Roy pulled the covers up to his chin and huffed. “I’m not sleepy. Tell me more about the Mad Scientist of Station Seventeen, Grandma.”
“The Mad Scientist, again?” I grinned and ruffled his hair. “Let’s see. Did I tell you about the time she single-handedly fought off oxygen pirates with nothing more than a fleet of cleaning bots?”
“Hmmm, how about the time she tinkered with the food replicator to make all the protein supplements taste like peppermint. One step forward for mankind…”
“…in the battle against bad breath!” Roy giggled as he finished my sentence.
“Ok, ok. You’ve heard that one before. How about her giant mechanical rats? The time she accidentally cured VR sickness? The living protoplasma dress she wore to the Station’s annual Holiday Ball?”
I pursed my lips as he dismissed each suggestion with a shake of his head.
“Well, I guess there’s only one last tale to tell. The Mad Scientist’s greatest invention.” I paused for effect. “The creation of a biosynthetic, highly intelligent, self-aware android.”
Roy’s mouth rounded in an O. “Aritificals are banned by the Universal Senate!”
I winked. “Only if you get caught. And in fact, the Mad Scientist almost did….”
When the door to the morgue swished open, Ella whipped the laser scalpel behind her back. The lights blinked on and a lab tech stopped short when he saw her.
“Dr. Tyrell? What are you doing down here?”
“Just testing a theory. I thought I’d harvest the faulty nanobots from this poor fellow to see why they misfired.” The lie stuck to her tongue, like the too-sweet toffee substitute they served in the canteen.
“In the dark?” The orderly narrowed his eyes and glanced at the corpse before her on the table.
“Well…” Ella swallowed. “…I sort of got lost in thought for a moment, and the motion sensor timed out.”
“That must have been some thought!” He snickered at his own wit. “They really do need to lengthen the timers though.” He tapped a little musical ditty on the keypad by the door, entering his personnel code. “Can I help you?”
Ella slid the body into the particalizer and slammed the door. “Nope. I’m finished here.” She jabbed a button, and the machine began the process of breaking the corpse into its fundamental components—carbon, nitrogen, calcium—any oxygen would be reclaimed and the other elements would be repurposed as necessary. An excellent invention when living on a space station three weeks away from the nearest hospitable planet. She grinned. One of her best, in fact.
The tech seemed disappointed he hadn’t gotten to run the machine. He watched as she made for the door, hands in her pockets. Ella tried to keep her pace natural and unhurried. Almost there. The bulkhead door whirred as it opened, and she made her escape.
“Dr. Tyrell! You forgot to log out!” The orderly’s voice chased her down the hall, but she didn’t slow. She’d never signed into the restricted area. It was best no digital record remained of her visit to the morgue.
Back in her own lab, Ella sighed and punched in the lock code to secure the room. She crossed behind her 3D bioprinter and shifted the framed “Innovator of the Year 2235” award hanging on the wall. She flipped a hidden switch. Gears clicked and pistons hissed. The bullhead slid back, and she tiptoed into her secret sublab.
A small form lay on the workbench. Tow-headed with ruddy cheeks and pudgy dimpled knees, the boy looked as if he were sleeping. He was perfect, down to the last detail. Ella reached out and touched his fingers, counting one-two-three-four-five like a new mother in the maternity ward. A smile played across her lips as she looked down on her son.
Her gaze lingered on his empty eye sockets. From their depths, a bit of circuitry flashed. Ella fished in her pocket and pulled out two round orbs, complete with the optic nerves still attached.
“With these my love, you’ll be able to see!”
“Grandma! That’s gross! She stole eyeballs and stuck them in the robot boy?” Roy squirmed in horrified delight.
I laughed and shook my head. “Of course not, silly! Who do you think she was? Doctor Frankenstein?”
“Never mind.” I patted his hand, mentally counting fingers—one-two-three-four-five. “No, the Mad Scientist used the eyes as a model for her bioprinter. You see, she knew getting the eyes right was the hardest part in making an android seem like a real boy. Not the programming or the simulated emotional responses, but the eyes, for they connect a person to their soul.”
Roy looked up at me, his own baby blues wide and round. “What happened next? Did she give the android a soul?”
“It’s late, sweetie. I’ll tell you more tomorrow.”
The boy groaned. “I’m not tired.”
“Well, I am.” I fluffed the pillows and brushed a blond curl off his forehead.
“When can we go to Station Seventeen? It’s boring here. No one lives planetside anymore.”
I smothered a sigh. Little boys were too inquisitive for their own good. Just last week he asked if we could start a height chart next to the door because he felt certain he’d start growing taller soon.
“Go to sleep now. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
I leaned down and kissed his soft, warm cheek. Slipping a finger behind his ear, I pressed a little lump and switched him into sleep mode. My knees creaked as I stood and shuffled to the door. Soon I’d have to wipe his memories and reboot his operating system. Again.
Outside the window, a red sun set, painting the sky crimson and orange. Opposite, a blue-white sun rose. Had it really been fifty years of never-ending dawns? I coughed into my elbow with a phlegmy rattle and wondered if I’d have the strength to shut down Roy for good when the time came.
About the author:
MM Schreier is a classically trained vocalist who took up writing as therapy for a mid-life crisis. Whether contemporary or speculative fiction, favorite stories are rich in sensory details and weird twists. A firm believer that people are not always exclusively right- or left-brained, in addition to creative pursuits Schreier manages a robotics company and tutors maths and science to at-risk youth.
Select works and a listing of publications can be found at: mmschreier.com