Real Boy

Part 4: Strange Relations

by Mara (talitha_shipman at

e-mail comments to talitha_shipman at or at ketch at

You know, I didn't think about this until tonight, but my story kind of has "What Rocket Scientist Want Overtones." There's mind reading. Okay, so that's a bit of a spoiler. But I hope everyone enjoys. We are getting to the good stuff now!

--Talitha (self proclaimed ruler of her own little universe. It's pretty dinky)

The probelet observed and recorded everything it heard and sensed. The new nervous system being completed was directly controlled from the deviceís artificially intelligent network. The human adults were certainly having difficulty discerning the probeletís purpose. This was fine with the probelet. Any outside interference could severely damage the probeletís operating system. All impulses,thoughts, and sensory information were being directed, at least for now, through the tiny probeletís processor. Soon, however, the human autonomic nervous system would be ready to handle things on its own. This would free up memory space that the probelet desperately needed. To begin the second and most important part of the probeís mission, the probelet would need all the power it could muster. The second phase, long ago programmed into the probeís network by skilled alien scientists, would begin another strange transformation, one that the humans around the host could hardly be prepared for. The probelet noted with interest that the host was using about ten percent of his brain capacity. It excitedly relayed this information to the probe itself. The probe agreed that this would do quite nicely. The probelet stopped transmission to cycle through several impulses to consume food, originating from the stomach. The host was gaining an appetite.

"Dr. Slate," Rusty said, "somethingís growling in my tummy." The small boy was now sitting in Dr. Harkerís bio lab, peering down at his stomach as Dr. Harker and several of his lab assistants analyzed Rusty. They had done CAT scans, MRIís and numerous other tests to obtain as much information about Rustyís miraculous change as possible.

Dr. Harker smiled good-naturedly at Rusty. He had often worked with children in his previous job. "I believe, Rusty, that your tummy is rumbling because you are hungry."

Rusty gave Dr. Harker a perplexed look. "I do feel like I need something. Maybe thatís it." His expression changed from perplexed to excited when Dr. Harker held up several x-rays. "Thatís my brain!?" he said as he studied the sheets in wide-eyed wonder. "I changed a lot."

"Yes, you certainly did," Ericka replied. "Iíll go get you something to eat. What would you like?"

Rusty thought for several moments and then answered. "Fudge Nutties," he said.

Ericka smiled and laughed. "Sure," she said. "But just this once. Fudge Nutties hardly count as a healthy dinner." She left to obtain Rustyís snack from the nearest working vending machine.

Rusty watched her go and then turned to Dr. Harker. "Do you like kids?" he asked.

"Why, yes, Rusty, I do. What makes you ask?"

Rusty blinked and looked down at his knees. "I donít know. Just a thought, I guess." Rusty blinked again as he realized that there was another noise coming from inside him. But this noise was different. The noise was like a buzzing radio signal that wasnít quite tuned in. It changed frequency every time he moved. Dr. Harker didnít seem to notice the noise. The scientist was still looking over Rustyís x-rays. Rusty shook his head to clear the noise from his mind, but it didnít work, if anything, the ringing sound grew more intense. He was just about to cry out in dismay when a voice spoke over the ringing in his ears.

"Do not say anything," it said in a clear and clipped tone.

Rusty looked over to Dr. Harker, but Dr. Harker hadnít noticed.

Before, the voice in his head had been more of an implied feeling, whispers that Rusty could barely make out. This voice was loud and seemed to have one dominating speaker instead of many. It seemed to echo throughout the room.

"The signal will not harm you." The voice spoke again. This time it was calm and gentle. We do not mean to harm you."

"I believe you," Rusty thought to the probe.

"Good," the voice said. "We will be here if you need us. Do not speak of the signal."

The voice became silent as the buzzing noise subsequently became louder. Rusty winced and then looked back up to Dr. Harker. When he did this, an amazing thing happened. The ringing stopped and ordered thoughts poured into Rustyís mind. Lists, data, and pictures flashed through his thoughts at incredible speed. Rusty gasped as he instantly realized what had just happened. He was reading Dr. Harkerís mind. He also realized that he was picking up only bits and pieces of it. Much of Dr. Harkerís mind seemed to be blocked by mental walls that held back teeming thoughts and emotions like floodgates. However, most everything that Dr. Harker was thinking presently, Rusty could sense.

Dr. Harker turned to see Rusty staring at him. "Rusty, are you all right?" he questioned.

The wide-eyed boy just kept on staring. Finally he shifted on the examination table and spoke. "Yep," he answered.

Just then, Dr. Slate walked in carrying with her two packages of Fudge Nutties and a juice box. "I hope you like juice," she said as she set the food down in front of Rusty.

Instantly, parts of Dr. Slateís mind flooded through Rusty. She was worried and scared. Her mind was racing to find answers concerning Rustyís condition. Rusty was amazed at how fast her mind processed information. Dr. Slate thought faster than a computer. Her brain was distinctly different from Dr. Harkerís mind. While Harkerís thoughts were ordered and deliberate, Dr. Slateís seemed to fire off at random moments, all to come swirling together to form a unified idea. She could think about several different things and not become confused at all. He also sensed overwhelming feelings of love and protectiveness directed towards him. It made Rusty feel somehow warm inside to know she thought this way about him. It also made him feel extremely safe, even if she was worried about him.

"Well," Dr. Slate said. "Arenít you going to eat? You said you were hungry."

"Yeah," Rusty said as he reached for the juice box, all the while keeping his eyes on Ericka.

Dr. Slateís thoughts shifted as a new person entered the room. It was Lt. Dwayne, looking even more tired than before. As before, when Rusty focused on Lt. Dwayne, he could hear inside the Lieutenantís mind. Dwayneís thoughts moved just as quickly as Dr. Slateís, making Rusty wonder if most humans didnít think like that. Lt. Dwayne was happy to see Rusty, he realized. Lt. Dwayne was also worried about Rusty, although not scared like Dr. Slate. More than anything, Rusty sensed a huge mental weight permeating Dwayneís thoughts. It seemed as if Dwayne carried the whole world on his shoulders. Rusty had no idea why Lt. Dwayne would feel that way. After all, he was just a mechanic, not the President or anything.

Lt. Dwayne began to speak, and as he did so, Rusty picked up concern for Dr. Slate as well as himself in Dwayneís thoughts. In fact, Lt. Dwayne seemed to be downright worried about something having to deal with her; Rusty just couldnít sense what it was. "Doc, I spoke to General Thorton, and he thinks Rusty should come stay on the Dark Horse for a while. I agree. I donít think Rusty should be anywhere near that probe. It may be trying to control him somehow. At least there we can set up some security measures." Lt. Dwayne was of course referring to Big Guyís base of operations, a modified aircraft carrier designed to meet all of the Big Guyís needs.

Dr. Slate replied to Lt. Dwayne as Rusty turned his head to focus on her. Her thoughts once again did a weird spinning dance before landing on what she was about to say. "Lt. Hunter, I would rather that Rusty stay with me. Iím responsible for him. Besides, are you sure the Dark Horse is the best place for Rusty?"

In Dr. Slateís mind, Rusty sensed she was keeping a secret, one that Dwayne was in the know about. And she didnít want Rusty to find out about it. This intrigued him to dig deeper, but Lt. Hunter once again spoke up.

"Donít worry, Doc, Rusty will be fine. You can come with him if you like. Security wonít be compromised."

In Dwayneís mind, Rusty distinctly heard, "The Big Guyís Secret." As soon as it flashed through Dwayneís thoughts, it disappeared again; traveling behind the mental barrier that Rusty couldnít seem to penetrate, leaving him to wonder what the secret was.

"I suppose that would be possible," Dr. Slate was saying. "That way he wouldnít feel so alone."

"Then itís settled. A chopper is waiting to take both of you there." Lt. Dwayne ushered Dr. Slate and Rusty out into the hall and towards the elevator. Dwayne put his hand on Rustyís shoulder as they walked. "Dr. Donovan wonít be able to bug you there, Rusty." Lt. Dwayne smiled and stepped aside to let them enter the elevator first. He came next and punched to button for the landing deck situated on top of Quark Tower.

Rusty stood and looked up as silence descended on the elevator. Lt. Dwayne seemed to be lost in thought. Rusty once again focused on Dwayneís mind. The Lieutenant was thinking about the Big Guy. He was running over tactical data in his head. Weapons systems, flight controls, maneuvering ability; it was as if Dwayne was going over a systems checklist in his brain. Rustyís features became puzzled. Why would Lt. Dwayne be doing that?

Dwayne, who had no idea his thoughts were being tapped, was doing what he normally did. He had been taught to always think a few steps ahead, at first by his father, and later by his training commander in flight school. "A pilot must always be prepared for a myriad of situations," was Commander Wrightís favorite saying. That lesson had not been lost on Dwayne, and he was currently deep in thought, partly to kill time, and partly to ignore the fact that he was so close to Dr. Slate. She could be very distracting at times. The scientist glanced over at him, feeling a tad bit uncomfortable with his lack of speech. Dwayne picked up on her quick look and gave her one back. In an enclosed space, Dr. Slate certainly did smell good.

"What?! Where had that come from?" Dwayne thought to himself. That was a silly thing to think, especially at a time like this.

Rusty looked up at Lt. Dwayne. "She smells?" he said, not realizing he had said something out loud.

"What?" Dwayne looked down at the redheaded boy.

"Um, nothing," Rusty quickly said as he stuck his hands in his pockets.

Dwayne kneeled down so as to be kid height just as the elevator doors swooshed open.

"Rusty, what did you just say?" The Lieutenant had a serious expression on his face.

"Nothing." Rusty realized that he was doing a horrible job of covering up his slip. He sighed as he kicked himself mentally for having a big mouth. The voice probably wouldnít be happy with him.

"No," Dwayne said. "You said Ďshe smells,í didnít you?"

Rusty should have known that Lieutenant Dwayne was too smart to pull a fast one on. "Yes, I did."

"Why did you say it?"

Dr. Slate cocked her head at this strange conversation. "What are you two talking about?

Dwayne looked up at Ericka and then back to Rusty. "Rusty, did you hear me think that?"

Rusty cringed. "I might have."

Dwayne stood up. "Looks like that probe had more effects than we realized. Rusty can read minds."

Dr. Slate snorted. "What? Thatís impossible. Humans canít read minds. And what does any of this have to do with what Rusty said?"

Dwayne rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, never mind what Rusty said; the important thing is that the probe did something to his brain to allow him to pick up our thoughts."

Dr. Slate folded her arms. "Rusty, what am I thinking now?"

"You like the color blue." Rusty looked up at his creator. And you canít believe I just said that. Now you canít believe that I just read your mind."

Dr. Slate looked in alarm at Dwayne. "Oh no, what if...."

Dwayne stopped her by holding up a hand. "Donít think it."

"How can I do that?" she questioned him indignantly.

"What about Big Guy?" Rusty asked.

"Nothing," Ericka and Dwayne said in unison.

Once again, the elusive secret passed behind the mental barriers of both Dr. Slate and Lt. Hunter. Rusty sighed as they stepped out of the elevator and onto the landing pad on top of Quark Tower.

"Okay," Dwayne said as they headed towards the waiting military helicopter. "Rusty, I need you to do something. Donít read our minds."

"I canít help it, Lt. Dwayne. I donít know how to turn it off." Rusty suddenly seemed to become very tired. Reading minds was an exhausting ordeal.

Dwayne sighed as he climbed up into the helicopter and turned to pick up Rusty as Ericka handed the child up. He then helped Dr. Slate in as well.

"Well, we need to find a way to turn it off," Dwayne said.

Lt. Dwayne certainly was being serious about this. And Rusty knew it had to do with the Big Guy. He tried to focus on Dr. Slateís mind, hoping the secret would resurface, but all of a sudden he felt sleepy, really sleepy.

"Lt. Hunter," Ericka said, sounding a bit miffed, " Rusty isnít a boy robot any more. You just canít turn things off and on in a human being." Ericka glanced down at the now sleeping boy who was cuddled up next to her. She put on the headphones Dwayne handed her to muffle the incredible roar of the engine starting up. She also put a pair on Rusty. Dwayne gave a thumbs up signal to the pilot and the helicopter lifted off and headed towards New Tronic Bay, where the Dark Horse was currently stationed.

Dwayne watched Ericka as she looked down at Rusty. She had a serene expression on her face as she wrapped one arm around the sleeping child. Sudden realization dawned in Dwayneís mind. Doc Slate was happy that Rusty had been turned into a real boy! Perhaps Rusty had always been more than a special project to her. Perhaps he had been the child she never had. And then another random thought began to tug at his mind as he looked at the duo across from him. Rusty looked like someone he knew. In fact, as Dwayne focused on the boyís face he realized with a start that Rusty looked like Dr. Slate. He had her nose, her forehead, and her mouth. But the green eyes were from somewhere else....

"Holy crap," he said.

"What?" Ericka was startled out of her reverie.

"The probe, it scanned us. It used us." \

"Dwayne," Ericka leaned over to focus on him. "What are you talking about?"

"It used our DNA." Dwayne had suddenly become very serious. "Look at him, he has your nose, he has your mouth, and he has my eyes and my hair."

Ericka looked down at Rusty and realized that Dwayne was right.

"Oh, my goodness," was all she could manage to speak.

Dwayne and Ericka looked at each other as an awkward silence grew between them.

The probelet was working even harder now. It had sent a signal to the hostís brain, telling it that it was tired. The host fell asleep which would allow the probelet to work more quickly. The probelet got busy reconfiguring the hostís mind. There was so much potential contained within the host. This human, as the probe had learned to call its young host, was a complicated and highly advanced organism. The probelet relayed new information to the probe, informing it that the reconfiguring would be done in several standard days. The probe confirmed the message and agreed that this amount of time would be satisfactory. Then the probe, slowly hovering in its cage of energy back at Quark, sent a blast of information streaming back towards the world it had left so many thousands of years ago. It hoped that someone would be there to receive the message.

On to Part 5!

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