Real Boy

Part 2

by Mara (talitha_shipman at

e-mail comments to talitha_shipman at or at ketch at

Chapter Two: The Plot Thickens

Dr. Ericka Slate walked into her lab after returning from a long morning meeting. She ran her hand through her dark brown hair and sighed as she dropped a huge pile of schematics and paperwork on her desk. Ericka had hoped that Rusty would be in the lab so she could charge his power pack before she had to get to work. Unfortunately, Rusty wasn’t present. He was probably off somewhere playing hockey or basketball in the endless corridors of Quark’s sub levels. She had told him to play in the mostly uninhabited region of the basement so as not to break anything valuable. Ericka didn’t think much about Rusty’s absence until it was time for Batman to come on. She realized with a start that Rusty hadn’t shown up that afternoon to play video games and watch his favorite cartoon. Ericka adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses on her nose as she stood in her lab.

"He never misses Batman," she thought.

Now she was slightly worried. He could have been called away by the Big Guy signal, but that was unlikely. Lt. Hunter would have probably radioed her to let her know what was going on. He usually called her during any mission, seeing as she was the computer expert and resident scientist on duty for the BGY Commission.

She turned on one of her computer screens to check Rusty’s tracker. The device, imbedded in his circuits, was the easiest way to pinpoint Rusty’s exact location. She sighed with relief when she saw that he was two labs over, in the special projects vault. Roger and Sue-Ellen were probably showing Rusty their latest invention. Last week it was some sort of static force field that floated in mid-air. Rusty had been mightily impressed. This new invention must have been truly awesome if it was more captivating than Batman to Rusty. Dr. Slate got back to work retrofitting a microchip for one of Rusty’s backup systems. She had a lot of work to do before she went home for the night.

"Hey, Lt. Hunter." Lt. Dwayne Hunter turned to see who had yelled his name. He found that it was Sue-Ellen, one of the lab techs that occasionally worked with Dr. Slate. Sue-Ellen always had an impish grin on her child like face to go along with her strawberry blonde hair. She also had a stubborn streak that often got her in trouble with her superiors. Dr. Slate had informed Dwayne that Sue Ellen had once told Dr. Donovan to his face that he was an ignoramus. Then she had summarily told him to look the word up in a dictionary if he didn’t get it. Ericka figured that the only thing keeping Sue Ellen from getting fired was her brilliant technical skill.

Dwayne had met the fiery young woman several weeks ago when Dr. Slate and Sue Ellen had been working on a project together. Since then, Sue Ellen had been treating him as her adopted big brother. She often followed him around whenever he showed up at Quark. Mack had mentioned that Sue-Ellen must have thought that Dwayne was the best thing since sliced bread. Dwayne, being rather long suffering, hadn’t minded her too much. However, Sue Ellen could be a bit abrasive at times. Right now, Dwayne wasn’t in the mood to get into a long- winded conversation with the talkative lab tech.

"Wanna see our latest and greatest invention?" she asked as she ran to catch up with him. "You’ll really like this one. It floats. Or rather, it makes things float."

Dwayne stopped and gave her one of his best 'I’d rather not' looks, but it didn’t deter her. Dwayne guessed nothing short of being hit by a tractor-trailer would deter this woman.

"C’mon." She motioned for him to follow her to a vault a few doors down. Dwayne sighed and made his way towards the vault. He had hoped to talk to Ericka about something, but that would have to wait for several minutes.

Sue-Ellen, not even catching Dwayne’s annoyed sigh, unlocked the vault door.

"Get ready to be dazzled," she said with an ear-to-ear grin.

She flung the door open to reveal Rusty, lying on the floor and appearing as if he was in power down mode.

Dwayne raised an eyebrow to Sue Ellen’s perplexed reaction. "Sue Ellen...." Dwayne began, but she interrupted him.

"What the?" Sue Ellen said. She immediately looked over to her newly created force field. It was gone, along with the probe that had been floating inside it.

"Oh, no," she said as she took several steps toward the now defunct containment field. Dr. Donovan’s not gonna fire me this time. He’s going to kill me."

She looked back to where Dwayne was kneeling down next to Rusty, trying to revive him. She then ran to the door and yelled for Dr. Slate. Ericka came running, surprised to see Rusty shut down. Dwayne looked up at Ericka as she also knelt beside Rusty, casting a worried look her way.

Sue Ellen took the several steps necessary to be by Rusty again. "What’s wrong with him, Dr. Slate?" she asked in a panicked tone.

"I don’t know yet." Ericka noticed with concern the pea sized hole in Rusty’s forehead. "What is that?" she asked herself. She then opened Rusty’s power pack, only to be met with another shock. Rusty’s pack was on and glowing green. "He shouldn’t be in power down mode. Something’s very wrong."

Dr. Slate looked up to where Sue Ellen was standing. "Is there anything in this room that could have caused this?" she asked.

Sue Ellen looked around and once again focused on the lab table that the probe had hovered above just thirty minutes ago.

"The probe," she said. "It must have been the alien space probe."

"What probe?" Dwayne asked.

"The one I was gonna show you. The one that was floating in my force field. We couldn’t figure out how to turn it on or retrieve any data from it. Maybe somehow Rusty figured it out."

Dr. Slate looked back to Rusty, trying to conceal the fear she was now feeling for her little robot. "We have to find a way to turn Rusty back on," she said, "and we need to find that probe!"

The tiny probelet had worked its way deep into the host brain. Now it was quietly doing the work it had been programmed to do so many years ago. First it shut down all higher functions of the host brain. It now set its sights on the complicated positronic network that controlled all manner of activities in the host. The probelet recorded everything, sucking up data like a thirsty camel at an oasis. It copied the host's entire memory bank, and began the complicated process of turning the data into something else entirely. Slowly but surely, the probelet began to rearrange the host’s data. After that task was done, it would be time to convert the hardware into something else as well. The tiny machine began to scan for DNA matches nearby.

Dr. Slate and at least 20 other scientists had been up all night, moving through Quark’s labyrinth of hallways, searching for the missing probe. Lt. Hunter was helping too, but in a slight change of uniform. Ericka heard Big Guy coming long before she saw him. He tromped down the corridor, scanners on full power. Dwayne, inside the cockpit of Big Guy, was getting fed up with finding nothing. Every minute they spent looking for that probe was another minute the probe had to travel even farther away.

"It could be in Timbuktu for all we know," he thought to himself.

"Any luck?" he asked through the audio pickup attached to the inside of his helmet. Big Guy’s voice boomed out the same words as Dr. Slate looked up towards the giant man-shaped exosuit.

"No," she said. The weary tone in her voice was one Dwayne could certainly understand. He knew she must have been thinking of Rusty. He was also terribly worried about the Boy Robot. All attempts to revive him had failed. Their best hope was to find the probe and undo whatever it had done.

"Look," he said to her. "It’s five o’clock in the morning. Why don’t you take a break, while I keep looking for the probe."

"Thanks, but I have to keep going, Rusty needs me. I can’t give up," Ericka said.

"Doc," Big Guy’s voice was calm and understanding. "You’re going to keel over, and then you’ll be good to no one."

Dr. Slate sighed. "All right, thirty minutes -- then come find me." She waggled a finger at Big Guy. "All right?"

Dwayne smiled. "It’s a deal, Ma’am."

Ericka stumbled back to her lab to catch a quick nap in her chair. She walked in the door and stopped dead in her tracks, suddenly more awake. Rusty, who had been lying on the maintenance bench, was gone.

"Rusty," she cried. She immediately began to search through her lab and call his name. She entered Rusty’s room and began to look around in there as well. The quiet sound of a child whimpering made her rush over to one of Rusty’s toy bins. He must have been hiding in it. She swung open the lid to reveal a small boy amid the action figures and blocks. And he was indeed crying. Streams of tears ran down his face as he hugged his knees tightly to his chest in a fetal position.

"Hello," was all Ericka could manage to get out. How had this boy gotten into her lab? Then the small boy opened his eyes. He had the brightest green eyes she had ever seen. And then he spoke.

"Dr. Slate," the child cried. He launched himself out of the toy bin and into her arms.

Ericka gasped. The voice was Rusty’s.

"Rusty?!" Dr. Slate’s mouth hung open. Then for the first time, she realized that the child was wearing Rusty’s clothing. They didn’t fit him very well, and his shoes were totally missing. Even more incredible than that, the child was a real human being. He had bones, and muscle, and he felt warm in her arms.

The sniffling child buried his face in her chest, clinging to her as if she were the only thing keeping him alive.

Ericka just stood there holding him, not able to process everything that had happened within a minute’s time.

Rusty was human. Was she dreaming, or worse yet, hallucinating? However, the weight of the child in her arms made this all seem very real. She tried to choke back the tears that so desperately wanted to escape her eyes. Rusty, a real boy! She could scarcely believe the truth that she was holding. Then her thoughts settled on one possibility. The probe must have done this.

The more she thought about it, the less outlandish it seemed. After all, the Neo Cateri, a race of half robot half organic beings had the technology to turn metal into organic material.

But the technology possessed inside that probe must have been light years beyond anything the Neo Cateri had developed. And why had it even bothered to change Rusty in to a human, and how had it?

A very loud sniff caught her attention and caused her to look down into the boy’s eyes once again. Rusty’s face was contorted into a distraught and perplexed expression.

"What am I?" he managed to get out between sniffles.

"I don’t know how, but somehow, you’ve been turned into a real boy, Rusty." Ericka studied Rusty’s features. He had a strong and expressive face, and a head full of auburn red hair. He also had the cutest little nose. But the features that amazed her most about Rusty’s new face were his eyes. They were a wonderful green color and sparked with intelligence and fire. This was not the same always trusting, easily duped Rusty. There was something else there, and it made him seem much different than he had been before. He almost reminded her of someone....

A loud clang from outside her door made Ericka whirl with Rusty still in her grip.

"Hey, Doc, I found it." It was Big Guy. In his metal hand he held the ping-pong sized probe.

"It appears to be turned off."

Ericka looked at the probe in Big Guy’s hand carefully. Its exterior was now only black, not the shimmering color-changing device it had been hours before.

"I found it lying in the corridor, just like someone had tossed it out for the trash man, uh, who’s the kid."

Rusty looked up at the Big Guy, his big green eyes seeming to take in everything at once.

"Um, Big Guy, you aren’t going to believe this, but it's Rusty." Ericka wished she could have known what Dwayne was thinking inside that suit.

"Are you sure?"

Rusty, unusually quiet, said nothing at all as he gazed up at Big Guy.

"I think the probe somehow changed him into a human being. Don’t ask me how, but it did."

Big Guy just stood in the corridor, obviously as surprised as Ericka had been when she had first opened the toy box. Rusty wriggled in Ericka’s arms and asked to be put down. She did so and placed his small bare feet on the floor. Rusty stood, a little wobbly on new legs and coughed, sensing everything for the first time ever. His feet felt cold on the smooth metal floor, and the strange sensation of breathing surprised him every time he did it. And yet, he couldn’t stop, even if he had wanted to. He could also feel something very strange inside of him. It felt as if deep in his chest, something was moving in a rhythmic pattern.

"Hi, Big Guy," Rusty said. His voice seemed so unsure, so tiny. Ericka couldn’t imagine what Rusty must be feeling right now. Yes, Rusty the Boy Robot had had a human emotion grid, but that was only a cheap imitation of the incredible intricacies of real human emotions and sensations.

He must be feeling overwhelmed by everything right now, Ericka thought.

"Maybe," Big Guy said, breaking out of his reverie, "we should find out just what this probe is for, and why it did what it did."

"Yes," Ericka said, keeping an eye on the unsteady steps Rusty was taking. "We should get started right away."

On to Part 3!

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