CHAINS OF IRON, WILL OF STEEL
He looked up into the eyes of his enemy once more. The debris and rocks cut into his joints. His elbows and knees buried themselves into the sun-scorched earth. He slid further this time, and the pain was much more intense. Every breath filled his mouth with dust. The sand clicked between his teeth as he clenched them together from the pain. He heard a voice inside himself cry out “Stand up!” and he immediately obeyed. His enemy stood firm casting a shadow that reached where the boy had lain moments before.
“Now stay down and shut up boy, or I’ll gut you like a sewer rat!” The man had reached his limit and meant every word he screamed. Spit flew from his mouth as he swore. His grimace revealed the filth collected on his stained teeth from years of neglect. It was a habit of his to kill at the first sign of opposition. But his instructions were clear, no more killing, at least no more until Samuel had lifted the ban. Slaves were becoming more difficult to get. Most of the people moved into the bigger cities after The Cleansing. Usually for protection from the suburb gangs. Although this slave was a young boy in his teens, even they were becoming of value.
The boy gathered enough saliva to spit out some of the dirt from his mouth, and then stood from the ground. Sinking his heels into the hard dirt; he looked his oppressor in the eye and clenched his fists. All those who were watching feared what would come next for the young man. They had all seen more than their share of death and mutilation here in the camp. Most of which came by the hands of this attacker.
The makeshift camp looked more like a salvage yard than a prison. Various cages littered the yard within the walls segregating the slaves by gender. Built from scraps of metal, wire, and debris, they were much more formidable than they appeared. The guards watched and laughed, taunting the aggressor as he struggled with controlling the young man. He struggled with his temper as well, fearing he may give in to his anger and kill the boy. After killing a woman a few days ago, he knew that if he did it again he would be the next one thrown into the pit. A deep well that had become the dumping hole for the dead and almost dead. The practice began when a Cursed had fallen into the well, and lived through the fall. As a means of torture, the guards threw disobedient slaves into the pit to teach the others a lesson. After much use, the pile of dead bodies cushioned one’s fall so death never came from the descent. The hands of The Cursed awaited those who survived the fall.
“I’m going to smash your face!” The attacker pulled his arm back holding an old table leg clenched in his hand. Covered with the dried blood of many victims, he ran full speed at the young man screaming. The young man’s thoughts changed from fearlessness to fright, as he thought; this is where I die. The penalty for killing a slave since the ban was death. The guards watching knew that the punishment for such an act might pour-over onto them for not stopping it. Two of the guards immediately ran from the sidelines where they were enjoying the show. The attacker lacked restraint and ran full-throttled toward the young man. The young man turned to the side to brace for the attack. He tightened every muscle in his body, preparing for the blow. The attacker swung with all his might. The two guards tackled him to the ground inches from of the young man who still stood his ground trying not to blink.
“Stop it! That’s enough; throw him in the cage. You’re going to get us killed!” one of the tackling guards yelled to the attacker. The two guards helped the attacker up as he dropped the table leg and walked over to the young boy. He sneered and looked him in the eye almost touching his nose to the young man’s nose. “What’s your name?” he growled as spit came from his mouth.
“Trevor...” He did not know why he answered; the words just came out. He tried not to show his fear and maintained his stance against an invisible force that wanted to push him back.
“This isn’t over Trevor. When no one is around, I’m going to cut your throat.”
“Come on, let’s go!” The men pulled at the attacker’s arms. He began to go back and thrust his head with all his might forward against Trevor’s forehead with much force. Trevor fell to his knees, the weight of his body was too much. He fell face first onto the ground, unconscious from the blow. Two more guards approached Trevor, grabbing his legs and dragging him to the cage.
Those watching awed about how brave this young man was. Standing up to these guards, and facing death with what appeared to be a fearless strength. They also thought of how stupid it was to anger the guards. Nothing good ever came from fighting back. No one had ever escaped, and no one had ever fought off a guard. If you defended yourself against one, they would come back with three. If you resisted still, they would either kill you as an example or make you into a sport. The guards enjoyed playing many sick and twisted games. Although they did not play them as much as they once did because of the ban.
Immediately after The Cleansing, slaves were a dime a dozen. But now, it was simple economics of supply and demand. The demand for slaves had increased but the supply was dwindling. This made them all the more valuable. After The Cleansing, the underground slavery rings came out of the shadows. Because there was no longer any law enforcement, no rules, no one to stop the evil from ruling the day as well as the night. With the help of the gangs, the slave trade became a booming business. Traded, purchased, and sold for many reasons, slaves were a huge commodity. Even so, slavers could not travel into bigger cities to capture more slaves even with the help of the gangs. The only opportunities they found now were random travelers. Sometimes lost citizens who happened to step just a little too far from the safety of the city. Usually searching for food or water.
As the guards dragged the young man to the cage, a rather large man with a hunting rifle opened the cage door. It was a makeshift cage of wire, fence and various metal poles. Not a prison that would hold you for long if it was not for the blood-lust-filled guards everywhere. They threw him in and shut the door. A couple of slaves ran to him and dragged him back into a corner, setting him up so he could breathe. His forehead swelled and looked as if someone had cut an orange in half and placed it on his head just above his eyes. The guards walked away laughing and talking, except for the attacker. He stood glaring down at Trevor. His fury was burning with anger at the embarrassment this teenager had caused him. He was afraid of losing the respect of his peers, and even more afraid of losing control of the other slaves. He was not going to allow either to happen. He did not know how, but he was going to get his revenge and make an example of the one who called himself Trevor.
The camp was quiet for the rest of the evening. The excitement from the confrontation had put everyone on edge. The slavers worried about a rebellion, and the slaves worried about retaliation. Each trying to keep their distance from the other.
If Trevor’s resistance did anything, it gave the slavers a reason to fear the slaves. For the slaves an evening of peace away from the hands of their abusers. This temporary state of tension was only going to become worse. Samuel was coming and he feared no one; whether human, beast or Cursed. His grip on the traders as well as the slavers and gangs had tightened. His empire was becoming a force that ruled all the land. The tales of him were as great as his size, and most surrendered at the sight of him. When he came to the camps, it was for one reason and one reason only. To clean house, organize and end anything that stood in the way of the growth and expansion of his kingdom.
“It’s time, Taylor.” Pastor Simms voice came into the room like a gentle alarm, barely enough to wake him. Taylor had slept hard; it was the first time since The Cleansing he felt safe, warm and comfortable. Sitting up in the bed, he watched as the first-quarter day began. The winds were coming along with the stench. He watched out his window for a moment as the orange light began to peek over the horizon. The warm breeze with the odor of rotting flesh began to waft in. He looked over at the Pastor. “Thanks.” He smiled and Pastor Simms smiled back as he turned to leave.
Taylor got out of bed and got dressed. He hesitated to leave. The small room felt like a little slice of peace on earth. Pausing for a moment to take a mental picture. He left the little room. Stepping into the hallway of the renovated apartment building. He traveled up two floors to the commons area. They had converted a few of the apartments into a larger room for eating. There were tables and chairs, and people all around. As Taylor walked in, he looked out the window and saw lights on in the other buildings. He thought to himself, they must all follow the same schedule. He saw Pastor Simms blessing the breakfast before serving it to the residents. This makeshift city appeared to be very organized and well maintained.
There had to be at least twenty apartment buildings in this complex if not more. They were structured, had food and water, and operated like a well-oiled machine. Taylor noticed the changing of the guards as they served food. Two rough-looking men came and relieved two others who had been awake all night keeping watch. They handed over their weapons to the replacements, shared a few quick words, and were off. As the new guards came they assessed the room. Looking out to the other buildings, they relaxed at the entrance to the commons. Taylor scanned the room as well, and Tia caught his eye. He looked for a moment and then started towards her. He saw she had taken advantage of the makeshift shower Pastor Simms offered him the night before. Her hair was no longer a tangled mess, filled with bits of dead grass. She was even more attractive than Taylor had remembered. She caught his glance and he quickly passed his eyes over her as if he had only just looked.
“’bout time you got up,” she said as he sat down. He smiled at her and she laughed. The servers went table to table serving breakfast. Taylor watched as they generously spooned something onto his plate. It was hot, steaming, and smelled very good, but he was unable to tell what it was. Almost afraid to ask, he turned to the man sitting next to him, “What is it?”
The man looked at him and smirked at the newcomer. “Its breakfast.” Taylor did not make an expression, and was taken aback for a moment, then realized the man was trying to be humorous.
Taylor smiled. “No, really, what is it?”
“We have food here, you should be thankful. The younger men go out and hunt each night. There are many mouths to feed you know, so they get what they can get. And if it passes Pastor Simms’ Geiger counter, then we can eat it.”
It smelled good, Taylor thought to himself. Pastor Simms would not allow his people to eat The Cursed or other people for that matter, so it was probably OK. He took his first bite reluctantly but found it was delicious. The cook here had a lot of experience making wild things edible. As they ate, those sitting at the table spoke of many things.
Taylor and Tia mostly listened since they were new. Some talked of how the complex was getting stronger. How the first floor of each building housed only guards now. Some of the residents spoke of the guards having to use knives and bats, but some had guns. The complex was becoming a functioning city unto itself. There was food, water and protection for those who chose to stay here and be part of the community. Pastor Simms was the head of a community board. They overlooked the operations and daily duties of the complex. There was even talk of naming the complex as a city. Taylor thought twenty buildings was not a very big city. This was the best operating community he had experienced since The Cleansing though.
After breakfast Taylor and Tia headed to their rooms to get their supplies. Meeting back at Pastor Simms’ office they said their goodbye’s to the Pastor, and headed out. Tia thought of Miley and the pain she was in from her crushed leg. She worried about the complex not having any medicine or doctors. Her thoughts went to Meghan, Edgar, and Amy, wondering if they would be OK. She almost did not want to leave, but felt she had to help Taylor. After all, if it were not for Taylor, they would all be dead by now. Taylor made note on his PDA of the complex location. He wanted to ensure that no matter what happened they would be able to find their way back. He was not sure if he would ever find his son, but if he did, he knew this complex is where he wanted to be, with Tia and the others. They had become his family. He thought of them often. He hated leaving them behind, although he knew they were safe here.
Taylor and Tia reached the first floor of the building. The guards led them to the edge of the complex at the front gate. It was large and made of brick with no doors or actual gates that closed, just a two-lane road coming in. A brick wall approximately six feet tall surrounded the rest of the complex. High enough to keep out The Cursed and wild animals. As they approached the front gate, they saw half a dozen armed guards, one of which walked toward Taylor. He appeared to be an ex-military man by his stature and his hair. Taylor did not realize how big this man was until he stood next to him.
“Be safe out there,” the guard said looking at the two of them.
“Take this,” he handed them each a small eight-sided marble. It appeared to be two pyramids attached to each other at the base.
“What’s this?” Tia asked.
“The kids make these for crafts from marble. It gives them something to do, and we use them to identify people who are welcome here. Don’t tell anyone what they are. If you were...if anything happens to you out there, bandits would not take these from your bodies. Thinking they had no real value. And if they did take them, they would have no clue you need them to show you’re a friend at the complex. Treat these as your keys. Any guard on duty here will recognize them.”
“Thank you,” Taylor said putting the object in his pocket.
“Try not to lose them. If you do, ask for Wood. I’ll remember you guys.”
“Thanks again.” Taylor and Tia stepped outside the gate and into the edge of the burbs. They were right on the main highway that ran east and west. Taylor took a deep breath. The first-quarter day was nearly over. The sun was to their backs, and they could see miles of road before them. In the near distance they could see the parking lot they had crossed to reach the complex. To the south and a store occupied by a small group of men. Taylor looked over at Tia. “Are you ready? It’s your last chance to stay here.” He did not want her to stay, but he also did not want her to think she was obligated to go.
“No, I’m ready. Let’s find your son.” She wanted to stay, but her commitment to Taylor was greater than her desire to hide in the complex. He knew she was torn. He wanted to stay as well, but he could not rest until he found his son. They started out, crossing the bridge over another highway and headed west.
“We have to be sure not to travel south yet, because of the gangs and Samuel and his henchmen. They will be looking for us.” Taylor did not want to mention too much and cause Tia to fear. Tia looked over to Taylor and spoke, “Once we go west for a while we should be past the school and we could go south then, right?”
“Yeah, I want to be sure we go far enough west first though. I do not want to run into those guys again,” he smiled to her. She agreed with him and prayed they never saw another slaver. Just the thought of those chains on her ankles made her feel ill. Her stomach would turn at the mention of captivity. They traveled westward to the small store where some men were standing outside. Taylor kept one eye on the group as he and Tia passed them, but none of them looked their way. They all stood around a burning barrel laughing and talking. They seemed harmless enough. As Taylor and Tia came closer, they looked over and Taylor watched them from the corner of his eye.
“Hey!” one of the men hollered.
“Yeah?” Taylor yelled back then turned to face Tia and whispered, “Keep walking.”
“You guys shouldn’t go that way. If you follow this road west, there’s nothing out there but farms and empty fields. You won’t find another city for miles.”
“What if we cut back south?” Taylor called back pleased they were talking, instead of attacking.
“No good. That road you’re following heads northwest. The further you follow it, the further north you are going to be traveling. You’ll only be putting more distance between you and the nearest city.” Taylor understood what the man was saying, but did not want to explain his situation, and why he had to travel west. For all he knew, these were friends of Samuel, so he had to watch what he said.
“Thanks, we’ll go a little ways and cut back then.” He caught back up with Tia.
“Well?” she asked. He looked in the direction they were walking.
“We are going to take this road west until we think we are far enough to travel south again.”
Tia looked back to him, “If it was going to take us a few days to get there before, and now we’re going west first, isn’t that going to add a lot of time to our trip?” She was starting to become concerned about their food and water supply. Knowing they only carried enough for a few days.
Taylor responded, “Yeah, I know. But I can’t risk going south too soon. We’ll be OK. I promise.” He looked back at her and smiled, and she believed him. If she had learned anything in the short time she spent with him, it was that he would do everything within his power to do whatever it was he set out to do. Regardless of the personal cost. She believed that if his son were still alive, he would find him.
They walked for hours without seeing anything, or anyone. There was nothing but farmland to the north and south as the road seemed to go on forever. Occasionally they would see a farmhouse off in the distance. But being this far out, they were too afraid to go exploring. For now, they had no reason to gather anything, they had everything they needed and could carry. Taylor still had his trusty backpack named Sam, Pete had made for him out of his suitcase. Tia carried her supplies in a hiking pack that Pastor Simms had given her at the complex. Taylor had asked Pastor Simms for a weapon, a real one. But he could not afford to give any away, they had so few and so many people to protect. As it was, his guards were sharing what weapons they did have.
Taylor understood, and took the hunting knife he was offered. He had given the hunting knife to Tia so she would have a way to protect herself. Taylor still had the modified paintball gun that Pete had made for him which shot steel balls. It got the job done. But reloading was cumbersome and was nearly impossible to do quickly or efficiently. The gun was very effective and accurate at close range, and he had become quite accustomed to using it. Still, a real gun would have made him feel much safer.
They began to tire from their walking and the weight of their packs became a burden. Tia did not want to ask, but Taylor saw she was struggling and needed a break.
“Let’s rest a bit,” he said as he looked up at the third-quarter sun.
“We can’t just stop here,” Tia looked around at the open area; the road ran east to west as far as the eye could see. To the north was overgrown farmland. To the south was barren farmland that eventually turned into a wooded area.
“Well. We could head south into this farmland. Maybe head into the woods over there to rest,” Taylor said looking off into the distance. He tried to see if there was danger in that direction.
“Why not travel north into the tall weeds instead of the south through all that dirt?” Tia looked towards the safety of the tall weeds as cover and desired them much more than woods. Woods just like the area where she had experienced Miley’s attack. She thought of Miley and worried about her broken leg again.
“Well, the dirt is hard and turned, we won’t leave any tracks if we travel over it, and the weeds are tall and dead. If we go that way we will leave a perfect trail showing where we went. If we’re going to rest somewhere, I don’t want to announce where we are to the world.”
Tia was pleased to have Taylor there; she did not think of these things and was glad he did. Taylor’s fear of conflict was the driving force behind his thoughts. His life in the business world had taught him to think on his feet, and to do so quickly. He learned over the years how to calculate risk and manage it with the least amount of collateral damage. These skills played themselves out in his everyday life now. Tia started walking south over the hard overturned ground. The dirt was unforgiving and caused the two of them to twist their ankles more than once. They slowed their pace to save their joints from any further pain. After a good twenty minutes, they reached the edge of the woods, which seemed to go on forever and become very thick. Within a few yards, they could no longer see the dirt field they had crossed. They found a small clearing where there had been a small mud hole at one time, now dried up. The daily winds and the late year dried up smaller puddles and made water that much more scarce. They removed their packs and set them on the ground, then sat on them. Taylor was not sure because it had been so long, but he thought it was becoming fall. It was cold at night, and what leaves were left on the trees were changing. He was not sure if that was from the season, or from all the toxins in the water and air.
The mini-nukes only detonated in larger cities with government-run health departments. The fallout from those bombs had traveled all over the world because of the winds. You never knew what town would be safe and what town would be full of radiation. Once the bombs fell, there was no one operating any of the nuclear power stations, they failed as well. Some of them failed catastrophically and wiped out entire cities. Others failed and shut down as well. Slowly destroying the land around them as they boiled with intense heat spewing out radioactive steam. When they spent the night at the school, Amy had found a small Geiger counter button, which one wore on their shirt. As you approached radiation, it would click and light up. Taylor was not sure it even worked, but it appeared to be brand new. He had not heard anything from it yet, so assumed all was clear. The air chilled as the sun began the fourth-quarter day and fell behind the tree line.
“I didn’t want to spend the night in the woods. What if there are more of those stalker things that Matthew was talking about? Like the one that attacked Miley?” Tia looked to Taylor for comfort, but she could find no sign of reassurance.
“I’m not sure. Let’s eat, then we’ll move back out to the open.” They ate a small meal and had a little water. They ate less than they wanted in anticipation of a longer journey than they had planned. After they ate, they gathered their packs and started towards the edge of the woods. Disoriented from the packing and all the moving around, they did not know which way to go.
“Wait, that’s the wrong way,” Tia said.
“What? I thought we came in near that fallen tree?”
“No, we walked over to that tree after we found the clearing, remember?” but he did not remember, and she was not sure she remembered either. They were only a few yards from the overturned dirt field, it could not be that difficult to find it again, but it was. The sun had fallen to the horizon, which was near dark in the woods. Everything had become a deep bronze color. No light was visible through the trees in any direction.
“Use your PDA, the GPS,” Tia exclaimed trying not to get too upset. But her fear began to rise as the darkness came. She remembered the words of Matthew as he had described the stalkers. She could not imagine anything worse than an animal devouring you alive. Her fears were becoming more like reality as the darkness enveloped the two of them in the woods. Taylor pulled out his PDA to turn it on. He soon realized he had never turned it off after putting the coordinates in for the complex. Worse yet was the fact that he forgot to plug the solar panel on his pack into the PDA. The battery was dying.
“Oh no,” Taylor said almost under his breath.
Tia heard and her anxiety rose. “What?”
“The battery is almost dead.”
“Well hurry up and figure out which way we need to go, and let’s go!” The only light now was from the screen as it shined into Taylor’s face.
“It won’t pick up a signal, the trees are too thick here. Where is the clearing we were sitting in? We need that clearing to get a signal from the satellites.” The two of them scrambled to find the clearing they were in moments ago. The aimless movement trying to find an escape from the woods had caused them to lose it. Then, there were too small beeps, and the light from the PDA went out. They both froze in their steps.
“No!” Taylor whispered.
“Great, now what do we do?” Tia whimpered. She could not imagine staying in the woods with no light and no protection.
A Beginning and an End
Miles entered the room and saw Dorothy on the couch with her eyes closed again. The lights were off, and music played softly in the distance. As the door closed, he stood for a moment looking at her. It made him happy to see that she had discovered a friend hidden within the millions of lines of code. She would not have to sit for hours in the room alone while he worked. His mood declined as he looked down at her lower-half. Still missing, but all that was all going to change today. Walking over to the crate Steve had left in his front room, he looked for something to open it. Finding a small crowbar designed for the task sitting on the table he picked it up. The commotion caused Dorothy to open her eyes. Returning from the world she had created with Makayla inside of her electronic mind.
“Miles, you’re back! I need to talk to you...” He interrupted her before she could finish. Completely missing the sound of significance in her voice.
“It’s a new body! Steve got it with his last shipment, and he gave it to us, as he said he would! He said it is unisex, but he has the parts to fix that, he said he sent them along in a separate package. We will have to put them on ourselves, but that won’t take long. Isn’t this great, you’ll finally be able to walk and...” He turned to her, noticed the look on her face. He realized there was something she wanted to say to him, something important. Miles put the crowbar back on the table as he walked towards Dorothy.
“What’s wrong?” he asked starting to get concerned.
“Nothing’s wrong Miles, I need to ask a favor.” Her voice was hesitating and pausing between words. He would do anything for her. She was his best friend and after all the years they had spent together, he was closer to her than he was with anyone. He shared everything with her, and he could not imagine living without her. The thought of doing so worried him sometimes.
“What is it?” he asked her concerned, and trying to show as much.
“I want to give the body to Makayla.” She almost did not want to say the words. She knew how hard Miles had worked over the years building her and trying to get nothing but the best parts for her. And she knew this bot-body sitting in the crate was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was nearly impossible to get a model of this quality, let alone a brand new one. All the parts to make the body feminine were here making the situation that much more incredible.
But the burden to find Makayla a body was far greater than the need to have something for herself. Dorothy was used to being who she was, with all her abilities and disabilities. But the more time she spent with Makayla, the more she felt for her. She had only known life as a little girl. Although she now had the intellect of an adult, she lacked life experience, and in many ways was still a little girl. Because she was incapable of bearing offspring herself, that to her Makayla was like her child. Inside of her, growing, maturing as
Dorothy nurtured her and prepared to give her life. She felt the responsibility, and deep inside she dreamed of a family with Miles. He brought Makayla to her, and Makayla would not be here if it were not for Miles. She felt that taking care of Makayla was her responsibility just as much Miles’. This was the closest Dorothy would ever get to having a child, or a family, and so Makayla now came first.
Miles looked back at the box and then to Dorothy. “It’s up to you Dorothy. Make sure it is what you want to do, because I don’t know if I will ever get my hands on another body like this. I mean, it is new and still in the crate. The AI’s not initiated yet, and all the parts belong together. This wasn’t pieced together with parts from different models.” Miles was trying to say in a nice way that he did not want to give the body to Makayla. He wanted Dorothy to have it, although he understood her point. He made his argument , wanting Dorothy to make the final decision.
“I’m sorry,” she said looking down.
The introduction of Makayla’s mind into her own caused Dorothy’s feelings and emotions to magnify. With the real-life experiences Makayla brought with her, things made more sense. Dorothy's response to everything was the same as before. But now it was with increased expression and understanding of what she felt.
“No, I’m sorry, I was excited for you, but it’s whatever you want. I’m OK with it, really!” realizing that all that mattered to him was her happiness. He assumed it could only come with a complete body. Helping Makayla was far more important to her. This sacrifice she was making would make her happier than anything Miles could give her.
She looked up and started to smile. “Really?”
“Yes,” He said as Dorothy smiled and could not wait to tell Makayla the news. Miles smiled back knowing that he had made Dorothy very happy.
“Well then, let’s get this out of the box, and start connecting things up. I have to start up the fusion cells and power the system up, and get all the locks off the joints, and it will be ready to go.” Miles smiled again at her and went back to work. Ever since Dorothy unlocked Makayla’s mind, they had shared a lot of time together. They shared thoughts and memories. Even played back times they remembered like a three-dimensional movie. They could walk through and experience together. Makayla showed Dorothy the time she got a puppy for Christmas. Dorothy could hardly maintain the feelings of joy and excitement she shared.
Dorothy shared the time she played the prank on one of Miles’ associates she did not quite care for. Makayla laughed and called her “sassy.” They spent a lot of time together and became very close. Together they built a world within Dorothy that they could explore.
Makayla was scared to leave Dorothy and was afraid of what it would be like in the real world. As an adult Makayla had only experienced the world that she and Dorothy created together within their minds. A world they had control over; but out there, in the real world, it was going to be different. When Makayla was not spending time with Dorothy, she spent hours going over the frame searching information about the world. Reading articles of news and finding out what had taken place over the years. She did not like what she saw, what the world had become. It was not a pretty place. It was nothing like the cabin she grew up in, lost deep in the forest on the side of a hill overlooking a field of tall grass with a river running through it. She played in the woods and on the hillsides and had so much fun catching frogs and butterflies. Going for long quiet walks with her stuffed animals, and creating worlds for them all to visit. She began telling her animals stories shortly after her mother died. In the worlds she created, there was nothing bad and no sickness. She often pretended her mother was sitting with her at tea parties, telling Makayla often to use a napkin instead of her sleeve. All her memories were joyful looking back now. Although she knew about the treatments she had to endure all she could remember was the birthday party. The party she received the last time she was a young girl, thanks to Dorothy. She could never thank Dorothy enough for fixing her memories. For removing the pain and suffering that haunted her and trapped her. A never-ending loop of despair and death.
Makayla continued to reminisce deep inside Dorothy’s mind. Dorothy smiled watching Miles prepare the new body. She loved him, but could never say it. She knew it would never work for a man to be with a robot, no matter how intelligent and self-aware she was. As he cleared the debris away from the new bot-body, Miles had a terrible thought: what if this did not work? What if, the only reason Makayla is alive inside of Dorothy is Dorothy’s programming and AI system? What if they transferred Makayla to the new bot and nothing happened? Or worse, what if the files became damaged or deleted? There was no “copy” of the files. When Dorothy unlocked the fragmented files they all connected together into one file. That was it. There was no residue, no copies, and no backup. Makayla was it.
Miles cleared his throat before speaking. “Dorothy...what if...”
He was interrupted by Dorothy this time, “We know, we talked about it. From all the calculations, we believe that this is not an anomaly and that Makayla’s mind was recorded, and operational because of her own synapses being accurately encoded into a digital format.”
“But what if it’s not?” Miles was still concerned.
“It’s OK Miles, we talked about that too. She has to do this.”
Miles continued to remove the joint locks and shipping wrap from the body. It was flesh in color, and the skin was very realistic. Almost flawless, except for slight flaws and variations placed onto the skin to give it a more realistic appearance. The body was unisex, and a little strange to look at, as it confused the senses. The face was also the kind of face you look at and try to discover the sex, but with no luck. Almost a homely woman, or a feminine man, you could not tell. But none of that mattered at this point. Once the system was up and running and Makayla transferred into the body, the other parts to make this body feminine could be added.
The system powered up and the temporary settings box, which connected into a small plug hidden in the seat of the bot, began to flicker.
“OK, it’s ready for programming. The systems check finished, and it is awaiting initialization of the AI and subsystems. Is she ready?” Miles anxiously looked to Dorothy and awaited her response. His nerves on edge, he prayed this would work.
“Give me a minute.” Dorothy closed her eyes and was instantly in the cabin in her mind where Makayla was sitting on the couch in the front room by a warm fire.
“It’s ready Makayla,” Dorothy said, smiling.
“I’m a little scared, Dorothy. I’m scared of losing this—what I have here, what we have together—the only reality I’ve had since I became an adult.”
“I know, but you have to live. That is what your father wanted. He did not want you stuck in this state of dreaming, trapped inside a world where you can never interact with others. He wanted you to be able to share your life, your love, your happiness with others so that they too can enjoy who you are—as your parents did.”
Makayla looked up from the couch to Dorothy, “It’s not that I don’t want to, I’m scared. I really want to be out there. I want to find my father’s cabin, and find an answer to this virus before it kills every man, woman and child on earth. I am ready, and a little scared.”
“Makayla, I have been here for you since the beginning, since that first day I found you playing on the hill. I will be there when you open your eyes; I will be there for you in the real world, just as I am here in this dream world. I promise.”
“OK, let’s hurry up and do this. And Dorothy, thank you for everything.”
Miles stood and waited with the controller in his hand watching Dorothy as she sat there motionless with her eyes closed. He sometimes wished he too could be in the world inside Dorothy, that she and Makayla created together. He wondered often what it would be like.
Dorothy opened her eyes. “She’s ready Miles. She’s going to go now.”
Miles smiled but exposed his concern through his eyes. He pressed a couple of buttons and looked back to Dorothy. “OK, it’s ready.”
Dorothy closed her eyes once again and found herself standing on the hill with Makayla. They smiled and hugged each other as a door appeared beside them. The sound of a lock clicking broke the silence. Dorothy spoke softly, “OK Makayla, this is the door. I’ve unlocked it, and all you have to do now is step through and you will find yourself in the bot Miles has prepared for you.”
Makayla reached for the door and opened it as light flooded the hillside from the doorway. Makayla stepped through. Dorothy opened her eyes and looked at Miles. “OK, it’s done.”
Miles, still nervous, turned his attention from Dorothy to the bot body. “OK. Now let’s start up the AI and see what happens.” Miles pressed another button then reached down and unplugged the connector from the bot. He walked over to Dorothy, and turned to see what was going to happen in fear something might go wrong and they would lose Makayla all together. Dorothy wished she could be standing to greet Makayla when she opened her eyes. For a brief moment she wondered what it would be like to walk around in the real world as she had done in the dream for so long. Makayla, now in her new body, opened her eyes and looked around the room.
“Makayla?” Dorothy said, wondering to herself, how long it would take Makayla to grasp her new reality. Miles stood there praying that everything would work. He was sure that Makayla could help them find her father’s cabin, and in it, the safe which may hold the key to the virus and its mutations.
“Dorothy?” Makayla said as she began to look around and put out her arms a little as if to keep herself from falling. She took a small step and blinked a few times, then shook her head back and forth.
“This is really weird.” She said with a smile on her face. Miles and Dorothy smiled as well; it appeared as if everything was working. The fact that she even made a comment about an observation showed that the AI was not only working, but her self-awareness was operational. She also recognized Dorothy, which showed the rudimentary part of her memories were still intact. It appeared the transfer of Makayla to the new bot body was a success. Miles took Makayla by the hand and walked her over to the couch to sit next to Dorothy.
“Here, have a seat.” He sat her down.
“Wow, it’s so weird. It’s like trying to wake up in the middle of the night. It’s hard to keep my eyes open and focus on things. And I feel like I need a nap.” They laughed together. Makayla looked over and saw that Dorothy had nothing from the waist down. She realized once again the sacrifice that she had made to help her. Giving up her chance at a functional and complete body.
“Thank you, Dorothy!”
“It’s OK. So how are you feeling? Can you remember everything?” Dorothy felt like everything was fine, but wanted to make sure.
“If I didn’t remember everything, how would I know?” They laughed. Makayla continued to look around the room and began to gain better control of her body as well as her eyes. She looked over at Dorothy, “Wow, you sure look different!” She laughed, and Dorothy giggled, “Yeah, well if I were you I wouldn’t look in the mirror right now.”
Makayla looked down at herself seeing she was completely naked and sexless, “Ahh! Could I get some clothes or something?” Miles went into the bedroom to get Makayla some clothes. He came back with some in each hand, “Sorry, I don’t have much for women.”
“Am I bald too?” Makayla asked reaching up to feel the top of her head, which was smooth.
“Ahh! I’m like a store mannequin!” Makayla screeched as she rubbed the top of her head, laughing. Miles was relieved that everything worked and that the girls were having fun with the situation. “Listen, when you guys want to, all of the parts for upgrading are in a box inside the crate along with some very nice hair, and...” A buzzer went off and the male room voice spoke: Sir, you are being hailed to the commander’s office, immediately.
“Ladies, if you will excuse me, I have an important meeting to go to and be yelled at mercilessly.” Miles smiled to the two of them as they talked and laughed hardly realizing that he had spoken. He set the clothes on the couch next to Makayla and left the room. It only took a few minutes for him to reach the commander’s office where two guards ushered him in. The well-lit office contained a huge table in the center, where the commander, as well as two other men Miles had never met before, were seated. There were two guards standing behind the men as well as the two guards who had brought Miles into the room.
“Sir?” Miles stated to the commander.
“Miles. We have a problem. I gave you direct orders to make that virus work. All the reports I have read say that you and Dr. Torrey have been focusing on a so-called cure. We do not need a cure; we need results. The mutations and failures of this project are to be considered collateral and so disregarded.” The commander sat motionlessly and stared at Miles with a blank expression.
“Sir, I assumed that the answer to finding a working version of the virus would be to discover where previous attempts failed, and...”
Miles was cut off by the booming voice of the commander. “Assumed? Who told you to do anything other than what I ordered? This is the problem with your type. You cannot follow simple orders. I have half the military force trying to out-rank me because of the catastrophic failure on the part of this lab. We are about two steps from a coup d'état. A split right down the pants of the only form of structure and government this country has at the moment. And it’s all because there’s no resolution to the directive I gave you. You want to play healer instead of following orders.”
Miles began to feel the heaviness pushing down on him. He knew that the military structure was under pressure. The entire force itself had polarized because of the bombs launched during The Cleansing. There were those who were pro-virus and those who were anti-virus. The commander looked at the two views as pro-advancement or anti-advancement. Many soldiers felt the development of a substance they could take that improves their abilities in combat would be heaven sent. And could not wait for its release. They were more than willing to sacrifice themselves through service to science for the advancement of the country. Then there were those who were opposed to the dropping of the bombs. They were for the virus and its development in the beginning. But since the government had killed millions of innocent people, they no longer had faith in the military system as it was. Instead, decided to make it as it was supposed to be. Both sides felt as if they were in the right. This caused hard feelings and dissension in the ranks. It would only be a matter of time before there was an outright civil war within the military structure. And everyone knew it. This pushed the commander to have this virus in a working condition ASAP. So his forces would be able to outfight the opposition, regardless of who the opposition was. The commander grew tired of excuses and tired of delays. He wanted results.
“I need to know right now Dr. Miles: are you for us or against us?”
Miles did not know how to answer. He was for the discovery of a working form of the virus. At the same time he could not see finding an answer without first discovery where the failure occurred. “Sir, I believe that we will find the answer by discovering where the original strand failed, and...”
The Commander interrupted Miles as he barked. “Shoot this piece of crap and get him out of my sight.”
Miles could not believe his ears. He looked to the soldier standing to his right who had pulled a pistol from his holster and shot Miles in the chest. The gun cracked like thunder and the force hit him like nothing he had ever felt before. The room fell silent as the sound of a small siren began to scream inside his ears. Miles felt his left arm go limp, and he tried to raise it, but any attempt at movement only caused more crimson liquid to flow from his gaping wound. He fell to his knees; then felt the guard place the gun against his head.
He never heard the second shot.