Real Boy

Part 3

by Mara (talitha_shipman at tayloru.edu)
9/29/01

e-mail comments to talitha_shipman at tayloru.edu or at ketch at hotmail.com

Three hours later, Big Guy had returned to the Dark Horse, and promptly came back to Quark as a tired and disheveled looking Dwayne. He also brought his Pit Crew with him. Garth, Mack, and Joe had immediately begun to help Dr. Slate in her attempts to unravel the secrets of the probe. Now that the device was switched off, it was much easier to study. They even found several unused probelets inside a storage chamber within the larger sphere. They soon determined that it had been one of the probelets that had done the work of changing Rusty into a living breathing human. After a scan of Rustyís brain, Ericka found that one of the tiny devices was attached to the base of his brain. Rusty, who was now wearing some better-fitting clothing Ericka had found, was quietly sitting next to Sue Ellen on the maintenance couch. She had been talking to him for nearly an hour now, trying to keep him calm and happy. For now, he seemed to be okay.

Ericka was grateful to Sue Ellen for stepping in to help out. She knew that the young techie must have felt awful when she realized that her project was to blame for causing such a scare. Ericka didnít blame Sue Ellen, however. She doubted anything on this planet could have stopped the probe from completing its mission. The more they learned about the probeís capabilities, the more chills ran up Erickaís spine. This device was meant to do incredible things. Things that the whole human race probably wasnít ready for. It seemed to be built to retrofit technology into organic life. The alien processing codes alone for such a feat took up most of the probeletís memory. This information, Dr. Slate had determined, had been the instruction book for making over Rusty. Soon however, Dr. Slate and the Pit Crew ran up against a problem. A sort of alien firewall had been installed in the probeís main memory bank. Any attempt to access information pertaining to the reasons for the probeís actions were met with failure.

Four hours later, and still far away from an answer, Dr. Donovan stormed into Dr. Slateís office. This time Jenny was in tow, carefully perched on Donovanís meticulously pressed Armani suit.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Slate? Well?" Donovan glared at Ericka. Sue Ellen sniffed at Donovan. Ericka looked back towards Sue Ellen, giving her an imploring glance. She hoped that Sue Ellen wouldnít make a bad situation worse by getting into a down and dirty fight with the impetuous CEO.

"Dr. Donovan, we have a serious situation here," Dr. Slate began.

"I donít care if the whole sky is falling. Where do you get off requisitioning half the robotics team for some wild goose chase, calling Big Guy, and messing with an alien space probe project that isnít even yours, and all without calling me?"

Jenny smirked and then piped up from Donovanís shoulder. "Getting a little big for our britches, arenít we?"

"Shut up, both of you!" The voice came from across the room, where Sue Ellen had gotten up from the couch. She flung her arm back toward Rusty, pointing to him. "Rusty has been turned into a real boy, and this space probe almost got him killed. Donít you care?"

"Not when itís costing this company truckloads of money." Donovan folded his arms across his chest. "And youíd better watch your language, sweetheart, or you might be standing in an unemployment line." He glared at the young technician. She rewarded him with an ice-cold stare that could have bored through metal.

Dwayne, placing himself between Dr. Slate and Donovan, spoke up in a stern tone. "Ericka was acting on the request of Big Guy, Dr. Donovan. You have no right to blame her for anything."

"And besides, the argument is moot," Jo cut in, sensing trouble. Dwayneís comment had been tinged with anger, and the last thing they needed was Dwayne and Donovan to jump into a fight. Even if Jo would have enjoyed seeing Donovan get the beating he deserved. "The probe is back in your lab and Rustyís fine, in a manner of speaking."

"Yes." Dr. Donovan looked over to where Rusty was still sitting on the couch. "Heís completely human?"

"As far as we can tell," Slate replied.

"Well, isnít that just great? What are we going to do with a Boy Robot turned boy? He certainly canít do his job without his robot abilities."

"Yeah," Jenny said. "The only active duty he could qualify for now is third grade hall monitor."

Rusty hopped down off the table and walked over to Dr. Donovan. "I can do this," he said in a cheerful tone. Rusty then promptly stomped on Donovanís Italian leather loafers.

"Owww," Donovan let out a horrendous scream, more out of surprise than real pain.

"Ha, serves you right for being mean to Dr. Slate, and you canít do anything about it. Canít send me to the grinder anymore," Rusty said triumphantly.

"Rusty," an appalled Dr. Slate exclaimed. "Just what do you think youíre doing?"

"Why, you little brat," Donovan began.

Rusty, however, didnít stick around to hear the rest of the insult. He ran out the door, skidding in his new sneakers as he rounded the corner.

"Slate, stop him!" Donovan blurted.

"Rusty, come back," Ericka yelled as she ran after him. Dwayne ran after Ericka, hoping to catch up to both of them.

Rusty ran into the cafeteria, just in time to crash into several surprised diners. Food went flying everywhere; some of it even splattered on Rusty. The crash slowed him down just enough for Dwayne, who had come through another door in the cafeteria, to step in front of him and grab him by the shoulder.

"Let me go," Rusty cried, and squirmed for all he was worth.

Dwayne managed to get his hands on both of Rustyís shoulders and hold him steady until Dr. Slate caught up with them.

"Whoa, there, partner," Dwayne said, trying to calm Rusty down. "No one wants to hurt you. Itís okay." Dwayne gave Rusty a reassuring smile.

Rusty seemed to respond to Dwayneís kindly expression and settled down a bit.

Ericka arrived and knelt down next to Rusty and looked at him. "Rusty, are you all right?" she asked, concern evident in her voice.

Rustyís face became indignant. "I donít like Dr. Donovan, and I especially donít like it when heís mean to you. He deserved for me to step on him."

"But Rusty, that sort of behavior isnít at all like you." Dr. Slate took Rustyís hand. "The Rusty I know would never hurt someone just because he didnít like them."

Rusty hung his head. "Iím sorry, Dr. Slate, I just got so angry. I didnít know what to do."

"Itís all right, Rusty, but you need to apologize to Dr. Donovan." Ericka lowered her voice. "Even if he did deserve to get his loafers stepped on." Dr. Slate smiled at Rusty and stood up.

Rusty grabbed her hand and followed her and Dwayne back to the lab, where Dr. Donovan had calmed down a bit. After all, Jenny had said, having your loafers stomped on was a good excuse to buy a new pair.

Once Rusty saw Dr. Donovan, he promptly hid behind Ericka.

"Itís all right, Rusty. Go ahead and say what you have to say," she told him as she pushed the boy out from behind her legs.

"Iím sorry for stomping on your loafers," Rusty said in a small and yet slightly irreverent voice. "But Iím not sorry for sayiní you had no right, causeí you didnít." At that, Rusty turned and walked back into his room, leaving Dr. Donovan wide-eyed and sputtering.

Dwayne caught the sound of Jo and Mack snickering from across the room. Sue Ellen folded her arms and smiled.

Jenny, never at a loss for words, put her two cents in. "Well, the new and improved Rusty certainly has no lack of confidence. His head shrunk and yet his ego grew."

"Jenny," Dr. Donovan sighed, "shut up."

Jenny rolled her eyes at her frustrated boss.

Dr. Donovan turned to address the people gathered in Dr. Slateís lab. "Fix that probe, and find some way to fix Rusty. I canít afford to lose another government contract." Dr. Donovan turned and left the lab, mumbling to himself and Jenny as he went.

As soon as Donovan left, Ericka headed for Rustyís play room. She wanted to run some more tests and keep an eye on him. He wasnít acting quite like himself, and she desperately wanted to know why. Her thoughts kept returning to the probelet still buried in his brains stem. It had to be causing his irregular behavior and newfound bravado. Dwayne, curious to see what was up, followed Ericka into the playroom.

Ericka and Dwayne found Rusty sitting on the floor of the playroom, stacking up blocks to form a wall. He seemed to be doing it just to keep himself occupied. His eyes were focused on the wall on the other side of the room. He sighed as they walked in.

"Rusty," Dr. Slate began, "how do you feel?"

Rusty looked up at both adults and furrowed his eyebrows. "I feel funny, not quite right."

Dwayne and Ericka exchanged glances. Dwayne spoke up. "Thatís to be expected, son. A lot has happened to you since just last night. Itís gonna take some time to find a way to change you back."

Rusty looked up and studied Dwayneís face. He cocked his head as if he were listening to something. "I donít think you will." He looked down and continued his block wall.

"What, Rusty?" Ericka asked.

"I just mean, it wonít let you change me back. It wants me this way. Itís better this way."

Ericka stared at Rusty. A strange chill inched its way up her back. Was the probe communicating with the boy somehow? Perhaps if it was, Rusty could find out why the probe had retrofitted him.

Dwayne must have been thinking the same thing. "Rusty," he said, "can you talk to the probe?"

"Sure," Rusty said.

"Whatís it saying to you now, Rusty?" Ericka asked.

Rusty cocked his head and waited a heartbeat before answering. "It says that it wants to tell me something, but Iím not ready yet. It says Iím not finished."

Ericka turned to Dwayne. "What does it mean by Ďnot finishedí?"

Dwayne shrugged his shoulders. "Your guess is as good as mine, Doc. Right now we have zero information to go on, other than the fact that this probe has decided to speak through Rusty."

"Yes," Ericka thought, "but why?"

TO BE CONTINUED

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