Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Two

strh

 

Inspiration. I often find it when I need it most, and not a second before I am about to give up and strive to become a normal human being.

Unrelated to this story, sort of, a recent trip to Honduras has completely filled in all the plot holes in my next novel (tentatively titled Luna-C). And just what does Honduras have to do with a lunar colony, a broken marriage, and fat, rich people being hosed down in zero-G? I guess you’ll just have to wait.

And, while you’re waiting…

—–

2. The Kelvaxan Reliquary

“Some lesson plan,” Rory quipped from the uncomfortable metal bench in the holding cell the Doctor and his companions found themselves in.

“Yes, well,” the Doctor stammered. “I suppose this is the Principal’s Office.”

The Doctor paced back and forth in front of the energy field across the entrance to their cell. Occasionally, he spared a glance at the heavily armed guards in the long hallway outside their cell.

“I don’t understand it,” he said to Amy and Rory. “Heems and I have an excellent relationship. I’ve supplied him with countless additions to his collection. Why would he leave us to stew here like this?”

“Maybe this friend of yours is no longer in charge,” Amy offered.

“Perhaps,” the Doctor said quietly, not convinced.

The Doctor continued his pacing and several moments passed without a word being said between the companions. Finally, Rory cleared his throat.

“So, this is like a space museum or something, right?”

“It’s much more than that,” the Doctor explained. Sighing to himself and apparently abandoning his solemn pacing, he sat down between Amy and Rory, causing them to have to move to either side to allow him room.

“This is a reminder of all the accomplishments of all the known species of the universe. Detailed histories, ancient relics, recreations of long-lost technologies. This is the ultimate museum. Mind you, there are several smaller collections throughout every galaxy and I’ve seen several of them, but nothing comes close to the range of history covered here.”

“Is there anything from Earth?” Amy asked.

“Oh yes,” the Doctor said with a smile. “For starters, there’s the Promethean Hearthstone.”

“What’s that?” Rory questioned. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have,” the Doctor explained. “It’s supposedly the stone that the progenitors of your species first created their own fire on. Sad, really, how long its taken you to mature since then. If we ever get out of here, you two might become the first true humans to have ever laid eyes on it. It’s from about eight hundred thousand years before either of you were born.”

“You mean we’re the first humans to come here?” Amy asked, surprised.

“I said you’d be the first true humans to lay eyes on it. Once your species masters faster-than-light travel, several humans visit this place – though by that time, their DNA’s a bit … muddled.”

“Muddled?” Amy queried, raising an eyebrow.

“Long story.”

The slamming of heavy doors echoed down the long corridor toward them, followed by the steady sound of footsteps approaching. The Doctor quickly stood up and his companions rose behind him, following his lead. Squinting through the gloom of the poorly lit corridor, the Doctor finally made out the form of the aged curator, flanked by two guards, walking towards them.

“Let me do the talking,” the Doctor said over his shoulder.

“Curator Heems!” the Doctor said loudly. “Have I done something wrong? My companions and I are a bit ruffled, if you understand my meaning. What’s all the fuss?”

Heems gestured to the guards and one flipped up the cover of a control panel housing the energy field controls. The guard keyed the unlock sequence and the field soon dissipated.

“Doctor,” Heems said, his face reddening a bit with embarrassment. “I do sincerely apologize for the unfortunate delay. Had I known you were coming I’d have issued you security clearance that would have prevented all this.”

With a genuine look of pleasure on his face, the curator grabbed the Doctor’s hand and shook it vigorously. The Doctor’s face softened and he too revealed his pleasure at seeing his old friend again.

“It’s good to see you, Curator Heems. I trust you are well.”

“Oh, you know, still an aging relic among relics,” Heems joked. “Who do you have here with you?”

The Doctor turned, putting an arm around the old man’s shoulders and gestured to his companions. “May I present my good friends, Amy and Rory of Earth, circa second millenium OCE.”

“OCE?” Heems remarked, his eyes lighting up. “This is a very special visit indeed.”

“Yes, well, they’re not that special,” the Doctor mocked.

“Any friend of the Doctor is an honored guest here,” Heems declared, shaking each of the companions’ hands in turn. “Now let’s get out of this dank cell and we’ll have refreshments in my office.”

With another gesture to his guards, Heems dismissed them from their posts and they marched off down the corridor. Heems motioned for the Doctor and his companions to follow him and they began walking leisurely down the long corridor.

“Doctor,” Rory whispered. “What’s OCE?”

“Old Common Era,” the Doctor whispered conspiratorially. “Though in this day and age its often abbreviation for a more derogatory and possibly more appropriate label.”

“What’s that?”

“The Oafish Common Era,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “No more questions!”

The Doctor and his companions followed the curator down several long hallways before reaching the ornate doors of the curator’s office.

“That’s new. Is that real Valosian oak?” the Doctor asked, marveling at the rich wood.

“Good eye, Doctor,” Heems verified. “The carvings are the work of Jeb Sabe Sob of Cheem, excommunicated artist.”

“They’re beautiful,” Amy remarked. “Why was he excommunicated?”

“He was a tree of the Forest of Cheem,” the Doctor explained. “His people considered his carving of wood grotesque and abominable. No more questions! You’re here to learn, not ask questions.”

Amy and Rory exchanged puzzled looks.

The group entered the Curator’s office and followed Heems to his old desk where three ornate chairs and a small table had been erected for them. Refreshments of various types had been laid out on the table.

“Help yourselves,” Heems waved absently. “If you desire anything else, don’t hesitate to ask for it. We can probably get it.”

Graciously, the companions took their seats and began to partake of the offered food and drink. The Doctor remained standing and walked around the curator’s office for a few moments, perusing the private collection.

After Heems had situated himself behind his desk and sipped at his own drink, he turned his attention to the Doctor.

“How long has it been, Doctor?”

“Hard to say. What year is it?”

“I’m not sure myself,” Heems chuckled.

“The Van Statten Collection,” the Doctor surmised, snapping his fingers.

“Ah yes,” Heems said, nodding in remembrance. “Not the most intriguing collection of artifacts, but significant nonetheless. Lots of visitors to it.”

“Significant and difficult to get,” the Doctor said. “If you remember I had a thousand tons of concrete to get through to secure it.”

“And we greatly appreciate your efforts, Doctor.” Heems turned to the companions. “Did you know that the Doctor is the second greatest single contributor to our collections here? On the tour, I’m sure he’ll be able to point out all the artifacts he has secured for us.”

“Second?” the Doctor asked with surprise, holding a large egg he had picked up from a display awkwardly.

“Yes, second, Doctor. You’re not the only relic hunter we’ve had the fortune to work with. I’ll have to arrange a meeting while you’re here – he’s expected anytime now.”

The Doctor set the egg down carefully and made his way over to the wall of alien heads and began talking to himself as he looked at each in turn, saying things like “nice bloke” and “so that’s what they look like under all the hair”.

“What line of work are the two of you in?” Heems asked the companions.

“Uh,” Amy hesitated, looking to the Doctor for help that wasn’t coming. “We’re students.”

“This is sort of a, uh, field trip, thing,” Rory offered.

“Excellent,” Heems said with genuine delight. “I’m sure you’ll both just love some of the exhibits we have here. Do you enjoy music?”

“Oh, we love it,” Amy said.

“In our Arts Division we have the entire history of music on Earth on file, from ABBA to Zed Zed Nine.”

“Do you have it in MP3?” Rory asked, hopefully.

“What is MP3?” Heems asked, confused.

The Doctor interrupted before Rory could answer. “What happened to the Thripitifalus Vex you had?”

Again, Heems seemed confused and caught off guard. “I’ve never heard of it, Doctor. Was it something you brought me? I do have the habit of being rather forgetful.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and turned to regard the curator. His face was one of momentary concern, but he soon changed the subject. “I’m probably misremembering it, I suppose. So what was the story with all the security, by the way?”

The Doctor left the private collection and sat down heavily in the remaining empty chair.

“Ah yes,” Heems said. “Again, I do apologize. Security was heightened at the time you arrived while a new piece was being delivered to me. We often increase security measures during certain high profile transfers and all traffic to the asteroid is prohibited during such transactions. Of course, the sudden unexpected and unsanctioned arrival of a vessel on the asteroid was quite the breach of that security.”

“Yes, well, I do like to pop in from time to time unexpectedly,” the Doctor joked.

“You’re lucky you weren’t shot on sight,” Heems replied, a bit more serious than he had been since their arrival. “But its all sorted out now.”

Amy and Rory shot meaningful glances at each other, realizing that once again the Doctor had managed to narrowly postpone the death of his companions.

The Doctor took a sip from his beverage and leaped up out of his chair again. “I’m sorry, Curator Heems. It just keeps bugging me. I’m absolutely positive you had a Thripitifalus Vex head on your wall last time I was here.” Walking determinedly towards the data console set into the wall opposite the alien heads, he pulled up an antique chair to it, causing a loud shriek as he dragged it across the floor. “Do you mind if I check your logs for it? Maybe it was moved to a public exhibit.”

His face ashen, Heems quickly rose from his desk. “Don’t touch that console!”

With painful slowness, the Doctor swiveled his head to gaze directly at the old relic collector. His eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“We’re installing a new system and are in the middle of transferring data. You could corrupt that data flow and we would lose eons of research in just one second,” Heems explained. He seemed more than just a bit agitated.

“Hmm, yes,” the Doctor said, moving away but still eyeing Heems. “Perhaps later then.”

Curator Heems sat down again slowly, his brow furrowed as if he found his own outburst unusual.

“We definitely appreciate your hospitality, old friend,” the Doctor said, walking leisurely back to the desk. “I think my friends and I are a bit full now, so we’d like to freshen up a bit before we begin the tour.”

“Actually,” Rory said, moving a cookie towards his mouth. “I thought I’d have a couple more -”

The Doctor slapped the cookie out of Rory’s hand.

“The facilities aboard my ship are somewhat lacking. Do you have some place we might clean up a bit and relax?”

“Absolutely, Doctor,” Heems said, rising from his desk. He pressed a series of buttons and the ornate doors opened again. “If you head down the hall, you’ll come to an intersecting hallway. Take a right there and you’ll come to our guest quarters we set aside for visiting dignitaries. The caretaker is named Dolla, she’ll take care of you.”

“Thank you, Curator Heems,” the Doctor said with a bow. “We’ll leave you now and hope to meet up with you later – perhaps for a personalized tour?”

“Just let Dolla know when you’re ready and she’ll page me,” Heems replied. “I look forward to it.”

“So do I,” the Doctor said and turned to leave. “Come along, children.”

Rory and Amy quickly rose from their seats and followed the Doctor. Rory suddenly turned back and trotted over to the table where he pocketed a few cookies. Heems smiled and nodded that it was acceptable.

“Rory!” the Doctor called from the door.

Rory jumped and knocked the plate of cookies to the ground. “Sorry.”

“Leave it,” Heems said, chuckling.

“I’m coming,” Rory said, and caught up to Amy and the Doctor. The three companions left Heems’ office and the doors closed behind them.

After a moment, Heems opened a small drawer in his desk. Inside was the Speak & Spell, glowing eerily.

“He is a Time Lord,” Heems began, and then related to the Speak & Spell everything he knew about the Doctor.

***

The Doctor and his companions walked casually down the long corridor that led away from the curator’s office, stopping occasionally to view the art mounted intermittently along the walls.

“Alright,” Amy said, having noticed the Doctor’s mood change. “What’s wrong, Doctor?”

“There’s something definitely amiss here,” the Doctor revealed, whipping out his sonic screwdriver. Activating it, he waved it about and looked with interest at the readings. “We should keep our eyes and ears open.”

“Oh great,” Rory sighed. “Even class time is dangerous with you.”

The Doctor didn’t remark on the observation and led them to the intersection Heems had spoke of. “I’d like to take that tour now, but we should probably stick to our story. We’ll pop in for a quick wash and stretch and then get into the thick of things.”

Amy and Rory followed the Doctor as he led them right and towards the Guest Quarters. The architecture changed as they proceeded further down this new hall. The ceiling rose and the hallway  finally gave way to a large vaulted lobby. It was readily apparent that they had entered the equivalent of a posh hotel, complete with sitting areas and a front desk.

As they approached the front desk, they couldn’t help but notice an argument ensuing.

“I don’t have a reservation, for the last time,” a dusty looking man sat to the girl at the desk. The girl, a young blonde-haired petite type with impish features, seemed rather put out with him. “Do you know who I am?” he said impatiently.

The girl, seeing the three companions approaching, brightened up considerably and ignored the troublesome guest. “You must be the Doctor and his companions. Curator Heems called ahead and told us to expect you. I’m Dolla. Don’t hesitate to call on me at anytime, should you need me. I’ll be happy to serve you.”

“Uh, we don’t have reservations, per se,” the Doctor apologized, with a significant look to the other guest who now stood agape at the rebuff.

“That’s alright, Doctor. Curator Heems has told us to give you our finest suite for your stay. You’ll find all the amenities you might need here. I’ll show you to the suite.”

As an aside she curtly said to the other guest, “Excuse me.”

The man reddened visibly in the face and he slapped the gloves he was holding against the desk. A small cloud of dust rose from the impact.

“Now wait just a damned minute,” the man barked. “Who the hell are you people?”

Sighing, Dolla turned an offered an quick introduction. “This is the Doctor and his companions.”

“Amy,” Amy said politely.

“Uh, Rory,” Rory responded in like manner.

“The Doctor, Amy, and Uhrory,” the man repeated. “Imperial dignitaries from the Kalthex Empire? Estimators from the Ixian Council of Artifact Reconciliation?”

“They are special guests of Curator Heems,” Dolla explained. With reluctance, she reversed the introductions. “This is Drustan Light.”

“Captain Drustan Light,” the young grizzled-looking man corrected. He wore a long Earth-style duster over a utility vest and a dirty white long-sleeved shirt. His dark brown hair was short but messy and he was covered in a thick layer of grime in several places. His leather boots looked as if they  had been hastily repaired a thousand times. His beard, though also trimmed close, was wild and shot with grey streaks.

“A pleasure, I’m sure,” the Doctor replied, inclining his head slightly.

“Here to paw unappreciatively at the fine collection here, I’ll wager,” Captain Light said bitterly.

“Actually, I’m a relic collector. Heems and I go way back,” the Doctor said snootily. Amy and Rory didn’t miss the rising tension between the two men.

“Is that right?” Light said with a sneer.

“It is,” the Doctor said, not backing down.

“Interesting.”

“Indeed.”

“Yeah.”

“Mmm.”

“Hmm.”

“Ahh.”

“Can we please wash up before we’re irreversibly stained with testosterone?” Amy blurted with exasperation.

“We’ll meet again Doctor,” Captain Light said before walking away.

“I suppose we will at that,” the Doctor replied. He quickly changed his demeanor and patted his companions on their shoulders. “Alright! Washing up time! Heave ho! Allons-y! Ha, haven’t said that in a while. I shall have to do it again sometime.”

Dolla led the three to their suite without further incident.

***

After thirty minutes or so, the Doctor and his companions emerged from their room and made their way back to the front desk where they found Dolla smiling and waiting for them.

“Curator Heems sends his regrets. He won’t be able to take you on the tour himself, but he has authorized me to show you around,” she explained.

“Is he ill?” the Doctor queried with concern.

“No,” Dolla replied. “Nothing like that. Our good friend Captain Light has his attentions for the time being. Their discussions can get rather heated and lengthy.”

Stepping out from behind the front desk, Dolla clicked a small device in her hand and a service robot rose up behind the desk in her place.

“Enjoy your stay at the Kelvaxan Reliquary!” it said to them as they left.

“I don’t often get the chance to take such esteemed guests on a tour of the facilities,” Dolla explained with enthusiasm. “Curator Heems usually has that honor.”

“Has anything troubling happened here lately?” the Doctor probed. “Heems seems a bit preoccupied.”

“Aside from that awful Drustan Light arriving? Not that I know of.”

“What was the transfer that was taking place when we arrived? A new arrival for the museum?”

“We’re not allowed to discuss it at this time,” Dolla said quickly. “Confidentially, I’ve never seen the place so locked up during a transfer. Apparently, the extra security was requested by the collector. It’s a wonder you weren’t gunned down as you entered orbit.”

Again, Amy and Rory exchanged concerned glances.

“Yes, well my ship offers special access privileges at times,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “Did it have something to do with the new system being installed?”

“New system? I don’t know anything about that,” Dolla said, confused.

The Doctor raised his eyebrows meaningfully at his companions.

The quartet enter the main exhibition area and Dolla took her time going over the history of each piece as they viewed them. Her knowledge of the exhibitions was quite extensive and the Doctor offered personal insight where possible. Several times he revealed that he was the one who had brought a certain piece to the Reliquary. They had passed through several areas and hours had elapsed before the Doctor stopped the tour and asked Dolla a personal question.

“How do you know so much about this place? I thought you were just a hotel clerk.”

“Oh that!” Dolla said, pleased that the Doctor was interested in her personally. Amy rolled her eyes. “I just work the front desk when things are slow here. I’m actually an archaeologist.”

“Are you now?” the Doctor replied excitedly. “Where do you come from, Dolla?”

“Phi Gamma Six,” Dolla responded proudly.

“An Earth colony,” the Doctor said knowingly. Turning to Amy and Rory he mouthed the word “muddled”.

“You’ve heard of it?”

“I’ve been there. Several times in fact. Lovely place. So, I guess that means you’re a student of the Academy?”

“I graduated with the highest honors,” Dolla said beaming.

This time Amy and Rory both rolled their eyes.

“I think its time we split up,” the Doctor said. “I’ll go with Dolla here and discuss some of the intricacies of universal history and you two can wander about as you please.”

“What about that lesson you’re supposed to be teaching us?” Rory asked.

“Hands on!” the Doctor said, hurriedly pushing them along. “Newest breakthrough in curriculum. Enjoy!”

And with that, the Doctor and Dolla left Amy and Rory to themselves.

“That man,” Rory said, clenching his fist.

“Come on, love,” Amy said to him. “Let’s go have a bit of fun.”

From down one of the many corridors they heard the Doctor’s voice in a booming echo say, “Don’t touch anything!”

***

Most of the day slipped by before the Doctor and Dolla finally caught up with Amy and Rory. The two companions had found the Communications Wing and were testing out Earth technology that was only a few hundred years more advanced than their own time.

“Doctor,” Amy said excitedly. “Look at this!”

Amy and Rory were both wearing headsets with small reticles that fit over one eye. On their right hands, small adhesive microchips had been set on each finger and thumb.

“It’s like having an iPad without the iPad!” Rory said in techno-ecstacy. “It’s amazing! the screen looks like its just hovering in front of me.”

“This has got to be an Apple product,” Amy said with finality.

At the remark Dolla burst out laughing.

“What’s she laughing at, Doctor?” Rory asked.

“Let’s just say Apple was a blip on the screen. Significant but passing. And thus endeth the lesson, children. No matter how fantastic, how trendy, how amazing something seems to you, it will soon be obsolete. No  need to buy the next great thing every year. Know your tech, choose your tech, customize your tech, and make it last. By the time its worn out, something better than the four hundred iterations that have passed in between will be there to buy. Rinse and repeat,” the Doctor said sagely.

“That’s actually an older model,” Dolla said. “The last design was eventually integrated cybertech. The chips were implanted in your fingers and a special optical implant obsoleted the need for a reticle.”

“No way!” Rory said. “Do you have any we could take back with us?”

“Absolutely not!” the Doctor chided. “You can’t take future technologies back to Earth, you’ll muck up the whole future history of the planet and possibly the galaxy.”

“Oh come on, Doctor,” Amy pleaded. “We’d keep it secret. No one would know.”

“Besides,” the Doctor continued. “There won’t be a person that can implant it without killing you for another hundred years after your time.”

At that moment, Curator Heems walked up to them, beside him was Captain Light.

“Doctor, I said I’d introduce you to the number one contributor to our little collection here. And this is that man. May I introduce Captain Drustan Light.”

The two men stood glaring at each other, resuming the standoff from earlier in the day.

In unison they both said, “We’ve met.”

Deftly

On Wednesdays, it’s the sand that turns my stomach. On the beach, the waves are an echo of disaster long conceived, deep vibrations beneath the surface of what makes the world seem appealing. The shells are the fragments of a life I used to cherish, a world I used to own – a map of the left turns and pitfalls, drawn in crayon on manila paper.

My life is woven with as much intricacy as you would expect for a five-year-old. I am an alcoholic and a murderer of ideals – drunk on mirror images bent by pressure and time, and keen to feel the warmth of someone’s great ideas slipping away from them. It’s more simple than you think, my life.

That separation, the peel of waxy paper from adhesive-backed print, is each moment of my life, stripped from my body and my soul with each hammer fall of machinery keeping track of the universe. And how’s that working for them? What’s a measurement of time in a universe that is infinite?

You want numbers? You want age?

I’m five years old somewhere out there. On this beach, somewhere else in the void, I’m eons old and bitter.

I always come back to the sea, blistered and blind, but content.

It’s not the water that makes me smile, it’s the gravity holding it all in. The sea is like my potential, tethered by physics measured by man-sized motes of nothing.

If it ever got away …

In Which the Automaton Finds Peace

M4

 

I am retiring this short story from the submission circuit. While it had some favorable comments, and made it out of slush a few times, I think it was just too simple.

I wrote this for the first time after driving through rural Louisiana and seeing an old beat up dock over dirty water. In my head, I saw an android sitting there swinging his legs. I wrote a long, depressing story about a robot obsessed with water, but unable to swim. I unfortunately lost this story after the first time I wrote it, but the ending never left me. I attached to to a different story, about a different robot. And this is the result.

Regardless of what I had originally intended and forgotten, I am pleased with this story and will no longer be changing it. It is complete.

Enjoy.

—-

In Which the Automaton Finds Peace

 

Instructor Raines removed the old-style QF drive from the M4RV1N unit’s upload bay and closed the access panel. After a few seconds, the panel popped back open.

Raines smirked, but felt a pang of sadness. The grey-blue metal of the android was fading, deep scores marked past accidents, and the drive mechanisms were not as quiet as they used to be.

“I apologize, Instructor Raines,” the M4RV1N unit said to its operator. “I have tried to repair the panel’s latch mechanism on my own, but my appendages were not designed for self-maintenance.”

Raines smiled. “It’s no problem, Marvin. I’ll see what I can do.” The children had given the name to it, based on the Production Number stenciled on the back of his torso: M4RV1N, which stood for Mark IV Robotic Vocational unit 1N. Douglas Adams aside, Raines felt the name fit.

“I do not wish to keep the children waiting,” the android responded. “Fifteen minutes of recreation time have elapsed without my presence.”

Raines unscrewed the faulty latch and took it to his workbench to scour some of the rust from it. “I’m sure they miss you, Marvin, but just think how happy they’ll be during Instructional Time now that your new biology algorithms have been uploaded.”

“Will their happiness at a later time outweigh their sadness now?” the M4RV1N unit asked, swiveling its elliptically shaped head to regard its operator.

“I think companionship at present can outweigh loneliness in the past,” Raines replied. He smirked to himself and returned to his work on the panel latch.

Blowing away residue from the latch, Raines walked back over to Marvin and reinstalled the repaired component. With a gentle push, the panel snapped closed and held.

“Thank you, Instructor Raines,” Marvin intoned. “I can now spend the final ten minutes with the children at the pond.”

Raines patted Marvin on its metallic shoulder. “Not a problem, Marvin. Let me know how the new Biology program works.”

“I will do that, Instructor Raines.”

The android stabilized its stance and trundled out of the maintenance shed towards the pond where the sound of children’s laughter was heard. Marvin paused, then swiveled its head around to ask a final question.

“Have you had any response regarding the upgrade to my core systems shielding?” it asked.

Raines’s eyes automatically drifted to the floor. Marvin was just a robot, but Raines still felt a form of sadness about this subject. “Sorry, old bean. The company that made you just never planned for you to work underwater.”

“Perhaps a customizer of robotic systems could develop the shielding, or perhaps I can do some research on my own. I could instruct you on how to make the upgrade.” If Marvin could sound desperate, one might have noted that tone in its voice as it continued its query.

Raines shook his head. “Even if it were possible, Marvin, the orphanage could not afford it.”

Marvin swiveled its head back towards the pond, but did not continue on its way.

“Perhaps we could test–”

“Marvin,” Raines said with slight force. Moving over to the aged android with the rusting seams and discolored plastic highlights, Raines gently placed a hand on what passed for the android’s head. “If you go into the water with the children, the resulting damage, once your core systems were breached, would permanently destroy you, and could even injure the children.”

Marvin stood silently, its lifeless optical receivers, like black eyes, gazed out over the high grass waving lazily in the wind. One of Marvin’s internal components clicked and whirred as if the android were calculating this fatal possibility.

“This orphanage cannot afford to lose you or the children,” Raines explained, trying to comfort the artificial human. “You are all much too important.”

Without a response, Marvin trundled through the high grass and away from the shed. Raines stood watching it all the way down to the pond where the android carefully moved out on the dock and seated itself to watch the children play in the water. They ran on either side of it, jumping from the dock into the water. Occasionally, one or two children would sit with the android. Smiling with bittersweet acceptance, Raines closed the shed and returned to the administration building.

 

*

 

“A frog is an organism,” Marvin informed the children. Its tactile hands held the live amphibian with the care of a mother holding a baby. “It is made up of organs, like a heart, a brain, a stomach. These organs are made up of tissues, and the tissues are made of cells. Humans are also organisms, and like the frog, you are made up of organs, tissues, and cells.”

The children sat around the android, their eyes turned up to it in awe. Since Marvin’s upgrade, biology had become their favorite subject.

“Can a frog talk?” one of the boys asked.

“Of course,” Marvin said, its voice rising in mock excitement. “A frog says–” Marvin used a built-in sound file that had come with the new biology suite to imitate a frog’s song.

The frog in its hands repeated the song and the classroom came alive with the instantaneous mirth of children’s laughter.

From outside the classroom, Instructors Raines and Kelly watched through the door with smiles on their faces.

“It’s amazing isn’t it,” Instructor Kelly said. “They treat it like anyone one of us.”

Instructor Kelly had been brought on at the orphanage at about the same time as Raines. She had spent just as much time with the android as any other volunteer at the orphanage, but like Raines, she had grown closer to it than most. Only the children held more love for the android than Raines and Kelly, their affection even going so far as referring to Marvin as a “he” at times.

“You mean the frog?” Raines replied with a smirk.

“I mean Marvin,” she said, elbowing him. They smiled at each other and, surreptitiously, she moved her hand into his.

“Now they can get just as much education as any other children, and we don’t have to pay for expensive specialized teachers. Just the bargains, like us.”

Somberly, Kelly said, “But he won’t last forever.”

“Oh, I don’t know, old girl. There are still some of the same model in use. There are plenty of hobbyists programming upgrades out there.”

“You got approval from the old board for the upgrades. What about this new bunch?” Kelly asked, still watching the android.

“Powell’s an old fool,” Raines spat.

“She has the right, most of our donations come from Christian philanthropists and church outreach. Rumor is we may even go private.”

“Hearsay and unlikely. This is still a government facility-–federation or not, there’s still separation of church and state,” Raines argued.

“Calm down,” Kelly said quietly, squeezing his hand. “It’s not all bad.”

“It’s restrictive. There’s no balance in what they want. It’s simple politics.”

Nearly all the children raised their hands as Marvin indicated it was times for questions.

“Do you have organs?” one of the children asked Marvin.

“Are you an organism?” another followed.

The android was silent and turned its head to stare at the instructors which it had known were watching all along.

Raines quickly opened the door and entered the classroom. “Of course he is!” he said.

“Marvin forgot to tell you about the most important organ of all!” Snatching up a little girl, he began to tickle her fiercely. “The Ticklish Organ!”

The children broke in a mock panic as the girl squealed with laughter. Setting the girl down, Raines approached Marvin. “See? Marvin’s just like the rest of us.” Reaching under Marvin’s metallic appendages he pretended to tickle the android.

Following Raines’s lead, Marvin began to laugh and the children cheered.

From the door, Instructor Kelly sighed and smiled.

 

*

 

“It is neither your decision, nor your business how this board runs this orphanage, Instructor Raines,” the chairwoman, Ellen Powell, snapped. “These children will receive a morally sound education as requested by our donors, and that will be accomplished by the reinstatement of a curriculum with a strong foundation of Christian faith. That is what this orphanage was founded on, and regardless of what heathen direction it has taken since that time, it will now be brought back on course.”

“I knew this was coming. I came here to make a difference, not keep things the same. This is a Federation-owned center, it is against the regulations of the American Federation to allow religion to be taught in defiance of logic and science,” Raines pleaded.

“You will watch your tone with me, Raines. You are a valuable asset, but I can find a replacement for you in less than a day. And as for the Federation, their interference will be ended shortly. As of next week, I assume full control of this privately-owned orphanage.”

Raines glared at the plump woman behind her desk. He loathed her hair, tightly drawn up into a bun. He loathed her conservative black dress and her slightly raised chin. He wanted to quit, but could not abandon the children, or Marvin.

“What about Marvin?” Raines asked, desperately snatching at something to prevent his ideals from being trampled to death.

“Who?” Powell asked, confused.

“Our android,” Raines explained. “He’s not programmed to teach your Christian curriculum. We’ll have to wait until I can order new upgrades for him.”

“We will not spend another dime on that thing,” Powell said icily. “We need a new aircar to transport the children to a proper chapel on Sundays, and next autumn we must pay for them to appear at the Pope’s Celebration on the Lunar base for a blessing. We need that publicity more than we need an antique android to function properly.”

“You’re joking!” Raines spat. “Publicity? Do you even hear yourself? We’re here to help these children learn, not parade them in front of dignitaries for money.”

Powell ignored him. “As soon as they are approved, I will be bringing on a new group of instructors. Your robot can go back to its maintenance duties – and you can get back to teaching the curriculum you are assigned to teach.”

He is the best damned instructor you have!”

Raines spun and left the chairwoman’s office, slamming the door behind him.

 

*

 

After a month of interviews, approvals, and hiring, the orphanage brought on five additional Lead Instructors, all certified in the Christian curriculum that would begin to be taught there.

Raines and Kelly were retained as science and physical education instructors, respectively, but Marvin was no longer allowed to act as a teacher’s aide.

Though the android still was allowed to spend recreation time with the children, both Raines and Kelly could sense a growing distance between the children and the artificial human. In parallel, the early, timid movements of a bonding beyond friendship between Raines and Kelly had deteriorated to a point where they typically only spoke to each other during lunch hours. Where Raines had once found a comrade-in-arms, he now found an acquaintance at best.

“Do you ever think you’re being unfair?” Kelly asked Raines one day while they were taking lunch by the pond. “The orphanage is getting the funding it needs.”

“I never said it was bad for the orphanage,” Raines said bitterly. “I said it was bad for the orphans.”

“Who are you to decide how they receive their education, Raines?” Kelly fired back. “I was bitter too, but we’re not missionaries for logic. You’re almost being hypocritical.”

“That sow—“

“That sow and her new cronies are the only thing standing between you and unemployment. Suck it up, Raines. I’ve heard this atheistic bitching from you for years. In the end, you’re worse than them. They’re teaching and you’re still wallowing.”

“The future of our species depends on the education of the generations that follow us,” Raines tried to explain.

“Aren’t they saying the same thing?”

“It’s different.”

“It’s not, Raines,” Kelly said sadly. “You’re different.”

Sighing, she stood and took the rest of her lunch with her.

Raines did not watch her depart; instead, he looked at Marvin, across the pond. One of the new instructors was scolding the android for watching the children play instead of cutting the grass.

“Keep thinking, old bean,” Raines said to himself. “It’s the only thing they can’t take from us.”

 

*

 

“Did God make Marvin?” one of the children asked one of the new instructors during a Bible lesson.

Marvin, who was outside in the hallway mopping the floor, heard the question and turned its head towards the classroom.

“Humans put Marvin together,” Instructor Thomas explained with a forgiving smile. “God works through his children to make the things we need, like computers, automobiles, and shelter.”

“Will Marvin go to heaven?” another child asked.

“Heaven is a place prepared by God for humans,” Thomas said shaking his head. “And even then, only those humans that believe in and accept Jesus as their Savior.”

“What if Marvin believes in Jesus?”

“Yeah!” a few other voices intoned.

Sighing with frustration, Thomas said, “Marvin is not real. Marvin cannot believe in anything. Marvin only performs as it is programmed to perform. It is just a machine.”

In the hallway, Marvin stood silently, his internal components whirring and grinding as he processed new data and sorted it into complementing packets.

“Where will Marvin go when he dies?” a little girl asked sadly.

“A robot doesn’t die like you or me. A robot will stop working and then it will be thrown away.”

Later, when the lesson was over and the children bustled out of Thomas’s classroom. Marvin trundled over and knocked politely on Instructor Thomas’s door.

“Come in, Marvin,” Thomas said from his desk. “What can I do for you?”

Marvin made its way to the desk and stood silently for a moment.

Thomas impatiently removed his reading glasses and looked up from the textbook he had been marking lessons in. “Yes?”

“Will the children be happy in heaven?” Marvin asked him.

Thomas chuckled. “Most assuredly, but hopefully they won’t be children when they go to heaven. They all have long lives ahead of them.”

“Why do humans not go to heaven as soon as they are able, if happiness awaits them there? It seems logical that a longer life only opens the opportunity for unhappiness to occur.”

“What are you asking, Marvin?” Thomas queried, his brow furrowing slightly.

“If it only takes belief in Jesus, then why would God not wish for his children to be brought to heaven as soon as possible so that they may be happy sooner and for a longer time?” Marvin expanded.

“You must die and move on from this world before God brings you into his heaven,” Thomas stated. Slipping his glasses back on, he bent back down to his work.

Marvin remained.

After a few moments, Instructor Thomas looked up and tore the glasses from his face in agitation. “Please leave, Marvin. I have important lessons to prepare.”

“Do humans not wish to die, to reach heaven faster?” Marvin asked.

“No human truly wishes to die,” Thomas said, rising from his desk, intending to use his communications console to call someone to remove the android. “And those who commit suicide are not allowed to enter Heaven.”

After entering the code that would summon one of the groundskeepers, Thomas returned to his desk.

When he looked up a few seconds later, Marvin had left the classroom.

 

*

 

Raines had several difficult adjustments to make in Marvin’s delicate machinery. The increased physical workload placed on the android had overtaxed the joints in his legs. For a week, Marvin had been unable to properly use his right leg, and when he did, it made a terrible metallic scraping noise.

Powell had threatened to chuck the robot, but Raines had promised to correct the problem. He was forced to take a personal day without pay to do so.

“How have you been, Marvin?” Raines asked cheerfully. He had removed the offending leg and proceeded to give it a brief chemical bath to cleanse away the grime caked in the joints.

“Excluding the inoperative status of the appendage you are repairing, I am functioning at average levels of efficiency,” the android responded. His voice, normally ranging in tone, was now monotonous and even.

Raines winced at the sound, gripping his spanner a little tighter. “We miss you in our discussions during the biology lessons.”

Marvin was silent; his head dipped and what passed for his chin tapped gently against his chest.

“Been doing any thinking lately?” Raines queried, desperately trying to ignite a conversation like they had in the past.

“I have run several models on the likely growth patterns of the landscaped shrubbery in the front fields. I think they are accurate given my observations of their previous growth and meteorological forecasts.”

Raines sighed, and began scouring the dirty appendage. He remained quiet during the rest of their time together.

Once he reattached the leg and checked that it was working properly, he helped the android up from its seated position.

Marvin trundled silently away towards his duties for the day.

Raines clenched his jaw tightly, trying to ignore the sudden blurring of the tears obstructing his view. After a moment, he turned off the lights in the shed and slammed its door home.

 

*

 

On a pleasant afternoon, a week after Raines had repaired Marvin’s faulty leg, the children were exceptionally loud with happiness. Several of the instructors came out of their classrooms to watch the orphans play. The sun played off the water of the pond, and the birdsong intermingled with the giggling joy of youth. It was a perfect day.

It had been many weeks since Marvin had come down to watch them play in the pond. They splashed water at each other and played underwater games as the android looked on from its position at the edge of the dock. Its mechanical legs swung slightly over the water as it sat there.

Instructor Raines was in his shed, working and diligently studying diagrams on a shielding interface for Marvin’s core systems. He had spent weeks to find a customizer who could help him with the complicated upgrade. It was going to be a surprise for Marvin and Raines hoped it would cheer the android up.

Down at the pond, Marvin’s lifeless optical receivers recorded the movements of the children as it imperceptibly inched its body closer to the edge of the dock.

Instructor Thomas appeared in the doorway of the shed and knocked politely. Raines looked up and nodded at him.

“I don’t mean to be a pest,” Thomas began, “but your robot has been a bit of an irritation to me lately.”

“Oh?” Raines remarked with surprise. “What has he been doing?”

“Frankly, it’s been asking too many questions.”

Raines chuckled and went back to his studying. “He’s a vocational android. They’re meant to be inquisitive. They’re programmed to learn and then teach what they have learned.”

“Well, it’s not been taught properly, then. I’d appreciate it if you’d just instruct it not to enter my classroom again.”

Raines looked over at his colleague, confused. “I don’t have control over him any more than you do, Thomas. What kind of questions has he been asking you?”

On the dock, Marvin’s body tipped slightly forward and the wood creaked, then it rocked back.

“It’s been awfully morbid, asking about heaven and hell, death, suicide. At first I thought it would be an isolated event, but he keeps coming back. I know several others that say he’s been asking questions along the same lines. Just what sort of robot have you got working here anyway?”

Raines’s eyes moved past Thomas’s shoulder and he could see Marvin on the dock with the children. The children seemed awfully happy to have their companion back.

“He has a logical mind, Thomas. He can’t comprehend farcical deities and mystic rituals. He operates on fact,” Raines stated matter-of-factly. “If he can’t piece together a concept based on what you’ve given him to work with, he’ll keep asking until he can, or until some outside influence changes his perception.”

Thomas turned slightly red. “Perhaps this isn’t the sort of orphanage for a robot like that–”

Raines’s eyes squinted slightly as they watched the robot on the dock.

“–or people like that. Its obsession with the children going to heaven and being happy has just become tiresome and I–”

Thomas’s words faded out and Raines’s eyes went wide as everything clicked together.

Thomas was in mid-sentence when Raines leaped from his seat and bowled him over. The world moved in slow motion as Raines sprinted through the high grass.

Marvin’s body leaned over the water again and this time did not tip back to the safety of the dock.

“Marvin!” a voice screamed over the fields, echoing off the hard brick of the orphanage in the distance.

Marvin’s body slid off the dock and into the water with only a whisper of a splash.

It took a few seconds, but the water found the nooks and crannies in Marvin’s mechanical body.

A boy floated in front of Marvin, his face a masterpiece of elation and joy at seeing his friend finally join them in the pond.

Marvin wished, for the first time in his existence, not that he was alive, but simply that he had a mouth to smile with.

As Marvin died, angels swam in the reflection of his black and lifeless eyes.

###