked with childish enthusiasm. Monica didn't understand at first but when it dawned on her what had happened she sighed. Henry rolled his eyes and pressed his hands into his pockets as Monica rushed up the stairs to their bedroom, with David on her heels.

It was gone. Every drop. The bottle lay on the bureau where she'd left it, turned on its side; and the room was thick with the scent. "Oh David," she sighed. A hint of anger worked its way into her head, but she pushed it away quickly. He was just a little boy, he just wanted to please her so. She sat at the bureau and played with the empty bottle as she considered this. He'd meant no harm, but this perfume had meant so much to her, to Henry. He'd gone to so much to find this rare and expensive scent.

"Mommy, will you die?"

Monica was taken completely by surprise. Where was this coming from? She turned and looked at David. His face was drawn and serious, his eyebrows pinched in concern, the same look she'd seen on his face the week before when he'd asked if she would return from the ball.

"Well... one day David," she admitted carefully, "Yes I will."

So there it was; the awful confirmation; the thing that had been working its way to the surface of his brain ever since Mommy had told him about the 'dying'. "I'll be alone," he said. Mommy did not reply. She was doing something with the empty bottle. He walked to her and knelt at her knee. The fabric of her dress was soft against his face.

Monica had hoped that would have been the end of this particular conversation but when David placed his head on her knee and looked up at her with his innocent Mecha eyes she knew it had really just begun. "How long will you live?" he asked her. Monica didn't understand this. What was he after?

"For ages, Honey..." she stumbled for words, "for fifty more years," she replied, feigning a light smile that didn't reach her eyes.

David appeared to be considering this for a moment. Monica pondered his pensive expression and realized with a start that he was getting more sophisticated right before her eyes. Had this been happening all along? Had something been happening that she'd not noticed until this moment? How she been so blind to this development? Was she that self-possessed? Perhaps her little imitation boy needed more real attention and concern than she'd presumed.

"I hope you never die, Mommy," he proclaimed as he pressed his face against the soft fabric of her dress. "Never!" he repeated, his face too real and innocent, too demanding on her heart. She ran her hand over his face and neck; so real, but he was not. He was Mecha, and he would never die. She had opened his heart for herself, but what would happen when she was gone? She realized this conundrum a tinge of guilt. She caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror and looked away. She wasn't alone in this relationship was she?

"Yes, I..." she started but there were no words with which to continue. She would eventually leave him alone. There was no way out of that.

Downstairs Henry's called to her. They were late, unreasonably late.

5.

The old golden box hadn't been touched since Martin had gone away. Monica pulled it from its hibernation in the boy's closet. She had always anticipated seeing its contents again but had imagined doing so under somewhat different circumstances. She placed the box on the dressing table and untied the ribbons that bound it. David watched her with casual curiosity. For him it was enough that she had not left yet.

"This belonged to my son," Monica said as she opened the box. She wasn't aware that she'd used the past tense. She was thinking of something else. She was thinking of David.

David watched Mommy open the box. He wasn't sure what he saw then. It looked like a little fluffy head. Monica pulled the little furry brown creature from the box and held it upside down. She placed her hand against its underside and turned something. Suddenly the thing moved as if rudely awakened from a comfortable slumber. It made a sound like taking a desperate breath after being submerged for too long.

David was interested now in the thing. He knew this shape. It was a 'bear' shape. David knew 'bear', but he didn't know that bears lived in boxes. Mommy placed the small bear on the floor and David came beside her to watch it. The revived creature moved its arms and legs around for a moment and tried stand up. It did not seem to do this very well. David sat down beside it and studied its motion. It looked like a living thing, but somehow different. It whirred and clicked as it tried to move onto its feet, and there was something familiar in those movements.

"His name is Teddy," Mommy said. "Teddy, this is David."

"Hello Teddy," David smiled.

The little bear rolled with some difficulty into a shaky standing position and looked up at David. "Hello David," it replied in a gruff mechanical voice. Then, with a surprised grunt the little bear fell clumsily on its rear. Teddy decided he would try again later, but for now he just stared at the little boy he had been introduced to. He quickly understood the situation.

Monica watched the two robots regard each other. She wondered if they knew what they had in common. It didn't matter really. David would not be alone when she was not there. She felt better. "David, Teddy is a Supertoy, and I know you two will take good care of each other."

Teddy glared at Monica, his robotic face twisted into a realistic simulation of disgust. "I am NOT a toy!" he stated firmly.

And he really wasn't. He was more than a toy. He was a 'Teddy'. "A child's best friend and a Mommy's best helper" was how he had been marketed. The 'Teddy' line had been one of the best on the market. He was programmed to be a fluffy little friend and a trusty loyal watchdog; o entertain and to protect. He served to remind Mommy when it was time for baby's nap or medicine. He kept a watch on the child in case his or her play became dangerous and an adult should be notified. He managed other smart toys that might be programmed to bide for the child's time lest they become competitive in the pursuit. Now he would serve as a friend for Monica's new little boy.

Monica stood, put a finger to her lips and kissed it. She pressed the finger against David's forehead. David did not understand the gesture, but Mommy had touched him again and that was enough for him. Then she was gone and David heard her shoes clicking down the stairs and Henry's impatient voice trailing off as they left.

David and Teddy stared at each other in silence. David knew there was something they had in common but could not address it. Teddy knew immediately about David. He did not say anything for there was nothing to be said. He was programmed as a friend and guardian and that was his job whatever manner of creature was put into his concern.

Together they listened to the sounds of the house locking itself up and the sound of the cruiser beyond the doors, fleeing into the night. David knew the cruiser had Mommy inside. She was going away, but only for a while. After a moment he rose and walked to the door of the room. Teddy rolled onto his feet again and felt steadier this time. He followed David to the door and they stood quietly. Outside the door the hallway was dark. There was no more sound. David was thinking about something.

"Is 'fifty more years' a long time?" he asked as he gazed into the darkness.

Teddy processed this question. He consulted the clock in his head. He had been locked in a box in a closet for next to five years and it hadn't seemed like any time at all.

"I don't think so," he replied.

6.

It had been just one week since Monica had taken Teddy from his hibernation. David had immediately taken to the toy and the two Mecha had become inseparable. Monica was grateful for the occasional respite it gave her from David, who had been demanding increasing amounts of her time while he tried to impress her with this or that. He had been trying so hard to keep her attention that Henry had become noticeably jealous. He'd never admit to it, but Monica saw it in his eyes when David would interrupt Henry with some informative piece of news for her or suddenly appear, moving along whisper-quiet behind them as they shared their time walking in the garden or by the pond.

But with Teddy revived, David had managed to keep his interruptions to a minimum. She knew it was not probable, but Teddy somehow seemed to know when David was becoming an annoyance. At times, when her Mecha boy was on the verge of becoming a nuisance, Teddy would suddenly intervene by distracting David or pointing something out to him. Monica did not think Teddy was doing this on purpose. Was it? Could the little toy be that sophisticated?

Like the time David had tried to impress Monica by reading the paper to her. He had prepared her morning coffee and suddenly took the news feed in hand. "I can read!" he had exclaimed with boyish excitement and then started whizzing through the columns of text in a rapid monotone recitation. It was amusing only inasmuch as his little boy voice made it so. But the morning paper was a ritual that Monica would rather have left intact and she sighed, not wanting to interrupt David since he seemed to get so much joy out of these little displays. Teddy seemed to be watching her and he turned to David.

"You are reading too fast, David. Mommy cannot understand you," the little bear said in its practical robot tone.

"Teddy's right honey. I can do it myself... ok? Why don't you and Teddy go play?" she said, quickly taking the paper and kissing the Mecha's head. David smiled and obeyed. Monica glanced at Teddy but he was already walking for the door to the pool. Just how aware was that thing?

But Teddy was not there to intervene this time. David had been standing in the living room while Mommy made the food for eating with Henry that night. She was not too happy because Henry was late coming home and David had been thinking of a way to make her smile. He had unconsciously put most of his functions on standby while he devoted his available energy to calculating what would be best to do for her.

Then the phone rang, and everything in the world changed.

"I'll get it!" Mommy had yelled from the cooking room. But David had already slipped the mouthpiece off the simulated antique phone. There was something wonderful he could do that he realized she'd not seen yet. Mommy had run into the living room.

"Ok honey, hand me the phone now," she'd requested. But David pressed the answer button and then, clasping the phone in both hands, put one index finger on the receiver and the other on the earpiece. "Look what I can do!" he said excitedly.

The sound that came from the phone had been restructured into an audible signal from the digital encoding in which it traveled across space. David's fingertips felt that signal and he translated it back into numbers, for that was the way that David's brain understood everything. He then reinterpreted the words and let them come from his own mouth. Mommy would be surprised.

Monica watched David with impatient curiosity. She was wondering where Henry was and this was probably him calling, but she was intrigued by David's expression, which had become withdrawn. The boy's eyes crossed and he turned his head to the side in an odd fashion. A voice came from his mouth then, but it was not his.

"Hello?" the voice said in a distant mechanical pitch. It was a woman. Monica was indeed impressed at this newly found ability.

"Yes?" she replied hesitantly amused. Could they hear her? David heard Mommy's words and turned them into numbers, then he sent the numbers into the phone. This was done in nanoseconds with no conscious effort on his part.

"Could you hold a moment?" the voice requested, "I have an important message from your husband." Monica's heart jumped. Was something wrong?

"Yes, I'll hold" she replied. "David I need to talk to the phone now, honey," she said reaching out, but another voice was already coming from the Mecha's boy's mouth.

"Monica?!" it said. It was distant, mechanical but definitely Henry. He sounded excited. He was in a hurry. "Can you hear me Monica?"

"Let the phone talk now David..." she told him.

"Pick up the phone Monica!" Henry yelled from David's mouth.

"Run along... David! Play with Teddy!" Oh, where was that bear?

"MONICA" the man on the other end yelled through David's mouth, "ANSWER THE PHONE!"

David had not been listening to the words spoken. He'd just been letting them pass through him. But now he understood that it was Henry's voice and the man sounded angry. He quickly let go of the phone and handed it to Mommy. He did this with a big smile and waited while Mommy talked to Henry. Was she happy? Did she like his new thing he had shown her? He did not think so because she walked away and her face looked troubled and concerned. She said "What?" and "When?" and her voice was loud and scared. But David could not hear the words that Henry spoke.

Then she turned away from David and leaned against the wall as if she could not hold up her own weight. She made a sound that he had not heard from her in a long time. It was the sound of tears.

7.

David watched the procession of strange looking men. They wore white clothing that hung on them like long robes. He had seen that clothing before, but could not remember where. They had cases like the kind that Henry carried to work every morning, but they were bigger. There was a woman too. She was dressed in white but her hair and her skin were dark and she looked very serious. The people came into the house and began moving things into the living room, boxes of things that clattered when they were set on the floor, and big machines covered in dark cloaks. Mommy was with them. David was glad she was back. She had left with Henry that morning. All night they had been talking and Mommy had been crying ever since Henry had called on the phone. She had no time for him now, she'd said, she was busy and they could play later. Teddy had told David to leave Mommy alone for a while and he had reluctantly obeyed. He was a good boy after all. Even Henry hadn't talked to him when he came home. He usually said at least a polite "Hello". But now he stood among the men in the white clothing looking very serious. He would occasionally cast an impatient glance in David's direction.

What was happening?

One of the men in the white coats was talking to Mommy. David watched her concerned face anxiously. The man pointed to some machines and boxes and said "Where?" Monica pointed upstairs. "It's the boys room, you can't miss it" she said. Then noticed David. She came to him and put her arms on his shoulders. He was glad to be touched by her. He had wanted to talk to her earlier but Teddy had said that Mommy was busy and he should wait.

He looked at her face. "Are you sad?" he asked, "You have tears." But Mommy only laughed. It was a good sound and David smiled back at her.

"No, David," she said. "These are happy tears. The most wonderful thing in the whole world has happened." She stood up just as the men were rolling something into the room. It was a big chair with wheels on it. A person was sitting in the chair. It was a boy like him. The boy had dark hair like Mommy and white robes hung loosely around him. But he was sleeping and his face was covered by a shiny mask. David could see through the mask though, and looking closer he realized that he'd seen the boy before. It was the boy in the 'happy' photos with Mommy and Henry. The boy even looked like Mommy!

David felt a strange new sensation. It seemed to come from outside and inside of him at the same time. It was a not a good feeling.

"This is Martin," Mommy said smiling. "This is my son."
1.

There was no explanation, at least none that Dr. Frazier could offer. He was as baffled by the sudden recovery as the supposed experts who filled the medical journals with lengthy hypotheses on the origin and nature of Sinclair Syndrome. 'It just goes away sometimes' was apparently the summary of their confusing and often meandering ideas. Henry and Monica didn't really care. They had their son back, their real son. Explanations were a novelty at this point.

They had raced to the hospital and listened anxiously as Frazier explained the process by which he found out about Martin's recovery; the sudden rejuvenation of activity in the cells of the boy's vital organs. When they had chanced defreeze, it had been confirmed. Their boy's body was functioning correctly.

It would take some time for Martin to be up and acting like a normal boy again, Frazier had explained, but that was due more to the cryogenic freezing than anything else. It would be a few days or so before they'd hear his voice and a few more before he was fully cognizant. Whether he'd be back to his normal self and getting into mischief like when he had been taken from them, Frazier would not say.

"There are so many factors in his complete recovery as to make it impossible to predict," the Doctor had told them, "but he is alive and well and he will start growing quickly the minute he gets out of defreeze and into a normal environment." He smiled at Monica then, and winked. "You'd better dig up a variety of recipes, or that boy is going to get bored quick."

Monica had clung to Henry in tears as the medics wheeled their unconscious boy out of the hospital unit he'd slept in for five years. Henry clung back and his face was flushed as he resisted the emotion welling inside.

Henry became serious as they followed the ambulance home. "What about the robot?" he asked.

"David?" Monica asked.

"Well, how many robots do we have?"

"What about David?"

"Well. I was thinking... now that Martin is..." he trailed off assuming the rest was obvious.

"Yes?" Monica asked.

Henry sighed. He thought that this would be easy. "Well... now that Martin is OK, maybe we could return it… ah… him." He knew he had made a mistake when her face turned serious for the first time that day.

"Henry, you brought David to me when I needed him. He is part of the family now. We just can't up and throw him away because we don't need ..." she paused. "Just because Martin is home," she corrected herself.

"Well, what are you gonna tell him?" Henry asked, his face reddening.

Monica considered for a moment. "Well, I'll just tell him that, uh, Martin is our real son and … "

"No!" Henry said loudly and then softened his tone, "no... What are you gonna tell Martin about the Mecha? What; that you got a robot to replace him? That you thought he was going to..." He didn't finish. By the look on Monica's face he knew he didn't have to. She'd been so overjoyed at having her son back that she hadn't even thought about the ramifications of David presence when he awoke.

Monica was lost for words. She gazed out at the passing forest, the tangled vines that seemed to hold back the trees from pressing their way into the road. Henry was right. What would her little boy think if he knew David's real purpose? What had been his 'real' purpose? She wasn't replacing her son, she knew that, but maybe Martin wouldn't understand. She held her chin up. She knew what would hapoen if they returned David. She would never allow that. "I'll tell him that ... David is a play friend for him. I mean, Henry, all of Martin's friends are five years older than he. David would be a perfect playmate."

Henry saw right through the rationalizing. She was protecting David. He wanted to tell her 'He's just a robot, Monica. He's a machine, can't you see that?' But he held his tongue. Today was a magical day and he was not about to ruin it over the Mecha. Cybertronics would probably charge him for the damned thing if they had to destroy it now anyway. Perhaps it was best they keep it.

"David can be a friend to Martin, now," she repeated as they came to the clearing of the forest near their house. "He won't be able to go out for some time," she said in a practical tone, but her face betrayed something else. Henry nodded and let her see him smile. That solved that.

2.

David and Monica stood over the sleeping boy. The men had finally left after making sure that Monica and Henry knew all they needed to know about Martin's safekeeping. Henry was downstairs talking with someone on the phone. His excited voice was happier than David had ever heard. The light outside had dimmed with the receding sun and Monica kept the room lights low so Martin would not be disturbed. She tucked him in and fussed over his sheets, and the machines surrounding him.

David watched all this with cautious attention. There was a new thing happening in his head. It was an uncomfortable thing. He had no word for this, but if he had that word would be 'jealousy'. Cybertronics would have loved to know about this budding development. They had tried so hard to avoid this factor in their calculations. But David had been designed to feel real emotions, and if there were ever an emotion that drove human relationships, jealousy was its name. Perhaps if they had been aware of the advent of his conflict they might have made adjustments. Perhaps. But David would never be able to communicate this feeling, just as he was unable to communicate the pain being without Mommy brought him. Whenever she left him even for a small errand, or to be with Henry, his brain overworked itself trying to calculate ways to bring her back. Every time she was impatient with him or sent him to play with Teddy, there was a small panic underneath his smile. Now Martin was here. He had appeared suddenly and with no understanding of what relationship there would exist between them. What manner of obstacle to Mommy would he become?

"Now David," Mommy said, as she poured something into a glass by Martins bed, "Martin is going to need both of our help so he can get well, OK?"

"Yes, Mommy." David's voice did not betray the sadness he had been feeling since the day before when she had received the fateful phone call.

"I am going to show you some things to do and some thing to keep an eye on for me when I am not here. This is important, David. Can Mommy depend on you?"

David smiled for the first time since Martin had come home. "OK!" he said happily. As long as Mommy needed him things would be OK.

Monica put her finger to her lips and shushed her Mecha boy. "Keep your voice down, honey, " she said. She knew that she would be here every waking minute of the day till her son was up and on his own again, but she had also noticed the withdrawn expression on David's face and knew that he'd missed her. She felt that if she gave David some important task then he would feel like he had something he could do to make her happy. She had been right. He hung on her every word as she explained how the machines worked and when and why he should get her if something was wrong or if the meter was on the wrong number. She also knew he would not forget a thing she told him.

Her heart felt for the poor creature. Somewhere inside she thought maybe this was an awful thing, to create a thing with human's feelings, but that could never be human. No matter. She would never abandon him to the waste heap. He had come to her in a time of need and, now that her real little boy was alive and soon to be running about, she would not just throw her little robot savior away. That would be the ultimate treachery.

David learned everything that had to be monitored. Martin's bed had a canopy and the wires that ran to Martin's mask had to be kept from tangling. David would be expected to check this. He was also expected to let Mommy know when it was time to give Martin his medicine, which came in a little packet that was placed on his skin. Mommy had explained that the medicine would go into his skin and then the packet could be thrown away. David would throw the packets away too and make sure that Martin's sleeping area was kept clean until he awoke and could do it for himself.

As she talked David looked around the room and something suddenly occurred to him. Monica noticed this distraction and the troubled expression David had donned. That was a new look. "What's wrong David?" she asked.

The robot paused a moment before responding. "Where will I…" he thought a moment more; he realized it was not exactly an appropriate question," …sleep?" Monica realized that she hadn't brought the subject up with him.

"Well, David, sweetheart," she started hesitantly. "Since you don't really sleep, I thought you might do Mommy a favor and keep an eye on Martin at night when Mommy has to sleep. Is that OK?"

David knew this was logical since that he did not sleep. But that difference between him and the rest of his family had been growing in his mind for some time. The bad feeling inside his brain grew with it.

"Can you still tuck me in?"

"Well I can't tuck you in, but I can give you a big hug instead. Will that be all right?" She guessed it would be by the way the robot's face lit up. But even in the dim light she saw something new in his eyes. It was just a fleeting glimpse, gone before she had time to register it. Maybe she hadn't seen it at all.

3.

The days passed by quickly. Martin slept all day, but the machines said he was getting better. His 'antibody' count was 'normal' and his 'respiratory system' was operating smoother all the time. Soon he'd be awake. In spite of the encroachment on Mommy that Martin represented, David did his part dutifully, and Teddy was there by his side. Martin was real and his clothing had to be changed. He also had to be cleaned up behind and washed. Monica had done the real messy clean up herself and sometimes Henry would help. David was primarily responsible for monitoring the machines and keeping track of the medication times. But Mommy came in often to check on her son and when she did David would let her know what all the instruments said and precisely how many seconds had passed since Martin's last medicine. Teddy had suggested to David that maybe Mommy didn't need all that information and that perhaps they should go out and play so she could be alone with Martin. David had not responded well to this idea at first but he was an obedient boy after all and left when Monica suggested that Teddy might be right.

Outside Teddy had tried to explain, in his limited vocabulary and understanding, about how Martin was different than he and David. But David wasn't really listening. He was looking back up at the window to the room where he knew she sat quietly next to Martin's side. Every once in a while he would see a movement beyond the window and wonder if it was she. Then he would wait for another.

It wasn't long before that crucial day, that day when Martin first opened his eyes. David was at his side when it happened.

The sky had been fitful all day. It sprinkled a bit and then the sun would pop out. David had looked out on the cluster of trees that surrounded the pond and wondered when he and Mommy would go riding in the boat again, if ever.

Then one of the machines had spoken. David turned to see that the thin boy had raised his head and was gazing around the room with heavy, sleepy eyes. David knew he was supposed to call Mommy immediately but something made him hesitate. He waited, watching the other boy's uncomprehending eyes scan the room until they alighted on him. The boy's eyebrows quickly narrowed. He stared at David for a moment, his face unreadable behind his plastic mask. It was the first thing he had seen in the long years of his isolation. Then his eyes closed again and he made a soft noise that David could not understand.

"David, go get Mommy!" Teddy said in an urgent tone as he came into the room. He had been sitting in the hallway sewing a break in his old cloth when he heard the monitor beeping. David looked at the little bear oddly for a moment. Was it annoyance Teddy saw in David's face? The Supertoy scolded again and David reluctantly obeyed.

"Mommy!" he yelled, descending the stairs. "Martin is not sleep anymore! I watched him wake up! I was standing next to the bed and he looked at me," he said, wanting to describe the way the boy's eyes had opened and then closed again. Feeling the need to express the idea that he had somehow been a crucial part of this waking process. But Monica was already rushing up the stairs. David followed, but slowly. He did not feel like going fast. He knew what Mommy would be doing up there.

When David got back up to the room she was sitting, as he'd expected, on the bedside whispering quietly to Martin. The boy's eyes were open now and his head was lain against Mommy's chest. David stood and watched them that way for some time before Teddy noticed his expressionless gaze and came to him.

"We should go outside and play David," Teddy suggested. But David didn't want to play. His mind was working hard to try and find a solution to a problem he had yet to define. Watching Mommy and Martin together made him feel distant. She looked far away somehow. If Monica had looked at him that instant, she might have recognized what she'd seen in his eyes so many nights ago.

"David!" Teddy said again.

David was afraid, simply afraid.

"David, Mommy and Martin need to be alone."

Thus was his fear defined; Mommy didn't have to die for him to be alone after all.

4.

"Martin, no!" Teddy barked, as the boy lifted him by his threadbare ear. "Play nice!" the Supertoy commanded, but Martin ignored the protest and hauled the struggling bear across the room in preparation for a new game. He'd been up for three days now and was feeling much better. His legs were still locked in the whirring Cyber-braces that regulated his walking and provided the necessary support for his weakened joints. He was not allowed to run or exert much of his limited energy and he wouldn't be allowed outside for a while yet. So since he'd been able to move his frustrations had been taken out as they always had been; on his toys.

Dr. Frazier had come to see him the day after he awoke and the adults had had a long talk with him. They told him that he been asleep for five years. Martin initially had had no reaction to this information. What was he supposed to make of it? Then Mom had explained that his friends had grown and some were already going to high school. Slowly the impact of what they were saying sunk in and Martin had been sullen all the rest of that day. But he was soon back to his normal prankish state of mind. He'd make new friends. The Doctor said he be growing faster than other kids now that he was revived. He'd be the biggest kid in his class, right?

Then he'd found out about that blonde kid, the one he'd thought he saw when he'd first awakened. It was a Supertoy! This ought to be fun.

"Let's have a contest," Martin suggested, placing Teddy on the floor across the room. "We'll see who he comes to first."

David was seated cross-legged on the floor. Next to laying down it was the easiest posture on his mechanical limbs. He didn't know that though, he just assumed this position automatically. He watched Martin cautiously. What kind of 'contest' was this? Mommy had said that they should play together and get to know one another, and since David was an obedient boy he would do what she had suggested. He'd done a convincing smile for Mommy and agreed, but his brain was not so happy about this. Mommy had ushered him into Martin's room when Martin still couldn't walk too good and David had been introduced. He hadn't recognized the look that Martin gave him when Mommy had explained that David came from Cybertronics. He hadn't recognized it, and he hadn't liked it. The dark haired boy had an angular face that David had a hard time interpreting. His smile was not exactly 'happy'. His games weren't exactly 'play'.

After Martin placed Teddy he came back and sat down at the desk that Mommy had taken out of the storage room when he'd come home. It had drawing papers and crayons that wrote in many colors. David had been intrigued by the coloring tools and wondered why Mommy hadn't shown him this earlier. It bothered him a little.

"Come here Teddy!" Martin said loudly, slapping his hands against his lap. "Come here boy..." he beckoned. "Come here boy!" he repeated and then looked at David who was watching him curiously. "You call him too," he said, annoyed that the robot hadn't figured out the obvious rules of this contest.

David didn't understand. Was it a game? He pondered for a moment and then looked at Teddy. What had Martin said?

"Come here Teddy. Come here, boy,' David repeated the phrase in a monotone.

"Come on over here Teddy! Come on, come on!." Martin joined in and gestured excitedly for the little bear to come to him. David remained on the floor speaking calmly; still wondering what exactly was the desired result of this 'game'.

Teddy was perplexed by Martin's contest. Who was he supposed to go to? His face displayed his confusion, the aging joints in his neck whirred as he looked from boy to boy. Martin always played such difficult games!

Then Mommy entered the room in the midst of her daily routine, and picked up some folded clothing from Martin's canopy. Teddy's old but experienced processor analyzed this situation with logic as basic as the chess playing programs that were obsolete before his time. "Mommy," he called, rising quickly and running to Monica as she began walking from the room. "Mommy!" he said again and Monica turned as he jumped for her, landing on an old beanbag chair, another renewed relic from the storage closet.

Monica grasped the little bear's mechanical paw and lifted it. "Are they torturing you Teddy?" she asked, casting a knowing glance at her sons. She left the room, carrying the Supertoy to safety.

Martin sighed disappointedly. "He used to be a Supertoy. But now he's just old and stupid," he said dismissively. He thought for a moment, his gaze intent on David. "You want him?" he asked.

David did not understand this offer. Teddy was his friend. How did one own a friend? He pondered the offer for moments but felt that the time for responding was passing. "Yes, please," was the only appropriate response he could wrest from his head. Martin made a satisfied grunt and looked content. It must have been the right thing to say.

Martin stared at David a moment, his eyebrows pinched in some unreadable inquiry. "So I guess now you're the new Supertoy," he said. "So, what good stuff can you do?"

David was perplexed at this question. 'Supertoy?' How was he a 'toy'? And what was he supposed to 'do'? Martin gave David an impatient look when the Mecha didn't respond. "Well, can you do power stuff? Like, ya know, walk on the ceiling or the walls?" He raised his eyebrows expectantly. "How about anti-gravity. Can ya float or fly?"

David sat motionless. His brain tried to understand the questions but they seemed to make no sense whatsoever. He was just a boy. How was he supposed to do these things?

"Can you?" he replied.

Martin snorted humorously. "No, because I'm real." David was confused again at this response. Was he not real?

"I can read," David offered. But he wasn't really excited about showing Martin any of the stuff he had done for Mommy, like being a phone or a clock or reciting long stuff after only reading it once. Martin's presence made an empty feeling in David's brain. He wanted to go away from him as soon as he could.

Martin shook his head at David's suggestion. What the hell kind of trick was reading?! What fun was that gonna be? Had his parents bought a stupid robot for him? He sighed and got up. His Cyber-braces whirred and the monitor lights flashed as he walked to the canopy where he slept, and picked up one of his toys. It was a replica of a police amphibicopter. Martin held it out to David.

"Can you break this?" he asked, his face stern and expectant.

"I'd better not," David replied quickly. Some lesson older than he could remember told him that breaking things was wrong. Didn't Martin know that?

"Believe me, these thing look a lot better in pieces," Martin countered.

"I can't," David said. Actually he didn't know if he could, but he knew it was wrong.

Martin's heart sank further. Not only was this toy stupid, but it was a wimp too! Martin had thought he'd enjoy watching the Mecha try and explain to Mom why he'd broken the copter, but not now. He put the copter on the floor and stood over the robot. He looked down at him and David craned his neck to look back.

"Stand up!" Martin commanded, placing his hands on his hips to express his authority. Was David supposed to obey Martin? Mommy hadn't said either way. So David reluctantly rose.

Martin inspected this frustrating new toy. "Those dummies made you bigger than me!" he said after noticing that David stood above him.

"Who did?" David asked.

Martin couldn't believe how stupid this thing was. Didn't it even know that it was a robot? "Well, they did," he said, as if telling a younger child something obvious, "the doll makers. They made you taller." He ran a finger across David face, from the forehead, across his nose and over his lips. It felt like a real kid. Weird. His skin was warm and his lips even seemed moist. "Why don't you look like one?" he asked.

David was getting used to being perplexed by Martin's questions. "Like one?" he repeated.

Martin continued his inspection, poking at the side of David's face, poking at his ears and flicking his finger against David's front teeth to see how they felt. David stood still for this inspection. Perhaps this was what Mommy meant by 'getting to know' one another.

"You're not cute like a doll," Martin said finally. "You just look like some ordinary kid." He had grown tired of playing with the robot's face. Maybe it wasn't really stupid. Maybe it was just new. Maybe it was one of those things that got more smart as it got older. "So when's your birthday, " he asked.

David knew what a birthday was. He didn't know why he knew. "I never had a birthday," he said. Martin's questions were beginning to make him feel strange. He was being forced into looking at places in his mind where he had been programmed not to go.

"OK. Soooo, when was you're 'build' day? When were you first built?"

There was something blocking David's mind. Why was this conversation so hard? What did Martin want? "I can't remember," he said after a frustrated attempt at recollection.

Martin had observed how confused the robot had started looking as he'd inquired about its past. Why was that? He wondered what it was like to be Mecha. Did David feel things or know things the same way he did? Or was it like Teddy? He seemed more complicated than the little bear. "Okay then. What's the first thing you can remember?" he asked.

David's eyes began to roam as he accessed places in his brain, just the same way any boy's eyes would. Inside him there were vast levels of activity behind every thought and gesture, numerous restraints that had been put in place to keep him from overreaching his 'boy-ness'. The question of his 'reality' had never been in doubt. It was a programmed presumption that he'd never question even when confronted with the simple and obvious facts about his difference from the rest of his family. Or rather, he wasn't supposed to question the presumption. All that was left of the memories of his construction were faint images, sounds, coded instructions whose origins were muted by dead-ended neural pathways. But there was one thing he could still see in the denied recesses of his recollections.

"A bird."

Martin was intrigued. He would have expected memories of quiet men in white lab coats, of repeated instructions and probing. "What sort of bird, " he asked.

David's brain fought his inquiries. Why should he have such a hard time remembering this? Other things came to him instantly. But as he persisted, the images from his past became clearer.

"A bird with big wings," is what he saw in the coded recesses of his brain. He put his arms up to his side and pulled his hands back so his palms were out to exemplify the image, "and feathers sticking up from the bottom." And with the memory came a new feeling. He didn't know this sensation. If he'd had a heart it would have felt like the warm longing for safer, more secure times.

Martin looked at him oddly. "Can you draw this bird?"

David had not needed to draw or write since he had come to live with Mommy. He didn't even know if he could draw. Martin led him to the desk, sat him down, gave him a crayon and laid a sheet of paper in front of him. David hesitated a moment and then placed the marker on the face of the blank page. He quickly began to draw. It was automatic. His rendering of the image was precise. A month ago he would have thought nothing of this. He still didn't understand why it came so easy. He just drew.

Martin looked over the Mecha's shoulder as the image rapidly developed. David drew what looked like a man at first standing arms outstretched, then the robot added feathers at the bottom of the image so it resembled a bird Martin had seen in a display at school. He'd been told that they were extinct except for a few that lived in the zoo; that the floods had killed most of them.

"That looks like a peacock," he said. Something flickered in his mind. "Can you say 'Peacock'?" he asked the robot.

David's head shot up. This was familiar. He recalled someone asking him to repeat words over and over again while they... they... "Peacock," he said flatly. The word came out of him as if on its own.

"Can you say 'P'?"

"P," David responded quickly again, feeling locked in some mode of automatic repetition.

Martin smiled. At last! Maybe there might be some fun in this after all.

"Now say that two times fast," he commanded.
1.

Monica had quickly put a stop to the secret new language Martin had been teaching David. She'd overheard her Mecha boy sharing some of the new colorful words with Teddy. She appreciated that Teddy had suggested David keep these words to himself, but a boy was a boy whether flesh or fiber and Monica had disciplined him soundly. She had known immediately where the language had come from and sought out Martin out. He hadn't taken his scolding quite as humbly as David had, but then she had scolded him a bit more sternly. In the back of her mind she was glad that he was getting back to his prankish self. This was normal for little boys to do, wasn't it? And after all David was pretty naive. Maybe Martin's playful pranks and teasing would help sophisticate him a little.

David would have to get more into the swing of living with the newly reunited Swinton family. He was part of it. Who knows, she thought, maybe when Martin got better David would be able to go places with him and his friends, maybe to a movie or holocades or the zero-G chambers that were becoming so popular. In time maybe David could learn to be one of the guys. But the impracticality of this thought became immediately apparent as images of her little Mecha coming home painted up like a clown or maybe pant-less and dirty from some cruel boyhood initiation, flashed across her mind's eye. Or what if they broke him? She drove that thought out of her head.

Monica had been driving a lot of thoughts out of her head recently, thoughts about David's future, about the effect the robot's continual attempts to please her might have on Martin. She'd been ignoring things too. Like, the fact that her boys did not really get along that well. She ignored the little ways Martin tried to get David into trouble. She didn't see the way Martin scoffed at David's programmed innocence and childish manners. She hadn't recognized the impact it had on David when Martin laughed at him for calling her "Mommy" instead of "Mom", insisting the former was for little kids. David had stubbornly refused to use the shorter phrase and Martin would not leave him alone about it until she'd finally intervened. She'd not noticed the flat face that David donned every time Martin was near. The pinched eyebrows that had once signified his curiosity now displayed something new in David; something troubled. The Mecha's vocal register was always happy when she was around. She never really heard the flat way he responded to Martin when she wasn't near. The way he increasingly challenged Martin's implied authority over him.

David refused to be a toy. He was a boy.

But he was still expected to help Mommy take care of Martin and he did so dutifully even though the Orga boy was often stubborn. There were so many things to do. Martin had to eat and drink lot of different medicines. There were drinks of all different colors and little 'pills' and bigger ones that Martin had to take at different times of the day. He ate a lot too, a lot more than Mommy or Henry did. He was always chewing on something. Sometimes he talked to David when there was something in his mouth. David had a hard time understanding what Martin was saying when he did this. He wanted to walk away from Martin at those times, but he was sure that would displease Mommy, who said they should be friends; that they were actually brothers.

Then, one afternoon when Mommy was showing David some new medicine for Martin, he came into the room. He had had something hidden behind his back.

"Read to us?" he asked.

Monica realized how long it had been since she'd last read a story to her little boy. She'd love to. "What do you have there?" she asked, reaching for the book. Martin handed it to her and then smiled strangely at David.

David did not know what 'read to us' was, but Martin had made that face he always made when he did not want Mommy to know he was doing bad things. Monica missed Martin's smile as she read the cover of the book. She smiled at first, realizing that it was one of her favorites too, then her expression changed suddenly. She looked at Martin cautiously, and then to David.

David read the cover too. It said:

Pinocchio

by Carlo Collodi

"David's going to love it," Martin said. Monica ignored the hint of sarcasm in his voice.

2.

"
As soon as the show was over, the showman went into the kitchen where the lamb, which he was preparing for supper, was slowly turning on a spit in the furnace," Monica read to her two boys. They had come down to the pond and had taken out the boat and were now floating on the still waters as she read. The boys sat on either side of her, apparently absorbed in the tale.

"
When he saw that there was not enough wood to finish roasting it, he called harlequin and the punchinello..."

David was entranced by the story. It made pictures in his head and his brain had to do new things to create the images the words described. But as Mommy read he saw Martin lean close to her and begin to stroke his fingers against her arm. David had watched this for a moment. The empty feeling was coming into his head again. He leaned closer to her and duplicated the gesture. He immediately felt better.

"
... and said, 'Bring me in Pinocchio! You will find him hanging on a nail..."

David followed the story again. Something in the words was moving him. His mind made some undefined sense of Pinocchio.

"
He is made of nice dry wood and I am sure he will make a nice fire for my roast!"

How would Pinocchio get away? Why didn't Pinocchio's father come find him? Did he love him? David leaned closer against his Mommy's side. Did she love him? Would she come look for him if he got lost? Taken away from her? Cybertronics would not have imagined the things a simple fairy tale was doing to their creation's mind.

As the day dwindled on they left the pond and walked slowly back to the house. Martin's legs were getting better and he didn't need the braces anymore, but he moved slowly and had to rest sometimes. That night, as Martin lay in the canopy of his bed, Mommy pulled the book out and continued the story. David was entranced as he sat in his 'sleeping' place on the floor watching Mommy lay beside Martin with the book. They were bathed in the soft blue nite-light of the bed. He didn't like the feeling of being so far away from her, especially when Martin was so close, but she had hugged and kissed him before she went to Martin's side and that would last him the night.

"
Pinocchio worked until midnight, and instead of making eight baskets, he made sixteen," she read.

Suddenly, David understood Pinocchio. He worked hard too! Worked hard because he wanted... love. If Pinocchio worked hard and was obedient his father would love him! This new connection locked into place and David's mind gave him something like a thrill. It was the exhilaration of recognition. A missing puzzle piece had been set into place!

David pondered this connection. What was 'Fairy Tale'? It was a story! He knew 'story'! A story told what happened. And things that happened were… real! Because unreal things don't happen! So a 'Fairy Tale' must speak of real things.

"
Then he went to bed, and fell asleep. He dreamt he saw the fairy, lovely and smiling..."

What was 'dreamt'?

"
... who gave him a kiss saying 'Brave Pinocchio, in return for your good heart I forgive all your past misdeeds. Be good in the future and you will be happy,' then the dream ended..."

David was completely lost in the words. What was 'the dream'? Was the Blue Fairy in a 'dream'? David had never known anticipation. Indeed no Mecha had ever felt the thrill that this special creation was feeling at this moment.

"
... and Pinocchio awoke full of amazement. You can imagine how astonished he was when he saw that he was no longer a puppet..."

Could this really be?

"
... but a real boy just like other boys."

Mommy read on but David heard no more of the story. If he'd had a heart it would have been racing as quickly as the streams of data that coursed through his unique processor. His brain was alive with this new thing, '
imagination'. 'A real boy', it said, 'a real boy!'.

Imagination had claimed a part of David's brain and there it would nurture itself and grow. 'A real boy' it repeated, over and over. Were he even flesh and blood, he would not have closed his eyes that long night.

3.

Martin was annoyed by David's new fascination with the story from the day before. He'd thought the Pinocchio tale would've taken the Mecha down a peg or two, but the thing was apparently too dumb to get the joke. All day long it had been asking Mom questions about fairy tales; where they came from, what they mean, what were dreams and on and on. Martin didn't see how Mom could put up with all that, but at least the stupid thing would shut up once he came into the room.

The tension between the Orga and Mecha boys had been building all day. Martin had been sneering at David and thinking of ways to put the toy back in its place. Mom had said they were like brothers. HA! Martin would not have a fiber-head for his brother!

Things came to a head at the dinner table that night when Martin noticed that the thing had been doing that fake eating again. He'd watched the robot pull this stupid routine every night since he had been well enough to sit at the table and he was finally getting tired of it. Mom and Dad had been talking grown up talk about some lady at Dad's job and the robot was pretending to eat with them. Why couldn't it be like Teddy? At least Teddy knew it was a toy and didn't try to act real! Martin watched David scornfully as it put the spoon to its mouth, pretended to chew, picked up a glass, pretended to drink. It even faked swallowing. What was it gonna do next? Pretend to pee? When the Mecha realized he was watching it stopped and fixed Martin with a cold stare.

David had been listening to Mommy and Henry talk while he 'ate'. Another part of his brain was processing what Mommy had told him about dreams. Then he'd seen the look on Martin's face. He didn't like it when Martin looked at him that way. He stopped 'eating' and stared back. When Martin made the 'mean' smile David knew something was about to happen. He'd was getting better at reading the boy's 'bad' faces.

Martin suddenly knew how to get across the point he had been trying to make with Pinocchio! He took a spoonful of spinach into his mouth while the dumb Mecha stared. Then he opened his mouth so that the machine could see the food on his tongie. It was working. The Mecha watched his every move. Martin chewed dramatically then, and swallowed loudly. Then he opened his mouth so the dumb thing could see that the food was gone. 'There! That's what eating is!' his eyes said, 'Not just sitting there putting an empty spoon to your mouth. Try that Mecha!' He sneered and went back to his meal.

From his seat between them, Teddy had been watching the quiet confrontation brewing between his two charges. Mommy and Daddy were too busy talking to be interrupted and he didn't have words in his head for these things. He'd been programmed to recognize certain human interactions, especially childish ones, so he knew something was happening but could not define it. He was not like David. He operated on a practical level only. He would do his best to not let things get out of control.

David stared at the spinach bowl, then back to his empty plate. Was that what made you 'real'? Was that all it was? What made Martin so special? What was so special about eating? He looked at Martin and a cold place opened in his brain.

Then, in a gesture that unofficially marked a new epoch for Mecha, an almost unnoticed movement, David reached for the spinach bowl. Teddy saw this and finally understood what was going on. The bear intercepted David's arm pinning it against the table surface. He was programmed to regulate toys, and for all his complex programming, isn't that what David was? "You will break!" he warned. But David yanked the bowl away, and shoveled a spoonful of spinach into his mouth. Then he mimicked Martin's tease and opened his mouth, displaying un-masticated food. He chewed madly and shoveled more of the food into his mouth. David couldn't swallow, he had no need to. But the spinach he forced into his mouth was being crammed down his useless throat as he shoveled more in, and his chewing was causing it to stream into the tiny pressure release openings in his inner chest where sensitive equipment regulated his vital functions.

Martin had joined in on the fun, filling his own mouth full of the food he usually tried to ignore. Maybe the stupid thing would break!

Henry stopped in mid-sentence. Monica saw his expression and followed his gaze. To her shock, David's mouth was over-flowing with spinach and the Mecha-boy was stuffing in more.

"Does he eat?" Henry asked her urgently, knowing the answer.

"I don't think ... no, he's not supposed to."

"Should I get the book?" Henry asked. What the hell kind of malfunction was this?

"David? What are you doing?" Monica called to him. But, for the first time she could remember, the boy ignored her. "David, stop it!" she commanded. When he actually ignored a direct command, she knew something was wrong. According to the manual, David should always obey a direct order, especially one from the imprinter. None of them knew how useless the manual had become.

David was going to show Martin that he could do 'real' stuff too. That he wasn't a 'scardie-puss' or a 'wimp' like Martin had called him so many times. Each overflowing mouthful pronounced his defiance. Each simulated swallow was a battle cry.

"Stop it now David!" Henry commanded. What would happen if he broke? Cybertronics would not be happy! "DAVID!" he yelled. Monica started in on Martin. He was instigating. He should put the fork down now! But it was quite common for 'real' boys to disobey and Martin was having more fun than he'd had in a long time.

Teddy did not understand David's actions. Did he not know that food was for the people? The Supertoy consulted his inner log of toy malfunctions but could find no reference to this. He watched curiously. Helplessly.

Enough! Henry couldn't afford to be responsible for a malfunctioning robot's behavior. He reached out angrily and grabbed the Mecha's wrist, surprised at the strength of its resistance. It managed to shovel another mouthful in spite of Henry's grasp.

Then suddenly, it just stopped.

Monica had leaned over the table to help Henry take the spoon away, when David just stopped moving. "David?" Monica asked, concerned. The robot boy looked back at her with troubled eyes. His face went slack, became expressionless. The air was suddenly filled with the scent of burnt garlic and there was a soft metallic whining sound that came from him, from inside of him. Quickly, his face began to change. The family gasped as one.

David could not move. Something was wrong. He had no apparatus with which to taste, but he could feel the food against the sensory receptors in the 'flesh' of his mouth. Inside he felt 'hot'. He was broken! Broken! Why hadn't he listened to Teddy's warning?! What had he been doing?! He had no word for the compulsion that had driven his actions. Mecha were never compelled before this moment. He looked at Mommy for assistance. He wanted to run to her. She must be able to make it better somehow! But he could not move. As he watched her face, the colors became wrong and blurry. 'Help!' his mind screamed in silence from a paralyzed body. 'Mommy! I'm Broken!'

The family watched helplessly as their new Mecha's face seemed to melt like wax on one side. His cheek drooped down and the sagging eye socket displayed a glint of the silvery-gray light metals that comprised his mechanical infrastructure. Even Martin, who had secretly hoped to cause the robot some pain, had not expected a result of this severity. Henry was certain the Director would demote him.

Monica watched with fascinated horror as David's face grotesquely malfunctioned. 'Oh my little robot boy!' she thought, 'what have you done to yourself? What have you done?'

4.

"Smell that garlic!" one of the techs said as he pried loose a motion regulator clip from David's chest. The transparent clip was almost weightless in his hand. The spinach that coated it weighed more. The state of the art device contained more data than had once been contained in an entire mainframe. He carefully cleaned the spinach off of the clip with a small sucking device and then placed the irreplaceable piece of David's anatomy in a cleaning solution until he was ready to replace it.

Monica was standing above David, who was lain on a table while the technicians operated. She held his upraised hand and watched the proceeding with nervous anticipation. The men had arrived in record time after Henry had called. They had laid the frozen Mecha on a hastily constructed work area. Then they quickly sliced into the small robot's chest cavity and clamped him open. He had been stiff as a rock when they arrived. Every piece of equipment that controlled his physical interactions with the world around him had been locked up in an automatic attempt to defend itself against the moisture from the spinach. But the errant little robot was moving now. It was talking softly to the woman on which it had been imprinted. The tech was glad she was here. He had been told these experimental models could get strange if the imprinter wasn't around. He smiled up at the woman to make sure she was ok. She looked stunned by the process. He guessed these things were pretty good simulators to make people feel so strongly about them. He knew how to fix the things, but not entirely what they did or how. David was still, after all, a unofficial project, a secret.

The other Tech winced at the sight of the green goop that lined the Mecha boy's insides. There was some expensive equipment in there, more than he made in a year anyway. What the hell had the thing been trying to do? Oh well, he shouldn't be surprised. He had been around long enough to know that when these things went, they tended to really go overboard. He'd seen some weird stuff in his time, stuff that the research guys upstairs wouldn't believe; Mecha who had suddenly begun to speak everything backward when their sequence parameters got messed up, others who had begun crawling around on all fours or laughing maniacally when some dormant toy software, or maybe a virus, suddenly sprang to life inside their head. Many Mecha came with generic software that was used in different models. Sometimes those programs had unnoticed attachments. There were plenty of safeguards and redundant overrides that were supposed to keep this kind of stuff from happening, but there was no sure fire way to avoid a screw up. One time, long before he'd been hired by Cybertronics, he had been sent to retrieve a butler-Mecha that had begun jumping up and down frantically flailing its arms, until it broke its leg joints and fell to the ground. Even on the ground it had rolled around uncontrollably. The owners had been too scared of its unpredictable behavior to try and stop it and the damage it had done to itself was extensive and expensive! After a long examination, he'd found the culprit; a dormant program had been activated in its processor, a bird simulator that had never actually been made to work correctly. How had it got there? How did these type of things always happen; Too few people, too poorly trained, trying to do too much with too little time and resources. He'd had to put the thing down and replace it.

But this was something new. Cybertronics was a good company to work for. Good money, great hours, and definitely great projects. The 'David' was supposed to be top of the line. Most of its functions were still secret, even to him. But the prototype had just shoveled itself full of spinach and that decision was apparently not due to some processing malfunction. What the hell was going on? Even a dumb toy knew that eating was for Orga only. But then, the thing had been made to simulate a kid, after all. Maybe it was supposed to do stupid unpredictable stuff.

But dangerous stuff?

"Hey, kid," the tech said getting David's attention. David looked away from Mommy, down over his opened chest cavity at the man who held up a part of his insides. "You made a real mess of yourself!" the man said and held up a spinach-coated clip for David to see. "Spinach is for rabbits, people and Popeye. Not robo-boys!"

Martin watched from across the room. Mom had really laid into him while they had waited for the technicians to arrive. Dad had tried to come to his rescue but she was having none of it. She was pretty pissed off. But Martin didn't see how it was his fault. The robot was the one who started eating, he was just trying to show it the difference between them. He had explained all this, thrusting his chin up in a manner that he inherited from her, but Mom had scolded him for not obeying her commands to stop. Now it was his fault because he had been supposedly 'instigating' David. Damn Mecha!

Henry had sighed relief when the project support team had arrived. They'd taken a look at the robot and told him not to worry. Apparently this wasn't a major issue. He would have rather had the guys take the cursed thing with them, but Monica wouldn't hear of it and of course it would have to be destroyed. He'd assured the Director that he'd take good care of it so, as long as the thing wasn't totaled, it was theirs. Henry had wanted to avoid any questions from the main office and asked if it would be possible to keep the incident out of the log. The lead man replied that his job was more important than Henry's embarrassment, but agreed to write it in as a mechanical malfunction. He really didn't know what else to call it anyway.

Monica looked away from what was happening on the table. She wasn't comfortable watching the men operate. David wasn't flesh and blood, she knew that, but he was still her little boy and seeing his insides, even though they were antiseptic optic clips and fibrous metal alloy, still wasn't easy. She hadn't wanted to watch at all, but one of the techs requested her presence. He wanted her to hold David's hand. If the imprinter wasn't there when David became 'unlocked', he said, the Mecha might behave unpredictably. So she was the imprinter? Was that her title? She had reluctantly held David's frozen hand and indeed when the malfunction that had locked him up was corrected David had sprung into motion, his arms desperately pawing the air and his legs kicking as if he was running from something. He had been repeating an urgent plea over and over: 'help me, broke, help me, broke," and Monica had reassured him, squeezing his too-real hand to calm him. The Mecha had looked up and focused on her. Then he smiled and relaxed. She had too.

David had been horrified during the time when he couldn't move. He couldn't see anything except muddy blurs. But that was over now and Mommy was here with him. He looked down and saw himself cut open. He felt strange sensations him as the men pulled machinery from his body and clicked them back into place. Things seemed to be going on and off inside his legs and arms. He looked up and saw Mommy's face, creased in concern and worry. This made him feel good somehow. She was 'worried'. That meant she loved him, didn't it? He would calm her.

"It's OK Mommy," he said to her, "it doesn't hurt."

Monica looked at the Mecha. What had it done to her to make her worry so? His face was so innocent. Vulnerable. He didn't know what he was doing to her heart. How could she deal with this? She didn't want any more loss! She let go of David's hand and fled to the back of the room. One of the techs looked up as she rushed away. "We lost our imprinter," he sighed to the other. He looked down at David's face. "Now you just lay still and behave yourself," he ordered.

Henry followed Monica to the dark corner of her retreat. She seemed to be dealing with some emotion. He knew what an impact that the Mecha had had on her, but she shouldn't let this thing control her life now. They had their real son back. "Monica, " he started, hesitantly. "Maybe it would be better if…" … 'we let them take it', was how he was going to finish, but she silenced him with an impatient wave of her hand.

She couldn't bear more loss. Her heart had had enough. But David was so vulnerable! Why hadn't they made him more like other boys? More resilient, not so sensitive, so needy! She felt immediately guilty at this thought. David loved her purely, without reservation. Every small gesture of appreciation she gave him was his joy; every negligent slight, his devastation. Was his love real? Or was it really just the result of a mass of high-speed fiber and neural processors? Something told her, something deep inside beyond logic's restraints, that David's emotion was more than that; that David himself was somehow more than that.

She walked around Henry and strode dutifully back to the table where the men worked on the little robot that had stolen her heart. She had made a commitment to David just as he was committed to her. She would not abandon him. Once at the table she took David's hand back into her own and smiled down at him. "I'm here, honey," she whispered.

From where he stood Martin could not hear his mother whisper these tender words to the Mecha. But he'd seen the way she grasped its hand. He'd seen the look on her face. What was going on here? Why all this special attention for a damn toy? What was all this talk about 'imprinting'? His face grew grim and his mind began to work. Why had that robot really been brought here? The possibilities were dark paths down which he feared to tread. But there was only one thing that was important for now. This was his Mom. And he was her son.

The only one!

5.

"If you do something really, really special for me, " Martin whispered conspiratorially in the dark bedroom, "..let's call it... a special mission, then I'll go tell Mommy that I love you, and then she'll love you too!" He'd gotten an idea from the movie they'd watched after the men who had fixed David left. Martin had been further infuriated by the way the Mecha had snuggled up to Mom on the couch as they had watched. He'd seen this behavior before but had thought nothing of it at the time. He'd thought it only a program. Even Teddy used to do that occasionally. But now, after the scene in the kitchen, those memories had a new, darker meaning.

David looked up from the game that he had been playing. His face was working normally now and he could see everything just like before. He was happy about the way Martin was acting now, even though he was hesitant to trust the boy completely. But Martin had let him play with his copter simulator game; something he'd never done before. He'd even put his arm around David's shoulder as they walked upstairs when Mommy had said it was time to sleep. After the men from Cybertronics left, Mommy had scolded them both for acting badly and made a speech to them about being good to each other. She had said that David was now Martin's little brother and Martin should look out for him, and he for Martin. Now Martin was suggesting something that might help him win Mommy's love. He came down from his bed and sat on the floor across from his big brother. "What shall I do," he asked cautiously.

"You'll have to promise. And then I'll tell you," Martin said.

David processed this. His brain analyzed the proposal. A 'promise' was a serious issue. Not to be taken lightly. David offered a different proposal. "You have to tell me, and then I'll promise."

Teddy was in the corner of the room, quietly sewing closed another small tear in the fabric of his old body. After Mommy's speech the boys had seemed to get along and Martin had been very quiet while they watched the television. But Teddy listened carefully as he worked on himself.

The Mecha wasn't too good at this, Martin realized. "I want a lock of Mommy's hair," he said. "I'll share it with you. If you had it, and wore it, she might love you even more, like the princess in the movie. When she had the prince's hair in her necklace thing, he loved her. Remember?"

Of course David remembered. He never forgot anything. But this was not right. This was like 'sneaking'. Sneaking was wrong. How come Martin always insisted on doing wrong things?

"We can ask her," he suggested.

"No, no. It has to be a secret mission," Martin countered quickly and then whispered the details of David's mission. "You must sneak into Mommy's bedroom in the middle of the night, and chop it off."

Teddy looked up as he heard this. What was Martin up to now? Was he was playing bad games again?

Alarms went off in David's head. This was more than wrong! This was very bad! It went against everything that had ever been put into his brain. He was simply not supposed to sneak around taking things without permission. Especially Mommy's hair! "I am not allowed, Martin," he said.

"You promised," the other boy said, smiling that particular smile. "You said 'tell me, and then I'll promise'…" he reminded David as he leaned close, his eyes sharpening, "…didn't you?"

David was trapped. Was this a game? Had he made a 'promise'? He analyzed all the statements between him and Martin. The alarms still went off but his logic processors could find no way out. He'd made a promise, a bad one.

6.

Mommy's room was dark. David had never been here this deep into the night. He walked slowly, navigating the dark room carefully, the scissors that Martin had given him were held in hand. He was not uncomfortable with this stealth. Slow, cautious movements had never been a problem for him. Martin had told him what side of the bed Mommy usually slept on, although David didn't really need that information. His vision was heightened in the dark. It was a survival feature that was pretty standard with all Mecha. He made his way slowly to the bedside, alarms still ringing in his brain.

He found her and stood quietly by the bed. He could hear Henry rumbling breath on the other side. Mommy was sleeping. She was so still. What was this sleeping? Why did (real) people have to do it? David knelt beside the bed. David's head was full of contradictory feelings. In the secret place in his mind, where her face was a continual source of light and warmth, something in him cried out. This was wrong, and he knew it. He'd been tricked into making a promise, but inside he knew that he didn't have to obey Martin. He was here because he wanted Mommy's lock of hair, because he wanted her to love him; to love him more than she did Martin, o Henry; because he did not want to share her with anyone else.

Teddy had warned him. Teddy had told him that it was against the rules and that their job was to obey rules. But what did Teddy know? He was just a toy! A little dumb toy from a box in the closet!

David leaned over the bed. His calm face and movements were typical of his Mecha nature, but inside his thoughts were chaos. Mommy was facing him so he had to lean across her to get to her hair, which was spilled across the pillow behind her head. He placed his knee the bed and reached for the prize.

David pulled back quickly as Mommy made a sudden movement in her sleep. Almost! He had almost woken her! If he'd had a heart it would have been pounding in his chest. If he had breath it would have been caught in his throat. For that one moment his brain functioned clearly and he saw how stupid and dangerous this secret mission was. But she was still again and with great excitement David saw that she had turned her head so that her hair was dangling over the edge of the bed. The rational part of his brain, the one Cybertronics had built, was forced into the back seat as this new part of his mind took control once more; this part of him that had been growing slowly ever since Mommy had brought him to life.

David moved cautiously, placing the scissors over the dangling strands of Mommy's hair. It was smooth and glistened in the night. If what Martin said was real then all he had to do was keep her hair by his heart… and she would love him. All he had to do was grab a lock of hair and…

In her fleeting dream David had been yelling her name, calling out to her from across some great invisible expanse. But Martin had been at her side, looking at her accusingly. He'd spoken no words but his face had made plain his thoughts. 'You tried to replace me!' That was what his face said. 'Replace me with a toy! Didn't you? Didn't you?' The dream had woken her with a sudden jolt and she'd turned and felt something against the bed. She opened her eyes to see something thin and shiny reflected in the faint light from the windows of their room. It pressed against her eye. She cried out!

...close the scissors!

Henry opened his eyes when he heard his wife yell. He saw the Mecha leaning over the bed, silhouetted against the white walls behind him. Was that a knife? Then he heard the metallic snick and realized what had happened.

"David!! What are you doing?" he roared, jumping up over his wife and grabbing the thing by the shoulders. "What the hell were you doing David?!" he repeated shaking the thing violently. "Why David? Why did you do that!? Godammit! Answer me!"

David recoiled in fear and dropped the scissors. Henry shook him violently and yelled the some bad words that Martin had tried to teach him. With his night vision he could see clearly the anger in Henry's face, and there was a lot of it. Henry was very angry.

Monica rose and grabbed her husband's arm. "Henry you're hurting him!" she yelled. Henry was shaking the boy violently; his little Mecha head was rolling back and forth on his neck. How could he expect him to answer?! "Henry! You're hurting him!" she cried again. But Henry didn't hear her.

"Dammit David! Don't pull that silent routine on me again! Why? Why?" Henry shook the robot harder, angered by its refusal to answer. He had had enough of this damn machine! First the stupid spinach trick and now this! "Why?" he yelled.

Monica grabbed her husbands arm, frightened by his escalating violence "YOU'LL BREAK HIM!" she yelled.

Henry stopped shaking the Mecha. She was right. He couldn't afford to replace it, could he? He released it, and it collapsed to the floor, shielding itself from him in simulated fright. Before, Henry been chastened by the Mecha's innocent pose, but now, as the pathetic thing cowered before him, he felt a touch of satisfaction.

David's eyes were wide with fright and surprise. His mouth was open with an utterance that never came. Henry's violence had been unprecedented in his life. He had nowhere in his brain to flee from such a thing. He cowered as the man glared at him in the dark. He hadn't been disobeying Henry's commands to answer; he'd simply not known the answer. Why had he broken the most basic rule to any of his kind and endangered an Orga? There was only one reason.

"Henry…" David said weakly, frazzled by the manhandling. "I wanted Mommy to love me ... more." Henry's eyes were angry and there was something else there, something David had not seen before, not even in Martin's ambiguous smiles.

Monica moaned. "Oh my god," she said cupping her face. Henry turned to her; he'd deal with the robot later. "What's wrong honey?" he asked urgently.

"My eye, I think it's bleeding! Henry!" she cried. They rose from the bed and rushed into the bathroom where David heard them knocking things around in a frantic search of the cabinets. Henry was cursing some more. Mommy's frantic cries pounded against his brain.

What had he done?

He had been wrong. He had done a very bad thing. Mommy would never love him now. He had hurt her! In his fear and self-recrimination he did not see the lock of hair that fell to the floor from the edge of the bed where it had been cut from Mommy's mane. It slipped over the folds of the blanket and wafted to the floor, descending slowly, alighting silently on the carpet, perhaps to be forgotten and discarded. Forever.

Teddy watched the hair fall. He'd been standing quietly in the hallway while David was on his 'mission'. He had come into the room after the commotion broke out to see David sitting silently, staring into the darkness while Mommy and Daddy talked excitedly in the bathroom. He regarded the fallen hair. Symbols were far beyond Teddy's level of processing, but he knew something had changed, something important, and the hair seemed to encapsulate the meaning of this change. He stood over the curled strands, in his own way, pondering their significance.

What now?

7.

Sitting in the darkness of his room, Martin had heard Mom scream and then Dad cursing at David. At first he had laughed. "Got 'cha you stupid fiber head!" he'd whispered to himself. The taste of revenge had been sweet, but short lived. He'd heard David's pathetic whine about wanting Mommy to love him and that should have made him feel even better; it should have made his night, he should have reveled in his triumph. But it hadn't. And he didn't. He'd heard Mom's agonized moan and Dad's urgent questions. Their footfalls were heavy as they raced to the bathroom.

'That damn robot better not say anything,' had been his immediate thought. Then he realized that he had a part in this; that he might have caused Mom to get hurt. A new feeling tugged at his conscience. It was the first struggling efforts of a growing boy to break away from the selfishness of childhood. But he didn't know that. He just knew that he felt bad. If something had happened to his Mother, he'd never forgive himself.

Why had he sent David in there to do this thing? What had he done?
1.

Martin had been home precisely one month. He had missed five birthdays during the time he had been frozen. Five years of his life had vanished from him, but he'd not grown an inch in his cryogenic state. Doctor Frazier said that he would experience quick and perhaps painful growth spurts over the next few months. But for now he was still very much the boy that had been put under the gas so long ago when his life functions had dropped so low that it was the only way to keep from losing him altogether.

Monica and Henry had planned to throw a party for Martin. They had actually decided to do it the day after Martin awoke, but they knew he would not be well enough for some time. So they rescheduled the festivities for the time when the boy would be able to leave the bed, and then the house. They kept this plan a secret. Initially Monica had thought David could be trusted with the information, but why risk it? He would be no assistance in the planning anyway. So he was kept out of the loop. Henry had called the families of Martin's friends and shared the good news of their boy's return. He had suffered five years of coma and weeks of isolation while he grew strong enough to walk and play. Now they wanted to try and help him back onto the path from which he'd been disturbed, to surprise him by bringing over friends he hadn't seen in years.

The events of the prior night cast a gloom on their festive plans, but they had no intention of canceling. Monica's eye had not been damaged but the brow had a small cut that had bled sufficiently to put a scare in them both. Henry had been so mad that he had wanted to take the Mecha back right then and there. But Monica had kept him in the bathroom till he calmed down.

"Don't let this ruin Martin's birthday," she had told him. She didn't know how she felt yet. But she was grateful that the wound hadn't been grave. She was not only grateful for herself, but there would have been no way to keep Henry from returning the Mecha, or, in his anger… perhaps worse. She felt uneasy at the way he had shaken David and the way he'd glowered at David's pathetic keening. She hadn't seen the man she loved in those cold eyes.

That morning Monica had snuck David away from the bedroom while Martin was still sleeping, and gave him her own special mission. The Mecha had been overly apologetic and so eager to please her that it had broken her heart. She gave him an important task. She took some boxes out of the closet and told David that these were for his big brother's birthday, which they were going to celebrate today. His job was to put the toys together. She had taken him down to the big room beneath the house and shown him how to wrap presents. As usual, he had mastered the this process after watching her do it just once and he had started wrapping the pile of gifts on the table before him.

Monica had also given him a special toy. "This is a Smart Ranger, David," she'd said. It was the newest thing from Cybertronics. Henry had brought it home from work. In a couple of months every kid in the area would have one. But Martin, and most of Henry's co-workers children, would get theirs first.

"This is going to be your present to Martin," she'd told him. "I want you guys to be real brothers," she said and pleased the Mecha by planting a kiss on his head. "But no more sneaking around at night!" she'd scolded. He promised her he wouldn't ever again.

"What made you do that?" she asked him. David's eyebrows pinched at some inner conflict. Martin had tricked him, yes, but he had known that he should not have gone into the room. In the end it was his action.

"I wanted a lock of your hair. Like in the movie," he replied.

She eyed him carefully. He was getting more sophisticated, wasn't he? He was learning how to fib. She changed the subject then and asked David if he understood the Smart Soldier's instruction pamplet. He'd shown her how easy it was for him by whizzing through the form quickly. Then he went to work putting the present together and wrapping it in a box.

Monica knew that Martin had had something to do with what had happened the night before. She could have forced David to tell her what his role had been but she let it go. Maybe this would be some new bond between them; their little secret, so to speak. She hadn't been hurt, just scared. It wasn't too late to start over again, give it another try. But when she confronted Henry after leaving David to his task, she found a second chance wasn't going to be an easy sell.

2.

Mom had asked Martin to stay in his bedroom while they took care of some things. He'd thought he was in for big trouble, but the trouble never came. He was relieved. The Mecha had apparently not said anything. Then Martin had overheard his parents arguing about David. Dad wanted to return it to Cybertronics immediately. But Mom told him that it was absolutely out of the question; that she would not allow them to destroy David. She said that he was part of the family and they weren't going to kill him just because he was having problems dealing with his new human feelings. Dad had said that 'kill' was an inappropriate word, but Mom had inquired as to what other word was appropriate for taking away someone's life.

Martin had been curious just what 'feelings' Mom had been talking about. Did David have real feelings … like people did? Like he did? He was listening raptly but Dad had closed the bedroom door. Undeterred, Martin had leaned on the wall and pressed his ear tightly against it. Though somewhat muffled, he could hear every word his parents spoke this way. He learned something about David that he'd not known. The information was something that he had suspected all along, but hearing was still a shock to him.

David had not really been meant for him at all! It wasn't a toy, it was an imitation son! Dad said that the "imprinting" was a new procedure and there could be flaws that the people at Cybertronics didn't know about.

So that was it! Now Martin understood everything. David was some new project that Dad had brought home to test for the guys at his job. Martin suddenly felt like a selfish and errant child. He had almost ruined his Dad's test and in the process could have hurt his mother. He had a sudden impulse to apologize. Imagine saying you're sorry to a Mecha! But David was not around. He had been doing something for mother down in the storage area. Maybe later, he though. Maybe.

He put his ear to the wall again, but Mom and Dad had gone downstairs and out by the pool where he couldn't hear them talk.

"It's normal for little boys to feel competitive and jealous," Monica said as she was placing plastic utensils on the tables around the pool. Henry followed her, annoying her. "Martin's only been home a month and ... it's normal for brothers to challenge each other." Henry placed a few shoots of balloons on the ground around the tables. He was getting tired of her rationalizations. He wondered just who she was trying to convince.

"He was playing a game... he made a mistake and…" she paused, "...he's practically human!"

"That's not how he looked holding the knife," Henry suggested.

"Scissors," Monica corrected him.

"It was a weapon!"

Here we go again, Monica thought. One of the most basic protocols for Mecha was that they couldn't harm their human owners. This was programmed. Any Mecha that intentionally harmed a human was automatically destroyed. Was this Henry's new strategy; to claim that David had tried to hurt her and have him shut down? David was a little boy! So what if he was a mechanical little boy. He wouldn't try to harm her! She fixed Henry with an impatient glare. She was getting angry now.

"Why do you keep imagining that he was purposely trying to harm me?!".

"Because we don't know the answer to that!" Henry put the balloons down and confronted his wife. "How is it worth the risk to you or to Martin... or to us as a family?"

"I will NOT let you take him back!" she roared. He anger silenced Henry for the moment. "You told me what they would do if you take him back." She walked away, finishing the decorations.

Henry was quiet a moment, looking for the right words. He continued cautiously. "Think about this, Monica," he said, "David is a prototype; the first and, so far, only of his kind actually functioning. Even the people who built him don't really know all of the possibilities." He moved closer to her. "He was created to love, Monica... Love! That is an entirely new thing for a Mecha to deal with. If he was created to love, then it is reasonable to assume he knows how to hate, and if pushed to those extremes, what is he really capable of?"

In spite of her anger Monica found herself listening to Henry's reasoning. She thought about the night before. What had she seen then? It was just a little innocent boy trying to compete for his mothers love. Right? What else could it have been? She narrowed her eyes at Henry. He was manipulating this situation to get his way. That was all. Without a word she pressed the box of party utensils against his chest and let them go. He caught them before they dropped and watched her storm into the house.

Monica had things to do. There was a party to prepare for. David should be finished wrapping presents by now. She had to get him prepared too. The guests had to be told that David was not to be discussed outside of the house. But this should be no issue for they were all either Cybertronics employees or old friends who could be trusted.

Then she heard the hearty laughter of young boys coming from the front of the house. Damn! The first guests were already arriving.

"Martin!" she yelled.

3.

Martin had been perplexed at the large boys who smiled up at him when he made his way down the stairs. When Mom had called his name he had expected that some sort of punishment was finally being exercised, but… Who was that? Was that...? Ohmygawd! That was Todd! What was going on here?

"Hey! Dork! Get on down here!" the bigger version of his friend yelled. Jock and Phillip were there too. And who was that other kid? Sheeez! It was Gotom! He had been smaller than Martin before! Now he was... Martin was in shock as, for the first time since he'd been awake, the weight of his lengthy hibernation came down upon him. But it was soon lifted as his friends teased and funned with him. There was so much catching up he had to do! New bands. New fads! And girls!

And what was this they'd been told about a little brother?

Other guests arrived too. A small group of cousins, aunts and uncles arrived followed by Grandma Swinton who came all the way from Little California and planted a big wet kiss on Martin's cheek. The guys all snickered at this and Martin made a return gesture when none of the adults were looking. There were a lot of people from Dad's work and they were all interested in seeing the Mecha. But Dad seemed annoyed at the idea and waved the thought away, saying it would be around later; that they should all go out to the party area by the pool and relax, enjoy themselves.

Down in the storage area David had finished wrapping the presents. Mommy came down to see him. "What a beautiful job honey!" she said, genuinely pleased. She sat him down then and looked at him seriously.

"David, you have to be...." she wanted to say 'careful', "...good, around Henry from now on. You cannot do anything like what you did last night, ever, ever again. Do you understand?"

"Yes Mommy," David said meekly, hands held tight in his lap. He was the picture of a little boy's innocent regret. Monica stared at him intensely for a moment longer. His eyes were different in some way. Was it his competition with Martin that was changing him? Or was there something else? She pinched his nose and he smiled. Then she handed him a colorful pair of swimming trunks that she'd bought when she had been shopping for Martin's presents. She knew from reading the manual that David couldn't go swimming, that he'd sink right to the bottom. But she had figured that he might as well fit in as much as possible.

"David, these are for you," she said, and then helped him out of his clothing and into his new colorful swimwear. "Some of Martin's friends are here today. You should try and get to know them. Try to play with them and learn from them," she suggested. But even as she said this, she realized that David was never going to change from the emotionally vulnerable boy that he been programmed to be. He was smart though. He'd find a way to fit in.

She gazed at him a moment longer, her little robot boy. Her life was so much better since she'd awakened his love. She had so much to thank him for, but now she had to attend to the guest upstairs. She ruffled David's hair and kissed his forehead.

It was the last kiss Monica would give David in her life.

4.

"Happy birthday Martin!" David said cheerfully. He knelt next to the poolside where Martin sat looking forlorn, watching his friends splashing around in the pool. David had brought Martin the Smart Ranger in the box he had wrapped like Mommy had told him. "I made this for you, " he said hoping that Martin would try to be nice today.

Martin had been feeling distant and left out. His friends, now grown beyond him, played freely in the pool; their healthy bodies and inexhaustible energy made him envious. He wasn't even allowed to swim yet. His body wasn't strong enough. He turned and gazed at the Mecha when it addressed him. He wanted to be mad at the thing, but it really wasn't the Mecha's fault that his Mom had feelings for it. It was just a robot. A toy. It was just doing what it was programmed to do. The thing didn't even really seem to understand the differences between them. Martin smiled weakly at David. It might not be so bad having a little brother. Hell, he might even get along with it someday. At least he could try if only for Mom's sake.

"So this is him? This is your little brother?" It was Todd swimming frantically from the volleyball game which was now rapidly dispersing as the kids came to see Martin's new toy sibling.

"Well, technically no," Martin replied, dismissively.

Todd crawled out of the pool and appraised David excitedly. The heavyset boy's face was red from exertion in the game and he splashed water over Martin and David as he struggled out of the pool. "He's Mecha!" he said.

"What's Mecha?" David asked. This term was new to him as was the boy who said it. He had not met any other boys like him and Martin. This boy was bigger than he and Martin both. His stomach was puffed out, and his voice was more like a man's, like Henry's.

"We're 'orga-nic'," Todd said, pointing a finger at his own chest, "You're 'mecha-nical'" he finished, pointing his finger at David. "Get it? Orga. Mecha. Orga. Mecha…" The big boy walked around David as he repeated this chant. Other boys were swimming over and getting out of the pool. Soon David was drenched with water, as he became the center of attention.

Martin reached out and grabbed Todd's hand. "Stop it, Todd!" he commanded. Mom had asked Martin not to let his friends make an issue of David's differences in front of him. But Todd was unstoppable. The guy hadn't changed that much after all.

"I didn't know they even made little kids," Todd said, continuing his inspection of David. Philip had come out of the pool too and stood drenching wet. He eyed David with an anxious curiosity. How accurately were these thing built anyway? "Can you pee?" he asked finally.

David knew 'pee'. That was what people did. It was waste disposal. David produced no waste to dispose of. "I cannot," he responded.

"Then let's see what you can't pee with," Philip said, reaching for David's swimming trunks. David didn't have any inhibitions because he had no understanding of embarrassment. He had no idea what the big boy wanted to see down there and didn't move to stop him.

Martin quickly slapped Phillips' hand away from David's trunks. "Cut it out! C'mon! What are you a perv or sumthin?!" he said. David looked curiously at Martin when he did this. Was the big boy's action wrong? Martin glared back at the Mecha wondering why the hell it wasn't defending itself?

"It's just a doll, man. What's the big deal?" Philip countered. Some other boys snickered. Todd reached out and touched David. "Feel it, man. It's creepy!" he said running his hand over the robot's smooth shoulders and down his back.

David did not understand the boy's action but he was not being hurt and did not object. The other boys quickly joined in, gathering around the little Mecha, pressing, pinching and squeezing its skin. They "oohed" and "aahhed" at the real feeling of David's skin and hair. Martin did not know why this annoyed him. He'd done the same thing a couple of weeks earlier. But some strange bond had suddenly occurred between him and the robot. He didn't mind this so much, but if the boys got out of hand he'd put it to a stop.

Suddenly David understood what they were doing. They were having 'fun' with him. Wasn't this the 'tickling'? David knew "tickle" and made the appropriate response.

The boys jumped back the Mecha erupted into a strange laughter. It was a better simulation than when he'd first arrived, but it still sounded odd and mechanical to Orga ears. Across the pool some of the adults had become curious about what all the kids were so fascinated with. Was that the secret Mecha that they'd heard about? Why… yes! It sure did look real from over here, and it was laughing. Let's go see.

The boys looked curiously at David. What a dorky laugh. Todd just rolled his eyes at the sound. How phony! Some of them snickered and walked away. Martin was slightly embarrassed for David but glad that the big deal was starting to subside. He was gladder when David finally stopped the weird sounding laughter. It was too bad there was no program for how to 'chill out'.

Todd knelt in front of David and started running his hands up and down the robot's inner arm. It was too real. There were even veins in there! "Does he have DAS?" the boy asked.

"What's that?" Martin asked, not really wanting to know. He just wished they'd leave the poor thing alone. It couldn't help it if it was stupid.

"Damage Avoidance System," Todd responded as if everybody should know. "It's a pain alert system. You know. It's like... so they don't go picking up fire with their bare hands and stuff. Our serving man has it," and he knew that very well. He'd had plenty of fun making the thing go into alert mode when Mom and Dad weren't around. It was hilarious to watch the elderly looking sim running frantically in flight from a little pinprick in the ass or something equally harmless. Todd looked around. There was a table near with the remains of the cake. Ahh... there's what he was looking for. He grabbed David by the wrist and walked him over to the table. The Mecha followed without resistance. Mommy had said that he should try and make friends. The other boys crowded closely around as the adults slowly began to gather on the outskirts of their circle. Todd was always good for a laugh. Martin sighed and bowed out. If the dumb machine didn't have enough common sense to protect itself, then he wouldn't even get involved.

Todd picked up a large cake ladle and turned to David. "Listen, I am not gonna cut you," he said, holding the thing up for David to see. "This is not gonna hurt." He pressed the blade against the soft flesh of David's inner arm. "This will not cut your skin. Just tell me when you feel it." Todd knew that he didn't have to actually cut the skin to initiate the program. It was different in each model. He wondered what this one would do. He pressed the blade down slowly.

David didn't understand what the big boy wanted. He was trying to be friendly and fun, so he would let them play. The blade was pressed into his arm. He felt it pressing harder as the big boy watched him curiously. David felt the warning feeling that meant that he should pull his arm away. But the big boy wouldn't let go. He pressed the blade harder against David's soft inner arm. What was the boy trying to…

A sudden mad rush of information ran up David's arms and exploded into his head.

INITIATE SAFETY ALERT!

…the message flashed inside his brain. A bolt of life preserving energy came with it. His head jerked up, his eyes opened widely, the sensitive light apertures in them opened to maximum for brightness, clarity...

SAFETY ALERT! PURSUE SAFETY!

His brain yelled at him to seek out something, someone; anything familiar...

"keepmesafekeepmesafe" he began to chant as he scanned the crowd for a familiar facesafe. His legs were bent to run, his outer features, that of a terrified child. This was designed to alert adults in the vicinity that there was something wrong. But the adults could not see within the press of fascinated boys what was occurring.

Martin heard David suddenly make a strange whining sound. He turned. What were they doing to him now? He heard the Mecha boy chanting something low under his breath. 'keepmesafekeepmesafe' The other boys backed away. Uh ohh.. Todd had screwed up this time! But Todd was mindless of the trouble he'd initiated, and watched, fascinated as the little Mecha looked frantically around, his head making swift robotic jerks. This was way cooler than the serving man back home.

Images of safe people were indexed before David's inner eye, Mommy, Henry and…

Martin saw David's eyes lock in on him. "Hey, what'd you guys do? He asked. Then David quickly sprinted at him and hid behind his back, grasping him around the waist, pinning his arms at his sides and steeping away from the threat, stepping away from the big boy with the 'danger' in his hand.

"keepmesafe-martin-keepmesafekeepmesafe" his litany was a blur of excited whispers into Martin's ear as he attempted to move to a safe proximity from the dangerous boy. Some of the adults saw what was happening now as David and Martin stepped backwards out of the throng of curious boys, but they did not know the nature of the situation and thought it a game.

Martin struggled against the Mecha's grasp. "Hey, lemme go!" What the hell was this damn thing doing?! Its arms were too strong! It dragged him backward. "Get offa me! Mom! Mom!" he yelled. The robot grasped him tightly, backing them away from Todd and the other boys, it was backing them towards the…

Suddenly Martin felt a loss of balance and the sky rotated... "Mommmmmphh!" ...and disappeared as he was taken under the water, gripped tightly by the safety alarming robot. His mouth filled with water. His nose filled too. He could not breath.

Monica had been talking to Grandma Swinton. They'd been having some more problems up north with disease outbreaks and… Then her little boy's voice had come across the yard. What were they up to now? She had warned them not to tease David! She looked around just in time to see Martin jump into the water with another boy. He wasn't supposed to go into the water yet! What was he doing?

"Martin?!" she called out. She walked to the edge of the pool, and through the deep blue saw the two boys. Who was that? Was that... Oh God! "Henry! Henry" she screamed.

They were falling down, down into the cold blue haze. The filtered glow of the sun and the warbling silhouettes of the people around the pool receded quickly above them. David's fiber-metallic infrastructure and flesh simulating silicon exterior did not have the buoyancy of a real boy's body, so they plummeted straight to the bottom.

"keepmesafe-martin-keepmesafekeepmesafe" Martin could hear David's muffled chant through his own terror.

Henry was standing with one of his fellows from Cybertronics. There was a commotion happening at the poolside. What now? Then he saw Monica's terrified face and the group of boys pointing into the water. Some of them jumped in excitedly. Where was Martin? Where was his little boy? Henry rushed for the pool, his friend following quickly on his heels. His ripped his shirt off and dove into the pool.

David felt safe now. The dangerous boy was up at the poolside and had not followed them into the water. Some other boys had jumped in but had stayed near the surface, their excited voices raised and calling for help. Martin was no longer struggling. The water was an encompassing pressure against him. It hugged him. Coddled him. There was no strain on his limbs, no need to stand or bend or walk. Then he saw the men come into the water.

The Mecha was strong. Henry and the other man attempted first to lift the boys out together but their combined weight and the robot's lack of buoyancy made it too difficult. Life-saving seconds were passing. They tore at the robot's arms, they punched at its face, but the blows were softened by the depth and fortunately did not initiate the safety sequence again, which might have made it impossible to open David's arms. They fought and struggled with it till it finally let Martin go. He was not moving. No air escaped his mouth. They pushed off the bottom and flew to safety.

David watched the men rush out of the water with Martin. One of them had hit him in the face but it hadn't hurt him. He had realized then that they wanted Martin and had let him go. David could still hear them with his special ears. They were excited. Someone was calling Martin's name over and over. It was Mommy's voice. She said, "breathe! breathe!" and she made the crying sound. Then as one, he saw them stand quickly and walk away as if they carried something together.

Were they going to come for him too? He waited.

And waited.

The water had calmed now. He was engulfed and embraced by it. It held him aloft and it soft currents caressed the complex receptors in his skin. There was no weight here, no inertia that his limbs need to accommodate, no hurt or confusion. He felt could stay here for a long time. It was... peaceful. His mind seemed to work better in this quiet place. Gradually a thought that had been forming in his head took shape. It pressed into form out of the tumultuous cluster of emotions that had befallen him since Martin's arrival. It had something to do with the fairy tale Mommy had read. He felt an urgent need to explain this to her.

Still no one came for him. Something had gone wrong but he did not know exactly what. He reached his arms up, out to the distant sky that danced softly above him; his fingers extended outward, grasping at the vision that would burn forever in his brain.

"Mommy," he whispered into the cold blue.

5.

Teddy watched the adults pushing on Martin's chest. There was much urgency and alarm in the air. Daddy put his mouth against Martin's. Teddy knew this was not a kiss. He did not want to get in anyone's way, so he stood away from the commotion. Then the adults rose as one with Martin's still form and rushed into the house.

This was bad.

When they had left, Teddy walked to the side of the pool. He gazed into the water. David was in there. He was reaching up, reaching for something. Teddy could see the look on David's face. His mouth moved as if he was calling out to someone.

Teddy was not a sophisticated robot. He played. He alerted. He protected. But in that instant he realized that David was not a toy, that there was no place for David in his index.

He stood by helplessly until Henry and some men came to take David out of the water.

5.

David was in his room where Henry left him. The man had seemed angry but he'd been nice when he gave David the bathrobe and taken the wet swimming trunks. He had told him to stay until they came for him.

David had taken this opportunity to draw some words. In the water he had understood something, something new that he had not known how to express. The words he hoped, would express this thought that had come from his new mind. He drew the letters slowly, letting his new feelings take their own shape in the words he created.

David had just finished his last note when he heard Mommy come into the room. He put down the crayon that he had been writing with and rushed excitedly to see her. "Mommy!" he cried as he reached to embrace her.

Monica caught David by the shoulders. She couldn't hug him. Her face was set and grim. She could no longer deny Henry's observations. Martin had been taken to the hospital. He would be OK; Thank God, he would be OK. But his lungs were too soon out of stasis to handle the flood of water to which they'd been exposed, and he had to be placed under observation until they were sure he'd be alright.

He'd live, they'd assured her. He'd be home the next day. But everything else had changed.

Monica held the excited Mecha at bay. "I need to speak to you for a minute, ok?"

"Ok!" David said. He ran obediently to his bed. Monica looked over her shoulder. Henry was waiting by the door. His face was set. Determined. Get this over with Monica, is what his look said. She turned away from him. That look was accusatory and she felt guilty enough already. Had she missed this all along; this conflict that had been growing between Martin and the Mecha? She'd never had a chance to talk to the Martin's friends about the incident by the pool. She never heard about Todd's abuse of David. In the excitement, this crucial piece of information had been overlooked, forgotten.

Monica walked to the bedside, but she couldn't sit down. There was no turning back now. David was either malfunctioning or the imprinting was causing some unpredicted reaction in his brain. "David..." she started. But David was not looking at her. He was smiling, looking at the desk near the window. She followed the Mecha's gaze and saw there a small, neatly stacked pile of sketch paper. The first one had something written on it. It was in red crayon and written in a precise lettering. She looked at him. He was smiling up at her, his face gleamed with the expectant look she'd seen a thousand times since she had awoken his love. He had something to show her.

She walked over to the tidy stack of papers and picked them up. She flipped through them.

Mommy, how are you today?

I am fine and I love you!

Teddy is helping me write to you!

Her heart dropped. What machine wrote these things? By what process did....

I love You and Henry and Martin

and Teddy too. And the sun is shining!

...this machine realize these feelings? From whence did they come?

I am our real son!

But not Teddy! I hate Teddy.

He is not real like

Like you David? Monica felt her tears build. She could read no more. She had a job...

I am our real son.

And Martin too!

But
NOT Teddy!

...to do and she had to do it now! She placed the papers back down and wiped her eyes dry. "These are beautiful, David," she said weakly, not looking at him. She couldn't look into that innocent gaze just yet. She calmed herself. "Thank you," she said when her voice was in better control. She walked to the Mecha boy and sat down next to him. This was a mistake. He was too real from this close. She saw Henry waiting by the door; beyond that door were responsibilities; her family, her son's future, her life.

"David... I was thinking," she started slowly, "that maybe we could go for a drive tomorrow in the country." She looked down at his smooth innocent face, and then quickly away. It was a simulation. A simulation! "Just you and me. What do you think?"

"And Teddy?" David asked excitedly.

"Sure... Teddy," Monica agreed. She couldn't look at him. She knew he was beaming with childish joy. She held back the emotion that threatened to overcome her. Then she felt the little boy's arms wrap around her. He was warm. Was he alive? Dear god, he can't be alive! She steeled herself against the feeling of this little embrace, this tender loving grasp that had once saved her heart.

"Thank you Mommy," David whispered in childish reverence, his tender face pressed against her bosom. In the secret place in his brain, her image burned with radiance like never before. "Thank you so much!"

Monica heard the words and pulled her heart back from them. She sat quietly and let her little boy enjoy this last tender moment between them. Soon enough his troubled brain would be silent. He would be beyond the pain and confusion with which this awful process... this 'imprinting', had cursed them both. She looked out through the window as he gripped her tightly. Time passed. The night was falling. The last rays of light glowed weakly against the insistence of the looming darkness above.

Her betrayal had begun.

7.

David could see sky rolling quickly by in-between the overhanging branches of the trees. He was curious and expectant, wondering when they would stop. Teddy sat in his lap and the old machinery in his neck whirred and clicked as he watched the landscape scroll by. Mommy had been strangely silent. David gazed at her now, unbelieving he was here alone with her, hoping this would last forever.

"Where are we going?" he asked conversationally. Mommy continued to drive silently. Some more of the road passed by. "Someplace nice?" he asked when she did not respond.

Monica wished he'd be quiet. Cybertronics was still kilometers away. She was bracing herself, bracing herself for that moment of truth, that last moment when they would lead him away. Would he cry her name? Would they have to struggle with him as she left, leaving him to his doom?

Mommy's face was tight and her lips pressed closed. There was no expression to read, but he saw something in her eyes. "Are those happy tears?" he asked.

And what would she see in their eyes? The technicians who would put her softhearted metal son to sleep forever? David was just a machine to them, right? Would they smile apologetically as they fought to tear him away from her, as he struggled against their grasping hands? Would he know? My god! Would he know what was happening? Please don't let him understand!

Still Mommy did not respond. Had he 'annoyed' her like Teddy said he did sometimes? Maybe he should 'change the subject'. "What's for dinner tonight?" he asked hopeful that it would break her silence

There was no turning back. She pushed her chin up and drove faster. "You know that you don't eat," she replied finally, punctuating each word.

He was glad to hear her voice but there was 'reservation' there. "Yes," he replied. "But I do like sitting at the table."

Then suddenly they were there; end of line. Quickly and unceremoniously the Cybertronics statue rolled into view, its outstretched arms pronouncing this pace a point of no return. Beyond that point nothing could ever be undone. All transactions were final.

David saw the statue too, and something struck him familiar. He knew that shape. Mommy must have recognized it too, because she slowed down and stopped. He heard her make a sad sound and the statue was forgotten as he eyed her curiously. Why was she sad? Had he made her sad somehow?

Monica could not go there. Her foot would not press the accelerator. What were they expecting her to do? Kill her son? Is that what they had thought she was going to do?

David was pressed back into his seat as Mommy suddenly accelerated and sped past the statue. She raced along the road, her face displaying some conflict unrecognizable to him. He tried to ask her what was wrong but she told him to just be quiet; she had to think.

She didn't know how many kilometers had passed or how long she had driven since seeing the Cybertronics access road. She stopped. Around them the lush forest pressed in against the road. She needed space. She needed time. She needed to think. Dammit! She just needed some time! To the right of her a path came into view. She looked at it through tear-streaked vision.

Yes, she realized. That was the only way.

Resolved, she turned quickly down the forest road and retreated into the shadows.

When Mommy stopped under the thick lining of trees, David grabbed Teddy and the blanket and jumped out excitedly. He would find a place for them to sit and he could watch Mommy eat. He ran a short distance until he found a clear spot and placed Teddy against a fallen log. Then he happily unraveled the big blanket that they would use to sit on.

Teddy scanned their surroundings. He knew that this was not a good place to sit and eat. It was dark and damp and the ground was mossy. Something was wrong.

Monica hurried after David. She had to explain thing to him now. Please let him understand. She saw through the trees, an unsuspecting metal boy in the shadows of the forest. She watched him trying to unfold the large blanket, struggling with it as a quick breeze arose and blew it over his head. This was the only way. She could not take him to his death and she could not take him back to the only home he had ever known. She forced herself forward.

"David?" she said softly as she walked to him. He was still struggling with the blanket, sill uncomprehending anything. "Hold on David," she said and pulled the blanket from over his head. She tossed it on the ground. Not understanding the gesture, David went to his knees to smooth the blanket so she could sit.

"David, listen!" she commanded, kneeling beside him. He looked up at her. His smiling face betrayed only the slightest confusion at her desperate tone. God, she could see that he loved her so. Wasn't there some programming command that would just make him walk away; some string of words that could magically turn off this maddening love?

And what then, about her heart?

"Listen..." she spoke softy. "You won't understand the reasons... but... I... I have to leave you here."

David looked at her quietly for a moment. His eyebrows closed in the simulation of childish puzzlement. She could imagine the processor in his head working. "Is it a game?" he asked with a smiling realization.

She fought tears. "No," she said flatly, winning the fight.

David did not understand this. Mommy was going to leave him here? Why? Some urgency was beginning in the back of his new mind.

"When will you come back for me?" he asked hesitantly, the urgency getting closer to the surface.

She steeled herself. She had to be strong. "No. I'm not coming back, David. You have to be here by yourself." There she said it. That was it. Please let that be it. Please say that you understand, David. Please.

"Alone?" he asked in a quavering tone.

She could see he understood, but it was not over. "With Teddy..." she whispered. Please let that be enough David, she thought, that's all I have to offer you. David gazed at her silently. She didn't know what was happening behind those puzzled eyes. She only knew her own heart had already been broken.

He was going to be alone? Alone? The urgency arrived and spilled out of him.

"Noooo, nooo please noo Mommy... please!," he whined, his voiced raised in that childish keening that was impossible to refuse. "Please.. noo.. I'll be good! I'll be good!" He reached for her, but she pushed his hands away.

"David... you have to understand. They're going to destroy you. Destroy you!" He had to understand; please let him understand. But David's keening increased and he grabbed at Monica as she rose to flee from him. She couldn't do this. She hadn't asked for this. She couldn't love him any more! "I have to GO!" she yelled, her voice breaking with emotion.

"Mommy! Mommy!" he called chasing her as she fled back to the car. Don't call me that, she though, don't! Her tears flooded her vision and her legs went weak. David caught her and his eyes were moist. Monica gasped Was it crying? Why would they program something like that?

David grasped her wrist, his eyes wide with fright. The thing he had wanted to tell her came out then, the thing he had thought about in the pool. "Mommy, if Pinocchio became a real boy, then I can become a real boy too! And then I can come home!"

This was the worst piece of savagery yet. The fairy tale; he had taken the story to heart! "It's just a story, David!" she yelled, pulling herself free.

"But a story tells what happens!" he said. Couldn't she see?

She had to get away! "Stories are not real!" She ran quickly for the vehicle. David pursued her, insisting loudly that indeed stories were real! Yes Mommy. He knew they were! He caught her at the car, but only because something had dawned on her. She firmed up and faced him, yanking her arm free as he desperately grabbed at her again. Her weakness would do neither of them any good now.

"Listen to me!" she commanded, reaching into the pocket of her vest. She pulled out some wadded new-bucks and forced them into the inside pocket of his jacket. "Take this and don't let anybody know how much you have!" She pushed his grasping hands away again and kneeled before him. "Don't go that way! Look! Don't look at me! Look over there," she yelled pointing in the direction of the Cybertronics building. "Don't go that way, David! Don't ever go that way or they will catch you! Don't ever let them catch you! They'll…" Her tears threatened to consume her again but she fought them down. Don't ever let them catch my pitiful little boy.

"Stay away from Flesh Fairs, David. Stay away from groups of people, away from all people. Stay only with others like you, David! Only Mecha are safe!" She was finished. She looked away, before his eyes bore into her soul. But he grabbed around her neck before she could rise.

"Why, why, why!" he cried. "I'm sorry I broke myself! I sorry. If you let me I'll be so real for you. I'll be sooo real!" he cried over and over. If she would just let him try! He could! He knew he could!

She couldn't do this! "LET GO!" she roared and threw him to the ground. He lay there shocked, staring at her. The impact of the ground against him had caused some override of his panic. Or maybe he had just realized finally, that it was ending and there was nothing he could to stop it.

Monica saw the look on his face after she had thrown him off. She almost ran to see if he was ok. But the look stopped her. In its way, it was worse than the pleading. His eyes had gone blank, empty at the realization that there was no mercy she would allow him. Was this the last look of the condemned before the final stroke? She fled, her heart ragged and choking in her throat.

At the car door she turned to him one last time. "I'm sorry David!" she cried, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the world!" And then she was inside, fleeing that world which she'd neglected to explain; locking the doors and pressing on the accelerator, ignoring the sound of small hands beating against the window, ignoring the heartbreaking cries that were muffled by the clatter of branches and brush hitting the side of the car.

'Ignore the mirror, too!' her heart told her. 'Don't look back! Don't look back!' But she did look into the mirror, and that last image would stay with her for the rest of her life. Refusing to go away, it would burn a place in her mind and slowly burrow its way into her soul. She saw the helpless silhouette fade into the gloom of the forest; the little imitation boy whose real love had saved her ability to feel, to love. Now he stood alone. His head dropped to one side in uncomprehending resignation as she watched. She sped away faster and faster, sped away from the pain, from the shame, from the guilt that she would never be able to escape.

Her betrayal was complete. But it would never be over.




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