Real Boy

Part 5

by Mara (talitha_shipman at tayloru.edu)
10/3/01

Rusty woke with a start. He had been dreaming, he thought. There had been an impossibly high cliff, and he had been climbing it, only to end up no closer to the top. It had been a scary dream, and frustrating too. He sat up in bed to survey his surroundings. He didnít quite remember where he was. He was in a small room with metal walls and several bunks pushed up against the wall. He was in one of the bottom bunks. The room was dark, save for a warm light that poured through a half open door. The muffled sound of quiet conversation drifted through the door. Then it came back to him. He and Dr. Slate and Lt. Dwayne had been on their way to the Dark Horse. He guessed that they must be there right now. Rusty also realized that he was hungry. But before he could get up the voice spoke to him. He was used to it by now. He even thought he might have heard the voice in his dream. The voice called to him, and he answered it in his mind. The voice made one very simple statement.

"Theyíre coming," it said.

Rusty frowned in the dark. "Whoís coming?"

"Our creators. They wish to meet you."

Rusty smiled. "I would like to meet them too. Iím sure they are as nice as you."

The voice seemed to be happy with that. "We are glad that we found a suitable host. After all these years, you were the first to truly meet our needs." Tendrils of warm feelings seemed to shine out of the voice and wrap around Rusty. The voice had been very lonely, he realized.

Rusty smiled once again at the probe voice. "Iím a pretty darn good boy rob... I mean just boy now, I guess." Rusty looked crestfallen as he remembered all he had lost.

"You will like being a boy better. You can grow up to be like Lt. Hunter."

"Huh?" Rusty was confused at the voiceís response.

"What we mean is that you will grow; all human children someday become adults. We are betting that you will be much like Lt. Hunter."

"Why?" Rusty was very confused now.

"Because," the voice paused for a second, thinking over its next words, "because you are derived from him. We used his DNA to make you. We used the femaleís DNA as well."

"You mean Dr. Slate," Rusty said.

"Yes. Do you understand?"

"Yeah. So, that means that Dr. Slate and Lt. Hunter are my mom and dad?"

"Yes, you are very smart."

"Dr. Slate told me about DNA once. It makes up all living things."

"Most living things," the probe corrected. "Our people do not possess DNA."

"Oh, and thatís whoís coming."

"Yes."

"Can you tell me more about them?" Rusty asked.

"Soon you will meet them, and they will tell you all about themselves. They are very nice."

"Rusty?" The quiet question from the door scared away the voice. "Are you awake?"

Rusty saw the door swing open to reveal Dr. Slate. A warm smile came to her face when she saw Rusty sitting up in bed. "I came to check on you."

"Iím fine, but you scared the voice away." Rusty watched Dr. Slate with wide eyes as she came across the room and sat down on the bunk.

"Iím sorry. What did the voice say to you?" Dr. Slateís face was concerned, and Rusty could sense that she didnít like it when he talked about the voice. It scared her a lot.

"Donít worry, mom. It likes you."

"Huh?" Dr. Slate seemed surprised at his statement.

"Youíre my mom. Did you know that?" Rusty grabbed one of Dr. Slateís hands and held on to it.

Dr. Slate gave him a strange look that almost seemed sad. "Yes, I know. You have my nose." She reached out almost as if she was afraid to touch him and stroked his hair. "And youíre a redhead, just like Dwayne."

"I know that, too. The voice told me. It says Iím smart."

"Dr. Slateís sad smile melted into a genuine laugh. "Well, the probe is certainly right about that." Dr. Slate paused and then took a deep breath. "Rusty, Iím glad that you are a real boy now. I hope you donít mind."

Rusty smiled. "Iím glad too. It means that I can grow and get bigger. I never would have been able to do that if I stayed a robot." His expression soured somewhat. "But I sure will miss being Big Guyís sidekick. Iíll miss Big Guy. Heís the only friend Iíve got."

Dr. Slate smiled once again, and the elusive secret almost seemed to pass close enough to her mental barrier for him to grab onto. But then it was gone. Dr. Slate tucked it into the back of her mind, carefully guarding it from her new son.

"I think, Rusty, that you have more friends than you realize."

Rusty looked up into Dr. Slateís eyes. She was crying.

"Dr. Slate, is something wrong?

Ericka smiled through the tears. "No, Rusty, Iím happy. Sometimes people cry because they are full of joy and not sadness. Iím just so happy to finally have you."

Rusty gave Ericka a big hug. "But didnít you have me before?"

"No, not like now." Her face became serious. "And I want you to know that Iíll always be there for you. Okay?"

"Okay, Dr. Slate."

"Rusty, you can call me Mom all the time."

Dwayne sat on the edge of the aircraft carrierís plane elevator and dangled his feet over a 200-foot drop to the still waters of the harbor. Jo, who had returned from Quark earlier in the evening, sat next to him.

"So," she said, "Letís see if Iíve got this right. The probe used you and the Doc to make Rusty into a real boy. And so, technically that makes you Rustyís dad. Of course," Jo added, "without all the fun stuff that results in the kid." She smirked and ribbed Dwayne, trying to make him laugh. The whole pit crew knew that Dwayne had a long-standing crush on the dark-haired scientist. "Whatís your problem, Dwayne? Usually you would at least give me some kind of sarcastic retort."

Dwayne sighed and looked out over the lights of Newtronic City. "Jo, I just discovered that I am a dad. I donít know how to feel right now."

Jo smiled in an understanding way. The pit crew knew each other pretty well. Jo was betting that Dwayne didnít want another responsibility on top of the others he already had. "Itís not like you asked for this, Dwayne. I donít really think that anyone expects you to adopt him."

Dwayne surprised her with his answer. "No, Rusty is and always has been my responsibility. General Thorton put me in charge of him."

"So itís not a question of responsibility?"

"No."

"Well, then what is your problem?"

"Jo," Dwayne paused to take a deep breath. "Iím scared. Itís a lot easier to raise a kid if he just happens to be a robot who thinks you are a robot too. Big Guy is Rustyís idol; he adores him. To Rusty, Iím just Mechanic Dwayne. Not much to jump up and down about. How on Earth do you raise an 8 year old kid?" Dwayne stopped speaking, already feeling sheepish for sharing that much of his worry with Jo.

"Youíre worried that Rusty wonít accept you?" Jo was floored by Dwayneís admission.

"In a way. And if he ever finds out the truth, well, I think he would hate me."

Jo sighed and put a hand on her friendís shoulder. "Dwayne, I think you wonít know until you tell him. And he should find out before he accidentally reads it from your mind. Maybe, he would be happier to have someone he could talk to all the time, instead of having a hero whoís perpetually in shut down mode. And if it's any consolation, I think you would make a great dad." Jo smiled and folded her arms across her chest.

"Jo," Dwayne said, "Iím never around. When Iím not in the suit, Iím usually sleeping. I donít have very good job security. Any day I could kick the bucket. Take the big dive." He looked down at the water. "Iíll make a horrible parent."

"Well," Jo snorted, "at least youíre optimistic."

Dwayne smiled at that and felt a little better. "Well, remember when your parents always said things like Ďwait till you have kids,í or you wonít understand until youíre a parentí?"

"Yeah."

"I think, for better or worse, Iím gonna find out what my mom meant when she was yelling things like that at me and my sister."

"Oh, yeah, Iíd forgotten what little hellions you all were. Maybe you wonít be the best role model for Rusty." Jo smiled and slapped Dwayne on the back as she got up. "Come on, Lieutenant. Weíll all tell Rusty the truth together. That way he can hate us all." She cheerily smiled as Dwayne got up to go with her. Dwayne tossed her a wry smile of his own.

"I think Iíd rather tell him alone. You know, man to man."

"Suit yourself." Jo then assumed a much serious tone. "Weíll be close if you need us." She gave him one last pat on the back as they descended the stairs.

On to Part 6!

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