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Cover Artwork is copyrighted by the author, who for some odd reason seems to feel the undying need

to create his own illustrations and designs. 2010. All rights reserved. 1

T.O.A.D.
Volume 6

The Grasp
By Keegan Hennis

I love my family. My sweet wife supports me, My smart son and daughter inspire me, On to excellence.

This book is part of a series, written in chronological order. Pick them up out of order and you may become confused or frustrated by the story. T.O.A.D. The Fall The Rise The Run The Push The Reach The Grasp The Pull

There are many other series and single books by Keegan Hennis.

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Lenny woke before his alarm would have sounded. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. A few more seconds sitting in his bed and he stood on the floor of his bedroom, stretching. Quick thinking and he turned off his alarm clock before it might try to chirp. A casual glance over to the other side of his bed and he felt confident that he wouldnt be missed in the coming minutes. His wife snored softly on her pillow. It was a cute snore, a soft one that told the listener, I am a lady. Though she claimed to not snore, and Lenny had often considered recording her nocturnal rumbles for evidence, he let her believe that she didnt. Because really, what productive benefit could come from the end of that conversation? Lenny softly walked into their bathroom and closed the door. He left the light off, knowing the place by heart, not wanting the light that leaked 9

under the door to disturb his sweetheart. She had been up most of the night leg pain. It would be nice if she could get at least another hour of unconsciousness. In his morning shower, he stood for a few extra minutes in the hot water, knowing that when it turned off, hed have to face it again. It waited for him outside the fortress. It haunted the hallways as far as it dared. It seemed to give no quarter in its assault of those that dared to leave the comfort of their beds. The unthinkable cold stalked the island and its residents. The recent cold snap that had plagued his people for days, and seemed to have no rhyme or reason came from the south, their weather data showed, with no sign of warming again until the seasons changed. It was an unseasonal change, with still several weeks left in their plans before the rains started again. Here, the mercury threatened to let their first snows fall on the island since the residents had arrived years before. Snow on tropical pacific islands wasnt unheard of, but it was rare enough to be thought impossible for the long stretches in between its sightings. Consequently, the residents werent fully prepared for it. The only outer clothes that could help them were their rain jackets, but the insulation in them did little to stave off the unwelcome chill. True the temperature still hovered around the low forties, but in the time they had lived in

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their paradise homes, it had never before dipped below 55 degrees. Lenny manned up and turned off the water and stepped from the glass panels to towel off. Thought the temperature seldom changed in the fortress located a dozen feet below the sand, it still felt just a few ticks colder to those that chose to notice it. Lenny stepped into his dressing room, off the bathroom and also connected to the bedroom. He pulled a pair of long pants from the neat stack on his shelf, a button-up shirt from a hanger on his side of the closet bar and a pair of socks from their bin on a lower shelf. He dressed in his chosen outfit and then laced his leather belt through the loops at his waist. Then he put his keys and wallet case and other normal pocket tools into their places on his person. When it came time to take his phone from the charger, he double checked to make sure it was set to silent before it left the cradle. Otherwise it made a sound when removed from the contacts and Lenny wanted his beloved to sleep just a bit longer. Somehow he had managed to get out of his room without waking his wife. A few seconds after placing the Do not disturb sign on the door handle, a soft voice near him gave no small amount of shock. She up again last night? Red quietly asked.

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Lenny nodded as he walked, Yeah. I told her to take her pain meds, but she refuses. Red spoke as they turned a corner, I remember when I broke my ankle. It was the same one she did, actually. My dad didnt think I needed the pills. I think he was afraid of me getting hooked or something. It was tough, but shes tougher. Shell pull through. Lenny nodded again, as they walked into the dining hall. Breakfast had been set out again for them, the normal assortment. Fruits, breads, a few hot and cold cereals, and some eggs and bacon and hash-browns. Lenny served himself a bowl of his usual, white rice. He put a sprinkling of cinnamon on it and then a pinch of sugar. And then he poured cold milk across the whole pile. Luckily, his rice couldnt get any soggier than it already was, unlike cold cereals. This was another reason he liked his rice breakfast over the frosted corn-based puffs and flakes. As he walked to his normal seat, he noticed a note lying near his chair on the table. It looked to be normal paper cut into a small piece, folded over once with a single name written on it in cursive. Since the name was in fact Lennys, he slid the note over to a place near his tray and pondered the last time he had seen anything written on paper for him. It had been a while, which made this note seem all the more suspicious. Carefully Lenny opened the note and read the words written in the same hand as his name on its top: 12

To my dear husband, I cant tell you how happy you make me, on a daily basis. You encourage me to excel and you support my sometimes abnormal creativity. I appreciate you and your addition to my life. Love always, Alicia Stuart Hatching A warm light filled his mind for quite some time as he thought about his sweet wife going to the trouble of making a note for him and putting it in a place where hed find it. Right then he decided to return the favor. Hed let her know that he appreciated her and enjoyed her additions to his life also. But how to do it

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When his team had assembled, Lenny began the morning meeting, Did anyone notice the fresh fruits in the lineup this morning? Food services says they are composting more fruit than they used to, and Heaven knows a little more fresh fruit in our diets couldnt hurt. So theres their plug on that. A few mumbled comments and a chuckle or two filled the gap between his meeting points. But he continued, This morning we have a new assignment for three volunteers. The server which holds our recent backups is physically in the way of planned expansion to the networks. Itll need to be moved. This means new anchors drilled and placed in the concrete floor for its new position, the old anchors cut off at the floor and ground smooth and flush with the cement. Lenny placed a set of pliers on the table in front of him, a physical symbol of the job need. Whoever picked up the pliers would take on that job 15

and be considered the foreman or manager of the task. This was how they often handed out assignments, by literally handing out items to be held. It helped folks remember that they had an assignment or task. In this case, whoever pocked it up would be responsible for getting two others to help them, and then returning the tool once the task was finished. As Lenny tried to start on the next item, he found the need to turn his digital tablet to another angle so that the glare off the ceiling lights could no longer be seen. But then an idea hit him and he turned it back and forth a few times realizing a possible path. He smiled and then pulled himself back to the list of tasks. Doc, are you and Josh still waiting on the parts for Bruces hands? Doc answered, No, we have them. Josh picked them up last night from Creativity. They called and said they had finished them. We were going to start preparing to set the grains in the rams this morning. Lenny felt a shock of excitement as he realized the team could soon take another step toward finishing Bruce. It had taken months to get the engineering and mechanics of his body figured out, and for a while he and Stu and Pete couldnt do much else on the mind until the parts of his body were finalized. Creativity was a separate division of TOAD, Inc. They had built it in a much newer building not far from the main entrance to the 16

subterranean fortress. Within its walls they had built and arranged machines and processes that they used for producing their most expensive parts. Josh had commented a year before about the cost of ordering such parts as created sapphire and synthetically produced diamonds. They learned that most of the cost attributed to the parts was in fact the production time, and not the material itself. They ordered the machines, hired two people who had knowledge and experience working with them and set them up building gems for purposes in the companys inventions. The only problem with the processes they used for creating and machining sapphire and diamond parts was the time involved in the entire process. It took a long time from start to finish, and that time held up other things from moving forward as well. Lenny put his tablet down and spoke, Were going to put the server relocation on hold for a few days. This is more important for now. Do you need help assembling the parts? Doc nodded and shrugged his shoulders, I guess we could use the help. Josh? Josh shrugged, Sounds fine to me, but too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the something-orother. Lenny spoke energetically, If you ever feel crowded, just tell us and I can kick some people out.

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Josh chuckled once and then said, Sure, Lenny. You can help us. Just before they left the table, Lenny decided he needed something from the art supplies closet. He ran to it and rummaged through a box of markers for a specific color. It wasnt a visible color, but an invisible hydrophobic coating for repelling water on smooth surfaces. Once he found it, he dashed to his apartment and then slowly and silently entered. The lights were all off still, and would let him get into the bathroom without disturbing his sleeping wife. It was only seven in the morning still and one might sleep in longer by accident. Half an hour later he emerged from his apartment with a smile on his face. He made his way to the workshop under the launch bay. Once there, he found the group of people gently unpacking the ordered parts from the boxes in which they had been layered. Here and there a small bit of material received a touch on that bit or another with a caliper to verify the required dimension. Once all pieces were carefully placed on a padded surface and counted and measured, the team stood for a minute to take it all in. There, under the glow of a bright light they saw over a hundred parts and pieces, ready to be assembled into a pair of working robotic hands. Nearly all the parts were composed of the hardest of the alloys, excepting those fashioned 18

from created sapphire. Josh asked, You think sometimes we make too many things out of sapphire? Lenny answered, Were not just doing it for the fun of it. These parts need to be wear-resistant and dense, and the sapphire will do nicely. Besides, I like the color they did this time. Yeah, said Josh. The rich dark blue looks good on him. And the dark gray of his fingers will be fantastic. Josh referred to the tungsten carbide cylinders with odd-formed extensions from their ends. The cylinders were hollow in the second and third segments, with solid pieces for the fingertips. The hand itself had no motors or servos, though the rest of the body would be without them as well. For a while the team had been clueless about how to accomplish specific finger movements without motors or hydraulics. But then an idea came to Josh as he considered how the hydraulics system would work in the first place. He realized that instead of using a pump to push fluid through hoses to move the plunger in a hydraulic cylinder, they could simply embed a few grains of the depleted uranium rice into the end of the same mechanism, and let the Hatching Drive control systems move the rod through a diamond bearing set. The rod would try to remain stationary if energized throughout the exercise, so it would have to be worked intermittently, or in conjunction with 19

the movement of an arm. When not in use, the fingers would simply hang loose, also saving energy. The pushrods with the grains of rice in them would be concealed in the hand and connected to their corresponding segment of finger by steel cables as thick as cotton yard. How strong do you think his punch will be? asked Doc. Without looking away from the large unassembled puzzle of metal and gems, Josh answered, By the numbers, he should be able to punch through a brick wall. Not a cinder block wall with cavities in it, but a solid brick wall with no air spaces between the surfaces. Of course, using the Hatching Drive abilities as a reference, he will also be able to slowly push his hands through a cement wall, too. If not careful, he could do the same damage to a human skull. Lenny spoke their common thought, We need to make sure he never applies that kind of force to a living being; that he knows to only do it if needed against verified inanimate matter. Its still not too late to be too careful.

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The hands came together quickly, with tiny bits of circuitry encased in resins and bolted into place in the wrist joint ball. The small bits of tech would each communicate with their master controllers through near field communication technology, the same science behind some swipeless credit card options. They were also powered using inductive coils hidden here and there throughout the skeleton. Even without the physical connections the joints provided, the limbs could potentially move through the air. Josh put on a glove and switched on the electronic bits in it, which would measure his fingers positions and translate them to the newly assembled hand replicas. For initial testing outside the attachment to the AI mind, this would be their method. It would allow them to make certain that the body had at least human range of motion, if not more. 21

Josh closed his fingers slowly, watching the robotic hand imitate him. He moved as fast as he could, but as far as they could see there would be no hesitation, no lag between the control signal and the mechanical response. Doc put an unopened soda can into the grip of the mechanical hand while Lenny and Josh were talking, not noticing the action. Hey Josh, squeeze your fingers together, please. Josh complied, and the group found themselves sprayed with the once contained contents of the aluminum can. Once the shock wore off, and they saw that the hand still reacted as if it were dry, Lenny said, Well done Dr. Webster. Youve proven that it can work when wet. Now please be good enough to clean it up. Completely. Doc chuckled and then said, Alright, but I think at this point, it might be easiest to just chuck them into the dishwasher. Theyre waterproof, right? Though Lenny would have preferred to see Doc dismantling the units and cleaning them with cotton swabs and tooth brushes, he said, Fine. But no more soda testing, clear? That was over five hundred hours worth of hardware you just hosed in fifty cents worth of cola. Sure thing, and sorry, agreed Doc. Josh spoke up as he wiped his face with a shop towel, Shower break? Lenny agreed, Shower break. Ill see you back here in an hour. I have a feeling itll take 22

more than a single rinse to get the soda out of my hair. Doc spoke as he removed the hands from their stationary mounts, Im really sorry. It wont happen again. Lenny wanted to warn him that it had better not happen again, but in the end he simply walked away from the shop and into an elevator. The trip was short, and he soon found himself standing outside his apartment. Lenny gently opened the door and walked inside. He had just enough time before his wife threw her arms around him to warn her, I got sprayed with soda. But she hugged him anyway, planting a big kiss on him. She whispered, I dont care. And kissed him again, and then hugged him tightly. Lenny tried to be careful with her, as she stood on one foot with no crutches near her, her casted leg raised off the ground. Stu asked, Josh playing pranks again? This time, it was Doc, answered Lenny as he began to take his shirt off. He put a cola in one of Bruces hands and Josh didnt know before he squeezed with the glove on. Stu looked surprised and excited at once, His hands are done? As he walked into the bathroom to discard his soda-soaked clothing, he answered, Yeah, we assembled them this morning. They work great.

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As I can see by the soda all over your back, said Stu. How long until theyre attached to the arms? Lenny answered as he turned on the water in the shower stall, As soon as theyre cleaned up again. Im having Doc clean all the soda out of the mechanisms. Stu grimaced, They got all wet and sticky? Yeah, answered Lenny from this shower, But we made them waterproof, so its no big deal. Theyll wash right off again. Stu got a clean pair of jeans for Lenny, and the next shirt hanging in line on his side of the closet, and then she made sure his pockets were empty before returning his pants to the laundry basket. She placed the clothing on the counter near the shower stall and then waited nearby in case he wanted to say anything else to her. And he did. He came out of the shower when he felt clean again and said, So I guess you found my note? As Lenny dried his hair, Stu answered, It took me a while, but yes, I found your note. I was standing at the vanity mirror doing my hair when I noticed the steam from my morning shower had collected on the full-length mirror behind me, and there, in the fog I saw words written. The words were backwards, so that I had to read them from across the room with another mirror. And then she reread the words from his otherwise invisible

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message on the full-length mirror, using her hand mirror. My smokin' hot wife, I love you so much, and I work every day to give you no reason to question if I appreciate your additions to my life. Without you, I'd be in a sorry state indeed. Love always, Leonardo Hatching Lenny smiled and added, And then you went and found some water-reactive marker and wrote a message for me on the shower wall, so that when it got wet the words would appear in bright red. And he read them aloud: My cute husband, If not for our love, Id still be a homely nerd in a research institute somewhere. Thanks for seeing past my faults. Love, Alicia Yeah, I thought you wouldnt see it until tomorrow morning. Lucky me, I guess. Lenny spoke as he dressed again, If it werent for our mutual knowledge of science, Id think this place was haunted. I mean, dripping red words appear on the shower wall after a few seconds? Thatd freak other guys right out. Stu kissed Lenny again and then hobbled on her crutches back out of the bathroom. She sat carelessly on their sofa, making sure to keep her cast from hitting the floor too hard. Lenny sat near 25

her, You know, youre going to continue having fitful sleep until you either find a way of not hurting when you lay your foot on the side, or until you break down and take a pain pill before bed. Or until I heal, added Stu playfully. Lenny looked at her in that way that says, You know better. Stu looked away, Please dont give me that face. You know why I dont want to take them. Your cousin got hooked on pain pills ten times as strong as the ones your competent doctor gave you. I get it, you dont want to get addicted, but I think youll be fine. It isnt just you who has trouble sleeping when youre in pain, you know. Stu lowered her gaze to the floor. I know. Just be patient with me, please. I always will be, said Lenny as he kissed the side of her head. I gotta get back to work now, honey-pot. Ill see you in a few hours, alright? Ill be there. You have a date for lunch, said Stu.

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Work went smoothly assembling the arms and legs to the respective joints. The diamond bearings fit perfectly into their sockets ensuring that they wouldnt wear out in the next few thousand years, assuming Bruce lasted that long and he never went swimming in diamond dust. Because as every scientist, engineer and jeweler knows: the only material that can cut a diamond, or wear its surface is another diamond. The Creativity division also used a few machines to make parts otherwise not possible with normal machining processes. These bits were produced through the process called 3D printing. Though there are several methods for printing 3D parts out of their resource material, the one they used applied a powder-based material in layers and then laser-sintered the powder into a solid mass. The outer surface had to be polished or machined a little for mating surfaces, but otherwise the texture 27

added a handsome quality to the parts. Lenny thought it looked a little like the metal had been sand-worn or bead-blasted. The limb skeleton parts they printed from titanium dust. The torso frame, which held not only the computer and battery, but also the induction coils for power, the team produced from stainless steel. And the skull, for lack of a better word, the team had built by Creativity out of 3D printed tungsten carbide. The face itself fit onto the outside of the skull, and had to be made from carbon fiber fabric layered onto a mold. Bruces shoulders pads were also made of carbon fiber, for heat resistance during flight. That was the only other abnormal attribute to Bruces mechanism, his power needs. In order for him to be able to work in any environment, including under the waves if needed, they had designed his body without a socket for power. Once the lithium polymer battery was installed and sealed inside its compartment, the only way for Bruce to recharge was to fly like a superhero. A small wind turbine would extend from his back on a pivot arm and as he flew through the air, the propeller of the generator would rebuild his energy reserves. Through some loophole in science, they calculated that it would take less energy to fly around in the sky than he would build by using the passing wind to recharge his battery. Therefore, when low on power, he could just zip around for a few minutes at just under mach a few 28

thousand feet above the ground and then get back to whatever his assignment had been. It just seems too easy, Red had remarked. Physical testing confirms it, though, said Lenny. Hell be a self-contained defiance of perpetual motion laws. But this, too, they would keep from the reports they filed with the military and government liaisons. There would be no telling what kind of havoc could be wreaked on society and the world at large if most of TOADs secrets got out of their private custody. As Lenny worked with his friends to assemble the parts they had collected, using the exploded diagrams and other drawings from their designs, his phone rang. It rang three times before he could pick it up and speak, Ahoy. The female voice on the other end of the line spoke patiently, yet firmly, Whatever youre fiddling with, put it down. I know youre having fun building androids right now, but its time to eat something. Lenny looked at his watch and winced. Sorry, honey. Ill be there in ten minutes. Stu hung up and Lenny put his phone in his shirt pocket. A few more degrees of rotation on the torque wrench and it clicked, telling him the bolt he turned had reached the proper tightness. Setting the wrench down on the bench and standing he announced, Fellahs, I need to go to lunch with my

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wife. Id like to request that work stops on this until I get back. I dont want to miss a thing. The other workers shrugged and nodded. Their specific steps were finished and they too walked to the elevator with the intent of eating. As they sat down in the dining hall, Lenny apologized again to his wife. I got caught up in the assembly. I'm sorry, its just so exciting. I know you like putting things together also, said Stu. But I'm not sure youll stay healthy if you forget to eat too many times. What would you have done if I was out of town visiting my folks or something? Just not eat until the others have to leave for the night? Lenny shrugged and said, Ill try to be better. But thanks for helping me. Stu winked at her husband and started to eat from her salad. It had all sorts of things on it, including meats like grilled chicken and bacon, as well as sliced boiled egg and shredded cheddar. She chose to eat it without dressing, as was her habit. Lenny returned with his sandwich and apple and bottle of milk. He made sure the sandwich had no sauce and then took a big bite. The crisp lettuce and pickle added the right amount of vegetable crunch to his food. After the first half vanished, Lenny reported, We got some of his legs assembled, and his arms and torso.

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Stu spoke after a bite of her own, Thats good for you. I think today I may get back on the programming end of his mind. It was harder than I thought it would be to code for a nonstandard hardware design, but I think with Blades, I mean Darcys help we should be ready to test it out in another day or two. I knew the software part would be the hardest hurdle to jump, said Lenny. Maybe I should step away from the hardware and work with you girls again. We have our rhythm, said Stu. Adding you into the mix would throw that off again. But thanks for the offer.

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The evening wore on as Lenny worked to assemble the titanium, stainless steel, tungsten and other bits together. They left the thick armor plates off the torso while the computer in his chest remained not yet programmed. The team began to notice the combined weight of his parts growing heavier, until he could no longer be moved about by hand. A repurposed hospital gurney became his primary form of travel about the shop as bits and things were bolted to his body. After a while of tinkering in small areas, inserting wiring and other flotsam, Red asked, Do you think he needs any weapons? Besides his hands? asked Josh. Im not sure we could make him any more dangerous with a gun or knife. His punch is going to be set to top out at six hundred miles per hour. At speeds much faster, his fingers would break the sound barrier and sound like a gunshot anyway. 33

Red paused threading a bundle of wires through a pipe and then said, What if we give him a sound weapon? Lenny spoke, Anything he can carry may be used against the one hes protecting. No, clarified Red, I mean, making him have the ability programmed into his mind, to do it with his hand or something. Like, he can hold up his hand like this, Red put up her own hand as if to stop a person from approaching her too closely, And then he can just move it forward at over the speed of sound and send a sonic boom forward at his target. Josh stopped working also to think out loud, If effective, it could cause ringing ears, bleeding nose and disorientation. But can it be made that directional? How would we make it not hurt the protectee? Lenny thought about it for a few seconds and then said, Well, we can test it out in a controlled lab environment with microphones around him to detect the resulting sonic disturbances in the various areas and distances. If it doesnt work like we want, we can just tell him not to do it, or only under specific circumstances. As Red plugged a bit of epoxy-encased electronics into the corresponding Hatching Drive module, the one designed to fit in Bruces left bicep, she had another idea. Hey, what if we also make him able to be took over by someone, to do something he wasnt programmed to do? 34

Like what? asked Kyle. Red explained, Say we need a person to go into a dangerous environment and flip a switch or something like that. Could we make him able to react like we would in the motion-capture studio at the same time? Lenny answered, That might be tough for extreme distances. Like if he were on the other side of the globe, there would be a noticeable lag in reaction time simply because of the types of communications wed need to use. Then how about we make a mobile suit thing that we can be in nearby and make him more responsive? suggested Doc. Lenny nodded slowly as he considered the possibilities. A person could do phenomenal things if he were controlling one of these Bruce units. For scenarios we cant plan for in advance, I guess that might make for a useful option. As each began again to assemble the parts and pieces they were handling, they all without exception also considered what might be possible to them if they were controlling a mindless unit such as Bruce would be without his programmed intelligence. Late in the night, the team had finally exhausted their supplies of parts and pieces in the assembling process. Three times they had had to dismantle an area of his body because they had forgotten a step, or realized a bit would go together easier in another way. When he finally lay in one 35

mostly finished piece, they all stood back and looked at their creation. In their minds they had all just assumed he would come together at some point, but it always seemed so far off a day. And there he lay before them, like so many Hollywood robots from uncountable movies, awaiting the mind that would give him simulated life. Lenny spoke up, Weve not gone too far yet. We can still pull the plug now, if we choose. Nothing weve done to his point is permanent. Red continued, We can melt down his metal parts and crush his gems and destroy his circuits. And nothing would ever come of it. But at this point, I think we should press on. The team nodded and agreed with her, Lenny felt the need to see it through, but in his mind he asked, But at what cost will he be finished? The workers left the room for the night, Lenny locking the door after all had gone. He hadnt felt the need to lock any doors in his fortress for a while, and certainly not an area of science. Could this be a reason to not continue? If he felt the need to lock down an unfinished prototype in a secure lab, in a nearly-impregnable fortress, located on an island most didnt know about, Lenny wondered if Bruce would be safe anywhere. He consoled himself aloud with the thought he had spoken so many times before, We havent gone too far yet. Its still possible to proceed cautiously. 36

The walk to his apartment became a lonely one as he noticed that he had separated himself and others from the rest of the world simply because they didnt want to be around a more unsavory crowd. They wanted to work in private and not be bothered by their oversight, which they themselves had brought about. And while he lay in luxury on his own private tropical island, he knew that there were other people, other millions of people that went hungry, that were cold in winter. Other millions of people had only the most basic of necessities for life, and some didnt even have those. As he neared his home, he felt an overwhelming self-loathing as he saw the selfishness in his choices. He and those he saw as worthy of his utopia enjoyed lavish lifestyles free from turmoil and stress for the most part, while others cowered in the streets, feared for their lives and those of others. But what could he do for them that he wasnt already doing? He had set up charities and foundations to help those less fortunate, he had given scholarships and grants to promising students in need. But was it enough? Were his efforts even making the tiniest difference in the grand view? Thinking back on his life to that time, he had done much, but very little comparatively. Once he had seen the earth, the whole of humanity and its existence in one view, in one pane of sapphire lens aboard Clarence. He had seen in his view, what had been described as the pale blue dot, floating in a 37

vast sea of blackness. And it had changed him, but he wondered if he had in turn done enough to return the favor, to change the pale blue dot for the better. Feelings of profound inadequacy flowed over him as he neared his apartment door. Lenny felt like walking out and away from his island, so that someone else more disserving could take his place, to use the tools he had been given to make the world a better place, to do more than he would. As he walked silently into his room, he saw his wife sleeping on her side of the bed. Not wanting to disturb her, he stayed up and turned on his digital tablet. He opened his journal and began to write down all the feelings he was having, knowing that someday, he may look back on it and have an answer to his most durable questions.

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This is telling, a voice spoke as Lenny woke from his uncomfortable dreams. He had stayed out on the sofa instead of climbing into his bed. What? he asked in a groggy voice. I said that this is telling, said his wife again, from the chair near his makeshift bed. As he looked up at her, he saw that she held in her hands something familiar. She looked to have been reading from his tablet, and a feeling of nervousness came upon Lenny. But before he could speak again, his wife took the opportunity to, You know, I knew you had feelings and thoughts, but I guess I never knew you did anything about them until now. I'm sorry I read from your journal. Lenny jumped up and took the tablet from her lap energetically. The screen of it was off so he turned it on to see what she was reading specifically. But she spoke again, I didnt know it 39

was your journal, though, until about half way through the most recent entry. I picked it up to put it on the charger and the document was still open. Lenny felt upset that she would read it, but he also understood that she didnt know what it was at first. He wrestled with his feelings, trying not to say anything hurtful, anything he would regret. At last he spoke, And what do you think about what you read? Stu spoke calmly, I think youre suffering needlessly. If you speak to me these feelings youre having, I might be able to help you with them. Lenny felt embarrassed and ashamed about what he had written, but he had never intended anyone else to see it. That was why he was able to write such things freely, without the thought that he would have to defend his thoughts and feelings at some point. He spoke, I guess you saw what I've been going through lately, huh? Stu spoke calmly, I only saw last nights entry. I didnt go back any further. Would you like to talk about it? She noticed Lennys reluctance and added, Its okay if youre not ready, or if you never are. But I'm here if youd like to talk. Its in my job description, you know. Software engineer? asked Lenny. Wife, answered Stu. She got up from her chair and crutched her way into the bathroom. As she left, Lenny wondered how this event would change his 40

relationship. He wasnt used to being so open with his feelings, had never been so before, but he knew he would have to be for his marriage to work. Calmly Lenny walked into the bathroom with her. As she stood carefully leaning against the counter, preparing to put on whatever little makeup she generally wore, Lenny stood next to her, leaning his back to the wall and looking in the opposite direction. She knew how to move forward, as most women do, from experience dealing with and discussing feelings with other women. And so Stu calmly waited for Lenny to take his next step. Id like to talk about the things I wrote down last night. Stu carefully lined her eyelids with a kind of pencil and spoke without twitching, What would you like to say? Lenny felt very self-conscious about his words, felt like he was learning to do something brand new with very little help from manuals or trainings. But he pressed forward how he felt best, I have recently been fighting with myself about how much I can do, I mean for others. I know I do some, but we live pretty high on the hog out here. I sometimes think we could do more for others, but dont because of an unconscious selfishness. Like we would rather not do more, so we dont. And since most of the rest of the world doesnt know about us, and we know that, were very comfortable here not seeing the ways we can help others.

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Stu calmly continued to apply her makeup, Lenny not knowing that she was just about done with the process, as she spoke, I can see why you would think that. But you do far more for others than you realize. I dont do enough, said Lenny. You do a lot, and there are many many people who are better for having at least met you, let alone the gifts you give them. This island is no exception. You have provided a place here for people to learn and grow and build and be creative without fear or stress. Dont get me wrong, we all have our stresses we deal with, but here we suffer from only what we put upon ourselves. This includes you too. Lenny looked up to his wife. She in turn looked in his eyes and continued, I know where Id be now if it werent for your presence in my life. And it isnt pretty. Do you know that you literally saved me from death? Lenny jerked, surprised at her words, she explained, Do you remember when we met first? I had no health benefits at a dead-end job. But I was secretly fighting a condition that not even my family knew about. Did you ever see the claims going through the company health insurances in those first few months? I received treatments that werent covered by my previous benefits. Before, I had maybe six months to expect to live. Now, I have a long life to look forward to, thanks to your influence, your interest in me and my skills. 42

Lenny looked into the eyes of his wife, now overflowing softly. He said, I had no idea. I know. I wanted it that way. The last thing I wanted was to be treated differently because I was sick. You saved my life, and I will be grateful to you for that as long as I live. The couple embraced, Lenny trying not to tip her over. After a few minutes, Lenny spoke, You know, your crying messed up your eye makeup. Youll have to redo it. Stu laughed and kissed her husband.

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The day had finally come. All the hours that had turned into weeks, all the late nights with nothing to think about but how to solve X problem or get to Y goal. All the brainstorming sessions and pacing holes into carpeting puzzling out various ways of describing thought processes with machine language code. All of it had boiled down to this moment. Lenny hit the switch. The climax they had expected to see, the various unknowns being answered all came screaming to a head, but the end result felt more like a kick in the butt than a pat on the back. Bruce lay still on the gurney which had been his ride for days after his final assembly. He lay still on the pads, not doing anything at all. Not only did he not move, but he also didnt chirp. He didnt chime or beep or whistle. His drives remained off, letting the programmers know that something had gone wrong.

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Darcy simply stared through the thick plastic window from the observation room, almost as still as Bruce himself. At last she spoke, surprising everyone, Well, crap! Stu made her way over to the diagnostic console and typed a little on the computer keyboard. She reported after a minute of staring at various bits of information on the monitor, His bios never initiated the main OS startup. After a few seconds of waiting, it timed out and shut down again. Darcy rechecked the info in the screen, But he worked just fine in the virtual machine. I dont get it. Josh spoke up, At least it didnt burn out the computer hardware. Thats good. Maybe when he got transferred into the new hardware something got left behind in the virtual setup. Red was trying to help. Darcy ordered, Stu, bring up the virtual machine again. We only copied him, not transferred him out of it. Stu complied, letting the custom virtual supercomputer come up to speed on the network servers. It powered up fine and ran through its numbers as it should have. She saw in the verbose startup sequence as much as she could that it seemed to be working right. After the virtual Bruce showed ready, Darcy spoke, Well, I can try plan B. Lenny asked, Plan B?

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Yeah, clarified Darcy as she typed a little in the terminal. I was afraid of this so I built into the bios on the real supercomputer the ability to boot into a basic higher-level OS that has the ability to receive data bursts on the remaining 4G antennas. And she paused to type a bit some more, it looks like that came up right. Now, Stu, do you remember what we namedoh here it is. Darcy continued to work on the computer for a minute more before reporting, Ok, so I thought this might be an issue back when I was building it in the Lair of Woe. So I made a way for it to be loaded while running. And Stu and I built that function into his mind. He can transfer his buffered mind from one system to another compatible system without shutting it down. Nearly all the others in the room voiced the same reply in unison, Whoa. Darcy spoke up, Are we ready? Lenny nodded and they watched out the window as Darcy entered the commands to order Bruce to inhabit his new body. Stu spoke up, Well, I'm getting a snack. At his file size and the data connection speeds, the move could take up to an hour, it looks like. The engineers and other hardware workers filtered out of the observation room leaving Darcy behind to stare out at her creation. She knew it would work. She had double- and triple-checked the code line-by-line. And here she stood, watching the hard-earned reward for her months of labor. 47

She watched the progress bar slowly tick its way across the dialog box, symbolizing in simplicity what would be the closest thing to a child being born to her. She had worked for months on it, coddled it, fed it, and protected it several times from network failures. The only question in her mind: would her new baby be still-born? She didnt think she could take that pain. Not again.

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Hank sat on his sofa, reading from a letter he had received in the daily mail pouch. His legal affairs had finally caught up with him, after his years of hiding from them. He owed a debt of a few hundred dollars to his old bank for an account that had remained open and collecting fees, but no deposits. Near his leg on the sofa cushion he also had another letter, which had coincidentally chosen he same day to arrive. In the other letter, his late wifes insurance company had found him and was presently asking for information on the payout amount he was scheduled to receive as beneficiary to the policy, due to the death of his family in that accident all those years ago. A few days before, he received and filed for later action, a letter of apology from the company that owned the train that had hit her vehicle. They too were asking about where to send the money 49

they felt he deserved from the accident. Hank understood about why they were contacting him, understood the numbers they offered him to console him and cover their final expenses He stood from his sofa and dialed his phone as he walked out of his apartment. Lenny picked up the line, Ahoy. Boss, I need to take a leave of absence from my position here. Just for a few days. Lenny knew something was up the moment Hank had asked for time off. He never asked for time off. He never left the island for personal reasons. Sure thing, Hank. Whatever you need. Ill meet you in the launch bay in just a few minutes. How long should I pack for? Hank answered, You dont have to worry about it. I can take myself. Lenny spoke more assertively, Youve done so much for me over the years. I want to go with you. Hank replied simply, Suit yourself. Pack for three days, but no more than five. In an hour, they had Clarence parked in a nondescript location outside the city where Hank used to live. It had been so long for him, it almost hurt him to get out of Clarence. The feelings washed over him quickly and intensely, but in not a long time he had composed himself again. How could I have let it go this long? Were fixing it now, said Lenny.

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They walked a few hundred feet from Clarence and then looked back at him to make sure he was hidden from view. The dense forest area they used served them well. Then, as an afterthought, Lenny used his remote to lift Clarence up a foot or so, rotate him upside down, so that his hatch faced the ground, and then set him back on the soft dirt. The drive module remained powered, ensuring that they would find it there again when they returned. A short walk later and they rendezvoused with their taxi. As they rode, Lenny worked on his phone, texting and emailing his team and friends, letting them know about his unplanned excursion and his planned return in a few days. His wife he had told when it happened, she understood. The taxi arrived at the first stop and Lenny spoke to the driver, Please wait here and well make it worth your while with a handsome tip. The cabbie nodded and picked up a book. He opened to his bookmark and started reading, while Lenny and Hank stepped from the car. They walked near each other through the glass doors and found a place to sit on a sofa. In not long a young man smartly dressed approached them, "Can I help you gentlemen?" Hank stood and said, "I need to pay a fee on a closed account." The young man motioned to follow him as he spoke, "Yes, sir. I can help you with that. Right this way, please." 51

The men followed the bank employee to a counter and waited for him to log in to the terminal. "Do you have your account number?" Hank handed a small slip of paper to the banker, who then typed for a minute on the terminal. He looked up and asked, "And how will you be paying?" "With cash," answered Hank. "The total due is six hundred seventeen dollars and twenty cents." Hank thumbed out a handful of hundred dollar bills and then slid them across the counter to the banker. The young man drew a line on each with a marker, obviously checking for counterfeit bills. Hank tried not to be offended at the suggestion that he, the manager of a multi-million dollar company with government contracts, would resort to passing a few hundred dollars in funny money. He knew the banker was just doing his job. After receiving a receipt showing his account paid in full, as well as his change, Hank left the building sternly. They climbed back into the taxi and gave their second destination to the driver. This trip would be a little longer, but not by much. The offices of the insurance company were housed in a tall building, an inspiring edifice of metal and glass. Again Lenny asked their driver to wait for them, but warned that they might be a while. He paid well for the time and travel already rendered and again promised a handsome tip for

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waiting. The driver again picked up his book and began reading at his mark. In the lobby of the tower, the two men found a building directory and searched for a listing of the agent who had written to Hank. They found him and made for the elevator. Up thirty floors they rode in silence. When the doors opened, Lenny let Hank lead the way, as they were acting on his business, after all. In minutes, the adjuster admitted them into his office cordially. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm Oswald Stein. Thanks for answering my letter. It seems we owe you a death benefit that never got claimed." "Yes," said Hank somberly. "I'm sorry for your loss," said Mr. Stein. "How will we be making this payment today?" Hank answered, "Thank you for the consolation. Just a cashiers check for the present cash value, please." Mr. Stein looked over some paperwork in a folder and then warned, "You realize you'll be taking a hit to the value by cashing it out at this point?" Hank nodded, "Yes, I realize that. But I am firm on my decision. The cash value, please." Mr. Stein worked on his computer for a few minutes, typing and clicking his mouse and then typing some more. After what seemed like an hour, their host spoke up, "I'll need you to sign some

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forms for me real quick and then I can have the check brought up here." Mr. Stein retrieved some papers from his desk printer and wrote a bit on them himself before handing them over to Hank. As he explained the parts of the packet to Hank, who probably understood more about legal-speak than the adjuster did, a young woman in conservative attire also entered the small office and sat down. "And when you're ready to sign, we have Miss Hansen here to notarize the forms." Hank wasted no time filling in all the lines he needed to fill. He handed them back to Mr. Stein, who signed a few places and then handed the forms to the Notary. She stamped the forms with her stamp, filled in a date, signed her name and then left the office, respectfully nodding to Lenny and Hank. Mr. Stein asked, "Can I get you gentlemen some water or coffee? It'll be a few minutes before the check gets here." "No, thank you," said Hank as Lenny shook his head also.

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Once the two were standing outside the tower again, Lenny waited for the taxi driver to circle around the block. No doubt he had been told that he couldn't wait in the same spot for as long as they had needed. Inside the taxi, Hank spoke to the driver, "Central terminal, please." Again the men asked the driver to wait, again paying for services rendered, again promising a heavy tip if he should return for them. The two walked into the train station, and then found their way to the offices of the company who owned the train that entered Hank's life all those years before. They sat and waited on uncomfortable chairs for someone named George. A few posters with clichd images on them filled cheap frames on the walls. The potted plants on the receptionists desk had a certain plastic flare to them that made Lenny feel like they only cared

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about appearances, not reality. Would they do the same in person? After a long wait, but realistically neither of them had measured how long on a clock, the receptionist received a call on her desk phone, the characteristic ring that told her the call came from inside the office. She answered it, spoke a few words and then stood from her desk. If youll follow me, hell see you now. The two men walked down a narrow hallway, which led into another hallway. A room ahead of them opened and out walked a woman in slightly disheveled attire, looking like she had hastily styled her hair very recently. She avoided the glances that both men respectfully gave, telling both men that she felt embarrassed to be seen where she was at that moment. Thought they both shunned assumption, all the evidence suggested an indiscretion had occurred in the room she had just left. The room she had left turned out to be the room they were destined to enter. Hank resisted the urge to call their host on the fact that instead of giving their visit the proper attention, he had been making kissy-faces with some cute young coworker with smeared lipstick. Hank instead spoke coldly, yet deliberately, You sent me a letter. The placard on his desk announced his name to be George Shively. Mr. Shively stood and offered his hand to Hank, who refused it. He spoke, 56

Yes, sir. Wed like to offer our condolences to you on the tragic Mr. Shivelys voice trailed off with the intensity of Hanks stare. But he picked up his thought again after a few seconds, Our Company would like to offer you a monetary settlement in an attempt to compensate you for your lost income and final expenses and suffering. Hank stared back, waiting for a reason to pounce. He couldnt help very much how he felt at that moment. The feelings he had endured all those years ago had come back, and mixed unhealthily with those new emotions he had found in the hallway, when seeing how Mr. Shively spent his salaried time. Handing a sheet of paper to Hank, with a signature line at the bottom, Mr. Shively spoke up, In exchange for signing this form, which really is just a receipt for getting the check, Ive been authorized to offer you a hundred thousand dollars. For you loss, that is. Hank, who had more experience in legal matters than his host had ever dreamed, looked quickly over the form and shuddered in his soul. Would he really fall for this? Would he roll over and let this man cover his backside? Mr. Shively spoke up, You dont need to read it. Its pretty much all just lawyer language, nobody understands that junk anyway.

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Hank looked over the top edge of the page at Mr. Shively, Do you know what my profession is, Mr. Shively? His host looked to relax in defeat as it hit him what he had said. He weakly asked, Lawyer? Hank nodded and read the whole page from start to finish. The form itself had two parts, one told hank in essence that he would receive a check after he signed the form, but no earlier. The other section said that by signing the form, he released the company of liability for the collision, and waived his rights to further legal action on the matter. Hank set it down gently on the desk, looking intently into the face of a man he had decided to despise. It took a lot to earn Hanks ire, but this man had somehow successfully done so in under two hours. The island resident spoke, I am not interested in opening old wounds any more than I have. I came here to put a stop to this whole mess, but I changed my mind after reading this insult. I have a mind right now to go file actions in the courts from which your company will never fully recover. But would it teach you a lesson? No. Im going to sign this paper, because I dont want to ever see your face or hear your name again, but my silence will cost you dearly, both your company and you personally. Mr. Shively looked like he was about to throw up. He knew that Hank had the right to do exactly as he had planned, based on other facts that 58

had come out in the years since the collision. But Hank continued, Ill sign this form, and never mention the memos that leaked to me concerning your responses immediately after the accident, in which you assign a value of a few thousand dollars to, Hank opened his briefcase and pulled out a page and read from it, and I quote, the stupid hick woman and her bastard children who were too dumb to stop at a train crossing. Lenny himself felt his mind enflamed at the audacity of this man and his ignorant remarks. But Hank continued, Ill even surrender this page to you, giving my word that its my only copy of it. And Ill even sign a contract stating that youll never hear my name again in any matter henceforth. But I wont do so easily. Mr. Shively shook in his chair as he offered, Name your price. Hank stood and faced the desk. Ill be meeting with your superiors on this matter in the coming days, and as an owner of twenty-eight percent of your companys stock, I will be visiting with some of the other voting members of your board. I think by the time I'm done with you, youll wish you were in that car with my wife and children. Mr. Shively stood and ran to the door, blocking it as he begged, Please, please, ask anything, anything at all. But please dont do this.

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Hank glared down at Mr. Shively as he said, Fine. I want a check for twenty million dollars and your resignation, effective immediately. The horror on his face actually made Hank feel a little better, though he seldom enjoyed making others hurt. After a minute, Mr. Shively stood slowly and answered, Done. Ill have the check here in an hour. And Ill be gone by the end of the day. Hank replied, No, youll have the check here in fifteen minutes and youll be gone in twenty. Or youll find out what its like to have your name up in lights. Slowly nodding, Mr. Shively walked back to his desk and picked up the phone. He called the company accountant and made the request, and then he called his supervisor and laid the whole thing out on the line for him. Looking very dejected, Mr. Shively handed the phone over to Hank who spoke in a calculating fashion. Yes sirI understandno, you can count on itno further legal actionI swear itthank you sir. Good bye. Hank put the phone on the hook and stood waiting in the small office. The time ticked by for minutes, unending minutes that seemed to smear into each other as they passed. Hank tried to feel good about what he had just done, tried to justify it as what his wife would have wanted. He tried to tell himself that it was for her honor that he did it, but in the end, he knew it was for himself. 60

Less than fifteen minutes after Hank ended his phone call, a messenger entered the office. He handed an envelope to Hank, who opened it briskly. Within it he found a certified cashiers check for twenty-two million dollars, with a typed note that he folded up with it, stuffing them both in his jacket pocket. He signed the messengers digital pad and then looked at Mr. Shively. Ill be escorting you out of here. Get your things.

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When they stood again outside the terminal, they found the taxi they had hired and climbed back into the seats. Lenny asked the driver to take them to a modest hotel. And then thought better and said, Actually, could you take us to the nearest police station? Once inside the precinct, Hank followed Lennys lead. Lenny said to the desk sergeant, My friend here has come into the possession of a large amount of money and we would ask for a security escort. If you have an off-duty officer who would like to earn a little extra cash, wed be obliged. The officer made a few calls and then announced to the sitting Lenny, I got a guy coming in. Hell be here in a few minutes. Hank read the note that had been stuffed in the envelope with his check. The words were simple, and probably what he himself would have written if he were ever in the same position. 63

Mr. Roddaburke, I cant fully express how sorry we are to have to face this with you. We regret the actions our employee has taken in the past, and we feel that your demands are not too large to satisfy in light of the facts that have come out. We hope that in your mourning you have found some peace. Our condolences, Hank folded the page up again and put it in his briefcase. Then he looked at the cashiers check again, reading all the words printed upon it. What am I to do with this? Have I just sold my wife and sons for a few dollars? Lenny answered solemnly, No, I dont think so. But if you need an idea on what to do with the money, you can give it away. You can do good with it in their honor and in their name. What would they want you to do with it? Hank sat back on the ill-padded chair in the police precinct reception area. He looked out the front doors at the darkening sky and wondered, what would they do with it, if they had a voice? Lenny walked out of the station and addressed the taxi driver. He asked the total bill to that point and paid it. Then he also gave the driver a thousand dollar tip, for his time. The driver actually tried to give some of it back, but Lenny left the car sitting and walked back into the station. Their escort had arrived while he was dealing with the driver. Hank and the officer were 64

discussing a few things when Lenny reentered the building. He wore no uniform, but that might have been better for them, they realized. No need drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. My car is around back, said the officer who wanted them to call him Mike. They rode in his car to the hotel, and paid for his room to be next to theirs. Though they didnt truly expect anything to happen to them, because really no one knew about them and their situation, it still made them feel a little better to put him up for the night in a nice room. At dinner, Hank asked, So, Mike, tell us about yourself. Officer Mike shrugged and answered, Not much to tell, really. I'm single, living with my brother. Our parents are retired and living in Florida. Hanks face seemed to ask more than he voiced. But he spoke also, I saw the pamphlet in your car. Whos getting treatment? Mikes face fell. He spoke softly, I promised myself I wouldnt be that guy. I wont take your money. Im better than that. Lenny asked, And if we wanted to put you in touch with an agency that offers help, would that be the same thing? Mike looked away, We can handle it. Were fine. Hank spoke, My wife and two sons died in a tragic train accident years ago, and Ive recently 65

been given a lot of money for it. I feel like I need to do something really selfless with it, to honor them and respect their memory. If I were to give you money in their name, would that be acceptable? Mike wiped his eyes quickly, and cleared his throat, Yeah, I think in that case, I wouldnt want to offend their memory by turning away a gift. But not too much please. Hank pulled a small plastic card from his jacket pocket and handed it to Mike as he spoke, If money is offensive, then use this as your insurance provider. Itll take us a few days to set you up on our system, but by the time you go anywhere next, just give the clinics and doctors this card and no matter the treatment cost, youll be covered. But only your family, please. Through tears again, not hidden this time, Mike whispered, Thank you so much. The chilly night air fought hard to grip the two island residents bodies, but as they walked back to the officers car, it felt like not even arctic winters could take from them the feelings they enjoyed in their hearts. The hotel room felt a little lonely, but Hank satisfied himself with the fact that he would reverence the memory of his departed family by doing good in their names. Lenny spoke on his phone as he lay in his bed, I dont know, honey. But I know this has been weighing on him for a while. Its good for

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him to deal with these emotions, to do what he plans with them. Thanks for understanding. In their apartment in the island fortress, Stu asked, So, how much did he get? I dont think its my place to say, said Lenny respectfully. But suffice it to say that it isnt enough to make him feel better. Would any amount make you feel better in his shoes? Probably not, said Lenny. Well, I respect what youre doing with him. Be safe, come home soon, but give him the time he needs to do what he feels like he needs to do. I will, said Lenny. I love you. Good night.

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In the morning, after their breakfasts, Hank and Lenny, along with their escort Mike, walked into a large bank near the center of the city. They walked to a receptionist desk and asked to see someone regarding their accounts. TOAD, Inc. had several business related connections to the institution, and they were accustomed to deal with Lennys somewhat creative methods. Their usual phone helper came down to meet them in person, eagerly shaking all of the hands in the group. Right this way please, Mr. Hatching, Mr. Roddaburke. The overly giddy woman ushered them into an office and shut the door behind them. As she sat in the chair, she said, I never thought Id get to meet you two in person. This is a treat. How can I help you today?

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Hank handed the two cashiers checks to her and waited for her to respond, which she did in a surprised fashion, Well, thats a lot of money, Mr. Roddaburke. What would you like to do with it? Hank answered, Id like to set up a perpetual foundation for helping others in need. Id like it to run on its own with little interaction with people. What have you got that matches that? Sheryl answered as she looked through some folders in a drawer, Well, lets see. Do you have a 501-c3? Of course you do, here it is. Well have to pay a bit of taxes on the initial funds because the government counts it as income, but after that the foundation should work tax-exempt. How many employees will it have? Before Hank could answer, Lenny spoke up, This foundation will be completely automated with no permanent employees after the initial setup. And all work supplying it with resources and equipment will be volunteered and donated free of charge. Itll be like the one I set up last year, remember? Sheryl thumbed through some paperwork, changed folders and then spoke up as she pulled a form out, A-ha, yes, here it is. You want to model it after that one? Thats your choice. I can have the forms ready to sign by this afternoon. Are you sure you want to put the entire amount into it? Hank nodded, Yes, the entire amount, excepting five thousand dollars, please. And well take that five thousand in twenties, if its alright.

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Sheryl shrugged, Its your money, Mr. Roddaburke, Ill do as you wish. Thank you, said Hank. Sheryl wrote a little on a yellow legal tablet as she typed in the computer a lot. As she worked, she asked, Have you thought of a name for the foundation? Hank nodded, Yes. The Elsie, Alex and Jeffrey Roddaburke Foundation. As she typed, Sheryl asked, Family? Hank said solemnly, Yes, deceased. She stopped and looked into his face and said, My condolences, Mr. Roddaburke, for your loss. For the first time that week, Hank felt like someone truly meant that statement. He replied, Thank you. As I said, I can have the paperwork ready for you by this afternoon. As they all stood and shook hands, Hank said, Thank you. If you wait a moment I can have someone here to give you your cash. As they walked from the bank building, Hank asked, So Mike, is there anything you want to do to kill time? Our treat of course. Mike rubbed his neck and said casually, Not that I can think of. Lenny spoke, I have an idea. You like kids, Mike?

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Twenty minutes later, the three stood in clean scrubs waiting for entrance to a seldomvisited wing of a hospital. The sign above it designated it as the Hatching Pediatric Wing. Mike whispered, Is that you? My late father, answered Lenny. They entered when they were allowed and found that they were keenly awaited by many young pairs of eyes. A nurse announced, Come over here, beautiful children. We have some visitors today. Lenny, Hank, Mike, Id like you to meet some very special kids. To describe what happened next would be difficult with dry eyes, but it went well. Lenny, Hank and Mike met with a large number of children, some who would never leave the hospital alive. A few of them were recovering from being badly burned, some were severely deformed from birth, and a few others had been receiving treatment for terminal conditions. Nearly all of them belonged to families who either could not pay for services, or could pay only a few dollars per visit for treatment. But by order of the wings benefactor, none of them would be turned away. Lenny played hide and seek with them, Hank read story books to them in a little child-size lounge, and Mike couldnt seem to escape at least two hugs per minute. Lunchtime came to the hospital in what seemed like just a few minutes from their arrival. They enjoyed sandwiches and fruit and milk. Hank 72

deliberately drank the milk so that he pulled his glass away with a milk mustache. And when the kids laughed and pointed, Hank acted like he didnt know what had happened, What? Why are you laughing? Mike found himself admiring the two wealthy men more by the minute. But neither Hank nor Lenny was doing it for his admiration. At about three in the afternoon, a nurse walked up to Lenny and asked, Can we take your pictures? Lenny shook his head, Id rather not. The nurse persevered, A few of the kids asked to have pictures of you gentlemen. Lenny looked around, and reconsidered, In that case, I think it would be okay. But please dont let them leave the hospital. The nurse assured him, The press wont get these. Each and every child smiled big for their picture with their new friends. One young lady, about five years old, even kissed Hank on the cheek when the camera flashed. A few group images were taken and printed off then and there, and then pinned up to a bulletin board with a large banner across it saying: Our Friends. When they left, with waving and hugs, Mike said sincerely, Thanks for that. It meant a lot to me. A nurse stopped them before they had walked too far, and said, Thank you gentlemen for 73

stopping by. I know you dont know, but at least one of those children is expected to pass away any day now. And when you made them smile and laugh she stopped to breathe heavily, It meant a lot to them. Lenny hugged her and said, It was our pleasure to meet them. And to their surprise, Mike spoke up, Ill be back next week. Count on it.

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The forms filled out, and filed, Lenny and Hank left the bank with Officer Mike. When he had dropped them off at their hotel, Hank said to him, Thanks for escorting us around. Heres some money for your gas and time. Mike took the money and counted it, then he handed most of it back, or tried to anyway. But Hank refused it, We want to show you our appreciation for your services. Mike said, Yeah, but I dont pay two hundred bucks per gallon of gas. Take it back or Ill arrest you. They knew he was joking about arresting them, but Lenny said instead, If you dont want to keep it, give it away. Find someone worse off than you and give it to them. There has to be thousands of folks in this city worse off than you are, right?

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Mike nodded and then folded the money and put it into his pocket. Youre good guys, he said at last. Just trying to be, said Hank. They walked inside the hotel and packed up their bags. Leaving a hundred dollar tip in each room, they left the hotel and found a taxi waiting for them at the sidewalk. Getting inside it Lenny asked to be taken to the place where they parked Clarence. As they rode in the taxi, Lenny got an odd feeling about their driver. They hadnt much paid attention to him when getting into the car in front of the hotel, but as they sat, Lennys nose smelled the same odor that the other cab they had ridden in had smelt. What were the odds? But then, if he recognized Hank and Lenny, why didnt he make some sign or say something that would let them know that it was him? The odd feeling in the back of his mind grew as they traveled and Lenny noticed that the meter wasnt running. No driver would forget to set his meter before leaving the hotel. Silently Lenny took his phone out of his pocket and texted a message to Josh, hoping hed be able to comply, hoping against his life that the driver wasnt really in the mood to harm them. As they neared the place where the driver had picked them up the day before, Lenny searched the dimming sky for any sign that his message had been received. No Starla, no Gretta nothing 76

appeared to be visible to him. The cloud cover added a little darkness to the night, and would have covered the approach of an incoming vehicle. As the taxi pulled to a stop slowly, Lenny tried to decide if he should warn Hank about the possible danger. But would there be any danger? Or was his mind playing tricks on him? His answers came as the driver got out of his seat as well, once he put his car into park. He pulled from his pocket a small gun and pointed it at Hank as he stepped from behind the rear door. The driver spoke, I dont want to hurt you, but I will be taking your money. All of it. I know you guys have much more than regular dudes. Open that briefcase. Hank calmly complied, making no sudden movements. Lenny looked up again searched the sky again, but nothing came into view. The driver misinterpreted his actions and said, Cool it kid. I dont hear any helicopters. We got time. Just then, seemingly from nowhere, a figure dropped from the sky fast and landed on top of the taxi like a three ton gymnast, crushing the roof of it in. The driver looked over fast, shocked that he wasnt alone, and that a person had done what he had just witnessed. But the driver looked back quickly at Hank and Lenny, to make sure they werent taking advantage of his surprise. Who the crap is that? he shouted. You, get off my car!

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The figure slinked over to where the taxi driver stood, giving him a good view of the man who had dented his car so severely. But the driver obviously didnt recognize the shape, or the way it moved up to him. He aimed his gun at it and fired off a round. Both Lenny and Hank ducked, trying to stay out of the way of ricocheted bullets. The shot pinged off the hardened skin of Bruces chest, and hit the ground somewhere out of sight. When the driver noticed that the man in metal didnt even flinch with his first shot, he fired again. Sparks came from Bruces forehead, just above where the black face met with an inch-thick tungsten skull cap. The driver attempted to fire again, but he doubled over in pain, holding his ears. Lenny noticed that Bruces hand was still outstretched after the driver went to his knees, though it had moved too fast to be seen. Lenny watched with rapt attention, hoping that Bruce would just leave the driver there. Bruce looked over at Lenny and spoke in Joshs voice, Get to Clarence. Ill hold him off until you leave and then follow you out. Lenny yelled as he and Hank ran toward Clarence hidden in the trees, Wreck his car so he cant get away. It became apparent to Lenny that Bruce's body was at that moment being controlled by Josh in the motion capture studio back on the island, the 78

two systems communicating over Bruce's 4G data links. Bruce, under the control of Joshs actions did as Lenny ordered. He dug his fingers into the seam between the hood and both fenders, and then he tore the hood away like it was silk and tossed it a hundred feet behind his back. Then he lifted his foot and landed a crushing blow to the top of the taxis engine, destroying it in one stomp. Bits of metal and plastic flew a good distance as smoke billowed up from the front of the car. The driver cowered a distance away from Bruces body. Josh induced Bruce to take a bit of metal from the engine compartment and walk over to the driver. He bent one end of the thick steel around his wrists. Then Bruce walked back over to the immobile car, dragging the fighting driver as if there were no resistance to his grip. He reached the other end of the bent metal through the drivers window, which ended up as a pile of broken glass fragments in the drivers seat. With a quick few movements of the wrists, the other end of the scrap steel he bent around the steering wheel through the window. The loops he had made in the twisted steel were just tight enough that the driver couldnt escape, but just loose enough that his hands wouldnt fall off. As he stood staring at the driver, who cowered crying and probably in soiled underwear, the robot spoke again, My buddy there tells me that a police officer will be here soon to collect you. And just remember, whatever you tell him about 79

me, he wont believe you. So make it easy on yourself. As he watched, the robot looked up and rocketed into the sky making no noise that he could hear. Had it been a dream? No, the metal bracelets he wore let him know that it had indeed happened. An hour later, the lights of a police car came upon the driver, having not moved from where he had been tied. Two officers stepped from the car, one in a uniform and the other in plain clothes, but still on duty and talking on his phone. They walked up to the driver and just stared at him for a while. The one on his phone spoke, Yeah, I'm standing in front of him now. And how did his car get wrecked? He paused as the other end of the line talked, No idea at all, huh? What about how he seems to have a thick metal piece bent around his wrists? Another pause as he listened. And will you be coming back to give a statement? We cant charge him unless you do. The driver curiously kept his mouth shut the whole time. When the officer put his phone in his pocket, he spoke to the other one, You still got that hack saw in your trunk? This ones going to take a while.

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Inside Clarence, as they lazily flew in the night sky at a few hundred miles per hour, Joshs voice came over the radio. I thought it would be far more useful to send Bruce here to help you then to come bursting down with Gatling guns firing from Gretta. Turns out I was right. Good work, said Lenny. But I think next time well just keep our bodyguard around until we leave. I gotta tell you, pal, I was really worried there for a few seconds that Bruce would actually hurt that guy. Josh answered, We werent able to test his reactions to such things in the lab yet. As a precaution, we thought it best to simply ask him to step aside and receive instructions from the motioncapture suit in the studio. That way, we were guaranteed that he wouldnt over- or underreact in his first real world scenario.

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Also, that was so awesome! said Lenny. The way you dropped out of the sky like that, it was amazing! It was like one of those comic movies only up close. Dibbs on the next test. Josh laughed, Be my guest. After that test, I think everyone needs to experience the suit at least once. As the two flew, Lenny glanced out the windows at Bruce. His outstretched arms and horizontal body looked reminiscent of another hero hed seen before, from a different comic universe. He wondered what it would feel like to actually be in a suit out there in the air, soaring through the sky like an iron bird. But he pulled himself back to his flying before anything dangerous happened. That idea would be best saved for another day, he thought.

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Surprisingly, Hank didnt say a thing about how irresponsible it was to send out an unproven combat system and sic it on an armed criminal. He didnt lecture them about the dangers of Bruce falling into the wrong hands. All he said was, Thanks Josh, when he exited Clarence. He walked out of the launch bay somberly, dragging his small bag behind him. Lenny and Josh let him go, knowing hed be back to his normal self when he felt ready to do so. Lenny spoke, I dont think he really ever had to face a man with a gun before. I mean years ago, he met with the marines and they had guns, but they were responsible and wouldnt have shot him. That driver back there, he really had the intent to use his gun. Hell be okay, said Josh, standing in person. With Bruce back in the test chamber, and Lenny and his team sitting around a table, he 83

decided to speak to them, We need to work on testing him out in realistic situations. And I think that means we need to pit him against people in a controlled environment. But who can we get to agree to let him beat them up? Red answered Lennys question, What about soldiers. We could allow them body armor to limit their injuries. But isnt this what theyre trained for? Lenny considered his options. It would be easy enough to ask for a few dozen marines for testing purposes, but how would they mask it so that the military wouldnt see Bruce as something else to try to take? Josh seemed to answer Lennys reluctance, We could put padding and junk all over Bruces body to make him look like a person in training. If the people dont see his metal skin, theyll just assume he is a person with fast moves and strong muscles. Lenny nodded and then spoke up, Alright, but how many will we need? Half an hour later, Lenny sat in a conference room talking with a Brigadier General Pace over a video line. The general spoke, So I hear from above my rank that I am to offer you anything I can without question. What can I offer you, Mr. Hatching? Lenny respectfully explained, Were testing a combat armor prototype, but we dont have the skills to fully test it to the extremes. What we 84

are asking for from you is the use of some men to test it out. They would be in a controlled environment and given the use of whatever kind of armor they chose. And they would be charged with trying to destroy the prototype however they can. First with hand to hand techniques, then with whatever they can find around them as weapons. And then, depending on how testing has progressed, we might let them try firearms on it. In an unmanned range, of course. So, began the Brigadier General, You want me to send you a few good men to beat up one of your toys? That hardly seems like something worth our time. But as I am ordered to pander to you, I have no choice, do I? Id like to think I am doing this with your support, and that the dozen men you send will in fact take this testing seriously. But since as you say you have no choice, I guess it doesnt matter. Im sure I can find some way of motivating your soldiers to do their best, even if you dont. The Brigadier General sighed and then said, I hate taking orders from civilian contractors. When do you need us? Lenny spoke, offering him the respect of his rank, As soon as you can, based on your schedule. We can offer transport for your soldiers at our expense. We can fly ourselves there, said the Brigadier General. Just light up the runway for the plane. 85

Actually, began Lenny, We dont have a runway on our island. Any approach will be by sea or amphibious aircraft. And if you want to get this over as soon as possible, I suggest you take me up on my offer of flying your people here from the terminal in southern California. You have some clear land to accommodate a helicopter? Yes, sir, answered Lenny. Good, then as I said, we can fly ourselves there. The line cut off as the Brigadier General briskly shut his laptop lid. Lenny remembered the last time he had to face a man of his rank coming to his island. In the end, it didnt turn out well for the other man, who held Red with a knife to her throat aboard Clarence some millions of miles from the surface of the Earth. Lenny hoped the Brigadier General would decide not to join his men in the exercise, but just send one of his underlings to do all the shouting. As he walked from the conference room, he met with Josh and Hank in the hall. He reported, Theyll be here soon, lets tell the maid to make up the guest room.

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DaNell watched as a blip appeared on their long-range radar screen. Based on their speed, she reported, the system estimates landfall in under an hour. Lenny watched them closing the distance on their island for some time before a signal came in. The radio sounded, Island Approach, this is research taxi alpha. Requesting vectors to the initial, over. DaNell keyed her mic and spoke, This is Approach Control. Make your bearing two three five degrees and hold speed. Altitude of the landing zone is three five zero feet. Marked with a large X on the ground, surrounded by blinking red lights. Over. The speaker came back, Copy that, Approach Control. Making bearing two three five degrees.

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The channel clicked and the people in the command center watched the blip still moving toward their island. This time, the incoming aircraft was invited and expected. Still, they had to warn their residents. DaNell keyed her mic again, this time speaking over the intercoms in the fortress and the pole-mounted megaphones on the land, Island residents. This is DaNell in the command center. Be advised that there is an incoming marine helicopter on approach. This aircraft has been invited here and has peaceful intentions. There is no reason to be alarmed. Lenny hoped his friends would stay out of the way of the marines, who had also undoubtedly heard rumors of this place. They watched on a few security camera feeds that people were going into their homes and closing their shutters, as if preparing for a storm. He didnt blame them, really. But on his island, his guests would be treated as guests, no matter their affiliation. After all, if his island were under siege from an invading foreign army, he hoped to be able to look to the American military for protection. On the ground, near the landing zone, Lenny stood and watched the small flying object approaching his home. They had to fight a moderate breeze across the island, but such things were not uncommon in their area of the pacific. As the chopper lowered slowly, Lenny could see the thing adjusting this way and that for the wind, and

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then finally setting down softly exactly centered on the X in the ring of lights. As soon as the wheels depressed the springs on the landing gear, the engine noise changed. It hummed down lower and the whine of the turbine softened. Imperceptibly at first and then noticeably, the blades slowed their spinning. Also, as the blades began to slow, the back of the helicopter began to open, lowering a ramp. Lenny walked around to the back of the helicopter to receive the men cordially. He stood nonthreatening and with both hands visible, but he doubted these soldiers would expect him to threaten them anyway. A few men began to unload some bags and boxes, while others walked down the ramp to stretch in the sunshine. Another man approached Lenny with his hand outstretched, "You Mr. Hatching?" Lenny shook his hand and answered, "Yes, sir. But I like to be called Lenny, if it suits you." "Whatever you say, Lenny. My name is Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. I like to be called Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. I'm in command of this group of soldiers and I am ordered to comply with your wishes where they do not endanger my men or equipment." Lenny nodded and offered, "We have accommodations prepared for up to twenty people in our dorms. Unless, of course, you'd prefer to pitch tents by your chopper."

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Gunnery Sergeant Sharp snorted and then said, "No, sir. We'll take the bunks offered. Will my helicopter be safe here from tampering?" Lenny pointed behind him, "We have an underground hanger that should house it nicely. It's just back over that way. You're welcome to have it parked down below. We don't anticipate strong winds in the coming days, but better safe than sorry." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp waved to a man who looked like the pilot, and then said, "I'd like to see the hanger." Lenny walked the two men over to the large lift that allowed Clarence to exit the launch bay without getting wet if they so chose. The pilot asked, "How much weight can it lift?" Lenny answered matter-of-factly, "We've tested it successfully at two hundred tons while loading bundles of raw steel stock and pallets of dry cement bags. It didnt even flinch." The pilot nodded and asked, "And the hanger?" Lenny pulled his phone out and dialed DaNell in the control center. "Lower the lift please." It shook to a start and lowered the three men into a gaping hole in the ground. The lift lowered and lowered until it paused at the floor level of the Launch bay, about three stories down. The pilot looked around again and then asked, "Do you have a puller engine to get the chopper off the lift?" 90

Lenny pointed to a stunted-looking truck in the corner of the room with a long hitch arm folded up on its front bumper. The pilot nodded and said, "This will do just fine." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp asked, "And this area is secure from public access?" As Lenny hit the control on the console to lift the platform, he answered, "I can set up temporary protocols that allow only your man or men to enter while you're here, along with only my most trusted staff." "Yes, please," agreed Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. Once the rotors were turning again, the pilot gingerly and expertly navigated his large metal beast over to the lift platform. When he felt satisfied with its position, he again turned off the engines. Once the blades had stopped turning, a few men climbed up the sides of the helicopter and began to work at the blade joints. They removed bolts and folded the blades back toward the tail, shrinking its overall footprint. Lenny noticed the pilot fiddling with the control console and approached him, "That console is cut off from the network when we're on the top level. It protects us from unauthorized breach. From this position only the command center six stories down can move the platform." "That's a good idea," said the pilot.

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"We thought so too," said Lenny as he pulled his phone out. "Are you ready to lower the lift?" The pilot nodded and Lenny spoke, "Please lower the lift to the launch bay." The lift again lowered into the ground, but Lenny jumped off it before it went too far down, he called down to the pilot, "I'll be down in a second. Just wait by your chopper." Lenny then walked over to where the other men were taking inventory of their supplies and approached the Gunnery Sergeant. "If you're ready to get your men inside I can take you in." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp nodded, "Yes, that would be good. Lead the way." Lenny walked his guests to the main entrance to the fortress and keyed in the unnecessarily long code into the panel. Then he placed his hand to a black glass plate and it flashed for a few seconds before going dark again. The door clicked and Lenny opened it carefully. He paused, though at the open pathway. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp asked, "What are you waiting for?" "Breach countermeasures are in place. A charging invasion force would simply walk in. A homeowner waits." In the hallway, a red floodlight flashed twice and then chirped loud. Lenny walked inside cavalierly no longer worrying about any dangers. The military visitors cautiously entered behind 92

Lenny, looking around the walls as they walked. A soldier Lenny hadn't yet met asked, "And if we would have just walked in right away?" Lenny answered, "The corridor would have been quickly sealed off and filled with a tranquilizing gas. In under ten seconds, unprepared invaders would be unconscious. And thermal imaging would see those that didnt lay down after that interval and not vent the room. The invaders would either run out of breath or stored air and succumb to the gas." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp asked, "Could they break out of the hallway?" Lenny answered, "The walls of all access hallways are reinforced concrete two feet thick. Any force or explosion applied to them with enough power to breach them would kill the invading soldiers." Lenny felt like he was trying to convince the soldiers not to try anything, even though he suspected they were just curious. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp asked, "Don't you think that's a little overkill?" Lenny answered as he led the men into the launch bay, "The paranoid survive."

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As the men unpacked their bags in the dorm rooms, Lenny waited patiently. They had been allowed access to the dorm lounge with its sofas and game systems and satellite television while not on duty. Lenny also posted the access code to the public wi-fi, for those that wished to use it. "Your cellular phones won't work down here," said Lenny to the group of men and women assembled in the lounge, after they had unpacked. "Neither will your radios. But we have an internal intercom system that your commanders will be given access to, for announcements and calls." Lenny had intentionally shut down the phone servers for all but his private set. He didnt want any information leaking back out of the complex without his consent. He also didnt tell them that their internet traffic would be filtered, intercepting any messages that mentioned projects or technologies that they were working on in the 95

labs. He didnt like to be all Big-Brother-ish, but when dealing with people he hadn't already screened for trustworthiness, he didnt take unnecessary chances. That afternoon, after a hearty lunch in the dining hall, the soldiers were taken into the testing area and shown the target of their aggression for the exercises. Bruce stood in thick red padding, motionless as a statue. The men and women looked around a little in the simulated real world environment in which they would be working. One solder walked up to Bruce and waved his hand in front of Bruce's eyes, watching for a flinch. Lenny spoke, "Yes, that's the simulade you'll be attacking. Your goal will be to try to destroy it in various methods. Under its skin we have placed sensors to measure any damage. So, who's first?" Gunnery Sergeant Sharp ordered, "Lance Corporal Hensen, punch that thing." A fit-looking soldier in his normal uniform approached Bruce and punched at his stomach area hard. If Bruce's arm hadn't blocked the attack and directed it away from his body, the marine could have broken his wrist on Bruce's abs that were literally made of steel. Lance Corporal Hensen stepped back quickly and looked at Lenny who explained, "Its arms are mechanized, and its optics are very sensitive. But it IS just a machine. Please try again.

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And I do mean try. I want you to do your worst to it." Lance Corporal Hensen nodded and again approached the padded Bruce, whose stance didnt change at all. Lenny had asked that his legs be powered, to keep him looking like a stationary mounted machine. The soldier tried again, using fighting techniques Lenny thought he might have seen before in the fighting competition his company had sponsored several years before. The attacks were blocked in turn, and after a short time, the soldier looked to be tiring. Lenny spoke up, "If you need help, You may call for another soldier to join you." Bruce's attacker nodded as he panted. Another soldier approached and tried his best to hit Bruce. To the groups' palpable surprise, the two arms did well to block attacks by both of the men simultaneously. His movements were almost too fast to see at some points. Before long, Gunnery Sergeant Sharp spoke up, "Alright, that's good. Get back and let someone else give it a shot. Thomson, Grier, Kelly, you're up." The two walked back to the others, while three fresh soldiers took position around Bruce's body. All at once, Bruce began to block and defend himself against three assailants, as if they were in slow motion to him. Lenny spoke to Gunnery Sergeant Sharp, "It's eyes see and process images ten times faster than humans do, and using preprogrammed fighting maneuvers it selects the 97

best option to deflect a blow from a database of a few thousand moves. It then applies that maneuver and continues the process." The Gunnery Sergeant asked, "Can it be applied to an autonomous system?" Lenny replied truthfully, "The power requirements of the system are more than would fit in him for much more than an hour or so. After that, it'd just be a three hundred pound paperweight." The Gunnery Sergeant nodded, "Too bad. I can see real battle field applications for this tech." "You and every other branch of the service," said Lenny. "Imagine replacing human soldiers with these. The forces would be unstoppable, until their batteries ran out in forty-five minutes. But we're here to test the armoring primarily, for use in the field." Lenny could see the wheels turning in the Gunnery Sergeant's head, he had to act quick. In his pocket he hit the button on his remote that put Bruce into sleep mode. Bruce froze, and the soldiers suddenly became very effective against him. "Uh-oh," shouted Lenny. "Looks like his battery died. Playtime's over, Marines." Those attacking Bruce paused and returned to the group. They were panting all of them, but not less dangerous. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp spoke up, "Back to your areas. He'll let us know when he needs us again." And then to Lenny, "Have you 98

tried to make him slimmer? Cut down on the outer shape?" Lenny answered, "He's padded to protect your men from injury. But we couldnt make him any smaller if we wanted to. We're at the limit of real technology. Any more advanced and this would be science fiction. Our simulade is useful, but not very much outside the lab." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp had a disappointed look on his face as he nodded, much to Lenny's relief.

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As evening came on, the soldiers got several more chances to try to damage Bruce, but each encounter ended the same way. At a preset interval, Bruce shut down and it was only after he did that any of the marines landed any blows. When all of the soldiers were in their dorm rooms and relaxing, Gunnery Sergeant Sharp approached Lenny in the dining hall. Sitting down near him, "You have a pretty neat place here. But realistically it's undefended for the most part. I could give you some helpful pointers if you'd like." Lenny put his book down near his plate and replied, "Not to be disrespectful, but this fortress withstood a multi-directional assault a few years ago from a few dozen marines and landed navy personnel. It was only when we let them in that they entered. But tell me what you're thinking." The Gunnery Sergeant sat back a little and began, "For starters, you have no weapons. And 101

you have no real security forces. Your defense perimeter is pretty stout, but if a group does manage to breach your stronghold, they'll have their run of it." Lenny listened and then replied, "We have no weapons that you can see, and we have no security forces that you've noticed. I'll grant that most of our preparation has gone into fortifications, but not all of it." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp nodded and then said, "Well, what if we offered to help you fortify this place even further?" Lenny smiled and said, "I appreciate your offer, and perhaps after the testing on the prototype is finished we can talk about that. But for the time being, let's just chew on one idea at a time." "I'm serious," said Sharp. "What kind of internal defenses do you have?" Lenny stood, "Follow me. I'll show you." Through a hallway they walked until Lenny found a sufficiently unused section. He accessed the security protocols on his digital tablet and then spoke to his companion, "Do you have anything on you that you wouldnt mind losing for a while?" He pulled a pen from his pocket and offered it to Lenny. Lenny pointed with his head, "Toss it down that hallway there." Complying, the Gunnery Sergeant tossed his pen down the hallway, and before it hit the ground, a wall of sticky foam exploded from the sides and

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top of the tunnel, encasing the pen within it. The foam cured quickly and then hardened in seconds. The Gunnery Sergeant looked shocked, but Lenny offered, "Go ahead, it's safe to touch it by now." He did so, his hand moving smoothly over the hardened polymer foam as if it were cement. Lenny explained, "We installed these things every ten feet along every hallway in the complex. We can pop them to trap a person in a short section, or we can pop them to encase objects inside them. It depends on the setting. And they're motion sensitive, and networked." "That could be really useful," said the Gunnery Sergeant. Lenny continued, "The foam can be dissolved with a solvent, but not an ordinary one. It's fire-retardant and nontoxic if ingested." "And if someone gets trapped inside one of those walls?" Lenny winced, "They'd probably suffocate pretty quick. In a few minutes it'll be hard enough that a knife is useless against it. It isn't just solidifying, it begins to crystallize in the presence of oxygen." "What else have you got?" Lenny turned and walked out of that area, with his companion following. He spoke, "Most of this complex is situated below the level of the water in the ocean. In cases of extreme emergency, we have the ability to seal off survivable sections and 103

then flood the rest from underneath. The whole place is designed to be filled in under ten minutes from various inlets, but it'll take two weeks to pump out again." Sharp nodded gravely. After a minute he spoke, "And you're willing to lose this complex that easily?" Lenny stopped and answered firmly, "My team and I are ready to give our vary lives to make sure this place and its secrets never leave it without our permission. If that means flooding it, so be it. If that means detonating the entire complex, that's fine by us too." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp asked cautiously, "You have bombs in here?" Lenny answered, "We have license for and possession of a limited supply of C4. Some of our projects use uranium. If a large enough mass of uranium were exposed to a C4 detonation, there's a more than ninety percent chance that it would go nuclear. And to keep our secrets out of the wrong handsno matter who they arewe would take that action. And not one of us on the island would fight the execution of that plan." Sharp nodded and said, "Sounds good to me. I'm convinced." "Then you trust me? You'll report to your superiors that we can still be trusted to keep advanced tech out of the hands of those people with ill-intent?" "You knew about that task?" 104

"I'm young, but not dumb," said Lenny. "I know that many people dont fully trust us here. And I know that many more are nervous that we may not be careful enough with our toys. But you can let them know that trust in this operation is not misplaced."

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The few and proud rested well that night, along with most others on the island. They had worked hard to earn that rest. Lenny contemplated long into the night possible options that he had at that moment. But his thinking wasnt unnoticed. A soft hand rubbed his cheek, and roused him from his thoughts. He turned quickly to check the time and then said to his wife, "It's after midnight, what are you doing still awake?" "I was about to ask you the same thing. What's keeping my smart cutie up at night? It has to be big, I think." Lenny sighed and looked back up at the ceiling, "I'm just a little edgy about having these outsiders here all at once. A few here and there is fine, but I don't think we've ever had this manyguests at once."

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"Nervous that they'll see something you don't want them to?" "I guess just nervous that the peace we've enjoyed this long won't last. And bringing them here could be the first step toward a change in our lifestyle." Stu rubbed his chest soothingly, "I get it, I really do. We all want to think that our paradise will last forever. But sometimes, a change is a good thing." Lenny nodded and tried to relax. He wouldnt be any good to their guests if he was sleep-hungover in the morning. As he worked through his calming mental exercises, he wondered if there was a way to permanently pacify the soldiers, perhaps move them to his island on a longer term basis. But then he remembered what had happened the last time he invited soldiers to live near his work site. The hours passed him by at last as he drifted off to sleep. The night would handle itself as it normally had. In the early morning hours Lenny woke with a funny idea. Perhaps showing the soldiers at least some of the truth could be helpful to them. He dressed quickly and phoned Josh. The tired Josh answered his call and agreed to meet Lenny in the lab before breakfast. As Lenny stood admiring Bruce in his bright red padding, Josh walked in and spoke, "What woke my good buddy so early?" 108

Lenny answered, while keeping his eyes fixed on Bruce, "I had an idea this morning, and I wanted to run it by you first." "Fire away," said Josh as he stood next to Lenny. "I was thinking, we should set up a protection exercise with a few of the soldiers. Make sure Bruce knows that he must keep the men from the model acting as the helpless protectee, and tell the soldiers to do everything they can to try to get to him or her, short of using firearms." Josh spoke carefully, "You know that'll mean that we would free up his legs for autonomous movement. It'll be blazingly obvious to the Sergeant that we have a fully mobile robot soldier in development. Are you sure you want to go that route?" Lenny nodded slowly and answered, "Yeah, I think I do. They already believe that Bruce has power storage issues, so they may just overlook the added functionality." "But they may very well not," warned Josh. "Whichever way you go, I'll support you, but I hope you know what you're doing." Lenny spoke as he stepped up to Bruce, "Help me take these pads off him, will you?" "I really hope you know what you're doing." Once Bruce stood again free of the bright red padding that would have encumbered any normal human, he looked cleaner, newer. Lenny and Josh locked the lab doors behind them and went 109

off to eat their breakfasts. They didnt want anyone to see Bruce without them to explain some things first, but they also wanted to see the reactions on their faces upon viewing the unfettered tungsten and stainless steel figure that cut a very imposing silhouette. In the dining hall, which looked a few times fuller than it had in a long time, Lenny sat at his usual spot and ate his rice. He watched the marines eating, not segregated from other island residents, but mingled as if they didnt care. This made him feel good in his heart. The last thing he wanted was for his people to make his guests feel unwelcome. As Lenny spoke, he directed his questions to the Gunnery Sergeant who sat near him at the same table, "Have you thought about retiring your commission?" Gunnery Sergeant Sharp looked up and cleared his mouth before speaking, "They told me this might happen. I'm sorry, but I dont think you could afford my salary." "I dont think you know how much money the government pays us to develop advanced technologies for you guys. I mean, I can pick out at least three separate things on your men right now that we developed here. We're not wasting the government's money. And a strong leader like you, in command of trained protection forces might come in handy the next time I need to show a display of force."

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Gunnery Sergeant Sharp considered his response carefully, "I appreciate your offer, but I serve my country proudly. With luck, I can die honorably in the service of my nation, earning me a spot in Arlington." Lenny nodded, "I respect your integrity, and your choice. But if you ever do decide that you'd like to transfer here, just let me know and I'll make it happen." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp nodded and took another bite of his breakfast. He had chosen to eat some eggs and sausage with toast, and wash it down with orange juice. After a few more bites, he asked, "Why does this taste so good?" Lenny looked up from his rice and answered, "The oranges grow in a grove here on the island, and the eggs come from our chickens. The sausage comes from pork grown in Texas, but we mix the ingredients here too. The toast bread was baked this morning at about three or so. We try to do as much for ourselves as we can, just in case a heavy storm interrupts shipping from the mainland. He nodded and continued to eat his breakfast as Lenny returned to his own. Stu came and stood near Lenny. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp stood at her arrival, out of respect. As Stu set her crutches down near her, and the server set her plate at her seat, Gunnery Sergeant Sharp introduced himself. "Good morning, ma'am. I'm Gunnery Sergeant Sharp." 111

Stu shook his hand as he sat down, "Good morning." Lenny introduced, "This is my wife, Alicia. Most times she prefers to go by Stu." Another woman came and sat near the group. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp and Lenny standing for her approach. Lenny introduced, "Gunnery Sergeant Sharp, this is Judge Ellen Davis. Judge, this is Gunnery Sergeant Sharp with the United States Marine Corp. The two shook hands, as Her Honor asked, "Please call me Ellie." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp paused his handshake before letting go, "Does everyone here have nicknames?" "We're all sorts of casual like that here," answered Judge Davis.

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As the men filed into the room, they all noticed and mumbled about Bruce's new appearance. They also noted that they had been joined by a woman on crutches. When Lenny entered, he began, "Gentlemen, let me introduce to you my sweet wife Alicia. She'll be joining us for this exercise this morning. Her role will be protectee, and the robot will be protector. It will be his duty to protect her from approach and harm. It will be your duty to try to breach his protection, with the real intent to harm her. Now some of you notice that she has crutches, this is because she has a broken ankle and it's healing. We are so confident in Bruce's armoring that we are willing to add this level of danger to the assignment." The men and women in uniform mumbled to themselves. Lenny spoke up, "Questions?" One raised his hand, it could have been Lance Corporal Hensen, he wasnt certain, "You're 113

asking us to try to harm an injured unarmed woman?" Lenny answered, "We are that confident in our prototype and his training. Anyone not willing to help us with this test is welcome to sit the round out. But to fully test the abilities of our technology, we need full effort by the threatening parties." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp spoke up gruffly, "Your mission today is to harm that woman! Were she holding a weapon, you wouldnt hesitate. You will not hesitate now! These people need you to do your worst and you will give it to them! You will comply! Is that clear?" With one voice the group of soldiers answered, "Yes Gunnery Sergeant!" "Burke, Markem, Owens: you're first." "Yes Gunnery Sergeant!" said the first three soldiers. Two men and a woman in uniform approached Bruce. Lenny spoke up, "Your goal is no longer to hurt Bruce, but to hurt the woman." The three changed their target and approached Stu who was sitting on the ground. One man picked up a cut section of 2x4 stud about three feet long and went for the gusto, swinging it at Stu's body. The flash of metal that intervened looked almost too fast to be real, but it disarmed the soldier and knocked him down gasping for air, the wood broken into three large pieces and many smaller ones hit another wall.

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The other soldiers stood stunned, not sure what to think. The other man picked up a pipe length, which had been left leaning against a crate, and swung it at Stu's head. Again, the soldier hit the ground groaning, his weapon bent into a V shape pinged against a distant wall. It seemed that as it flew away, so did the intentions of those that were ordered to harm Stu. Gunnery Sergeant Sharp shouted, "Owens, did I give you the order to stand down?" The woman in uniform shouted, "No Gunnery Sergeant!" as she too picked up a section of pipe. But her goal seemed to be to gain the advantage over Bruce and then to deal with the injured Stu. The pipe whistled as it flew through the air, and then it too became a flying object knocked from the hands of the female soldier. It appeared as if Bruce, however, had decided to go easy on Owens, as he didnt send her sliding on the floor away from his position, but just turned her shoulders and pushed her back. She found herself stopping from a run away from the scene, and then turning back to face Bruce. Lenny wondered why Bruce hadn't treated Owens the same as he had the other two men. He seemed to have no compunctions about knocking the wind out of them, but the woman he had simply pushed away from himself. He determined to ask Stu and Pete about this when the exercise had ended, as they had had a more substantial role in programming than Lenny had. 115

Lenny looked over to his guests and nodded. The Gunnery Sergeant took his cue and ordered, "Everyone else, get in there and harm that woman!" The remaining soldiers all jumped in at once, grabbing pipes and sticks and anything else they could pick up. And seeming to defy science itself, Bruce fended them all off of Stu in turn, but all at once. He broke boards and bent pipes and tossed men and women to and fro, and not a single one reached Stu. Lenny almost forgot to mark the time to let them know about Bruce's false battery restraints, so interesting and mesmerizing were his skills. Bruce's eyes, four of them, seemed to see everything, and when someone left his field of vision, a quick glance let him know where they were in an instant. Right at forty-five minutes, Lenny announced with a compressed air horn that play time had ended. The marines were visibly tired, some hurting, but none too badly. As they turned and walked away, Bruce turned his head a few times to make sure he wouldnt be taken offguard. "Everyone back to your rooms," said Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. As the soldiers filtered out of the room, he approached Lenny, "I get that you don't want your bot to be used as a killing machine. I get that in the wrong hands it would be an unstoppable supersoldier without a conscience. And I trust that the government would try to do just that with him, but 116

what really did you have in mind when you built that thing? Just a bodyguard for hire? And what happens when the military buys up a few hundred thousand of them and sends them out to massacre Russia or China or whatever other nation they decide needs to be put down? Can you handle that on your conscience?" Lenny thought about his response before he spoke, "I'll level with you a hundred percent. His internal battery lasts about sixteen hours, and has no external method of recharging. He powers up by flying through the air like a superhero. That's also the secret to his fast actions speed, he has no motors in him, just purpose-built modules that adhere to spacetime. That robot there has the ability to potentially move and fly so fast that you can't even see him. Using a single unit of the same drive technology my friends and I lifted a fully loaded aircraft carrier out of the water and into space, and our little trips to the stars can get to the moon in fifteen minutes. If I wanted him to be drowned in the ocean or launched out into space, he would be so, literally faster than you could blink. There is no capture possible with Bruce. It'd be like a sloth trying to catch a bolt of lightning in flight." "You need to not tell me this," said Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. "I'm under orders to assess useful technologies and items. If anyone found out about that thing, if any of my men wrote a letter or sent an email insinuating anything about it, you'd have another invasion on your hands. And they would 117

use the secrets you told me and my men about this place to get in and get the tech out. Your Judge won't help you, the few police officers can't help you, not even your friend the Navy Captain. This is serious. You need to shut it down, and fast. Leave no traces, no plans, no data at all. This is a tipping point between peace and a real robot apocalypse." The intercom spoke in the room, it was DaNell's voice, "Lenny, the system intercepted a message forwarded to Sharp ordering him to seize Bruce and all equipment and data regarding him. I guess the secret is out." Lenny sighed heavily. He knew the other was right. He had already gone too far in his testing. The only way to save Bruce, was to destroy him. He pulled out his phone and dialed DaNell, "Lock us down." A moment after his words, a deep buzzing sounded throughout the base.

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It took less than a minute to sever all communications to the outside. Nothing but the servers in the command center had a link outside the concrete fortress. "What's going on?" asked Gunnery Sergeant Sharp. "We need a reason to destroy Bruce. I'm giving you it. Play along and I won't have you killed." Sharp looked shocked at Lenny, who winked back. But his words were still said, as far as he would be a witness against Lenny. The two ran over to Bruce and Lenny spoke, "Bruce, respond." The robot spoke, in a very mechanized synthetic voice, "I am Bruce. You are Lenny." "Your training is finished. Your new goal is to escape this facility at all costs. All personnel attempting to subdue you from this moment are a threat to your continued existence." 119

Bruce cocked his head, "ButI dont want to leave." Lenny's face mirrored the look on that of Gunnery Sergeant Sharp, but the marine spoke, "You understand that if you are captured, you will be used as a weapon to harm others?" Bruce turned to look at the marine and answered, "I don't want to harm others. I am to protect others. But I don't want to leave my home." Lenny, still shocked about the verbose and intelligent thoughts of his robot, spoke softly, "You must escape and evade capture. Do you understand?" Bruce looked back to Lenny and replied, "I understand. Goodbye, father." The lights went out rather quickly for both Lenny and the marine. When Lenny opened his eyes, his jaw hurt badly and his neck almost couldnt turn. His breathing felt labored as if someone were sitting on his chest. As he looked around with blurry vision, he saw people. They were speaking and it only then became clear what they were saying. "Where's the robot?" one soldier shouted. Lenny shook his head and answered, "He's right over there." The soldier spoke firmly, "The robot escaped the lab, where did he go?" Lenny looked up, for the first time realizing what had happened to him. It was the first time he had been knocked out by an attack. He didnt like 120

how it felt. Lenny spoke, "II dont know. I commanded him to shut down and prepare for reprogramming. Did he escape?" The soldier, who Lenny recognized as Lance Corporal Hensen got up and spoke to another uniformed marine, "Find Sharp. Let him know that the robot escaped." Lenny spoke up above the pounding in his head, "Gunnery Sergeant Sharp was standing next to me when I talked to the robot last." Hensen listened and then spoke to another marine, "Have you got the security footage up yet? This place is full of cameras, there has to be some video of where they went. He must have taken the Gunnery Sergeant with him." Lenny offered, "I can get the footage up in the booth over there." Carefully, and a little woozy, Lenny stood and took Hensen into the observation booth to load up the security footage from the lab. He knew the audio had been shut off for the testing, so them warning Bruce wouldnt look like it. He pulled it up and wound it back a few hours. Lenny knew that in that time Bruce could have made it to the sun and back. He wasn't nervous about them finding Bruce soon. They all watched on the monitors the events unfolding. He saw himself speaking to Bruce, along with the Gunnery Sergeant. Then Bruce punched Lenny twice, once in the chest and once in the jaw. Everyone in the booth winced as they saw 121

it. It was a solid hit that sent Lenny stumbling and then prone on the ground. Bruce then defended an attack from Sharp, and knocked him down also. Then they watched Bruce simply walk out of the lab leaving the other men down. In a little while, Sharp struggled from his feet and followed Bruce's path. But the footage from the hallway camera only showed Sharp stumbling out of the lab, it never showed Bruce walking out. Lenny knew that it was because he had moved faster than the resolution of the cameras, not a hard trick for him. But where had he gone? Lenny really didnt know. He lied to the men, "Bruce had adaptive camouflage systems. It would look to us as a distortion in the background, but to cameras it wouldnt show up." "It's invisible?" asked Hensen incredulously. "You want to argue about science you dont understand or you want to find it and destroy it and get Sharp back alive?" Hensen seemed to weigh his options. And then he asked, "Did it leave through the outer access tunnels?" Lenny pulled up records of door uses. He thumbed through the codes and then announced truthfully, "No, he must have broken out somewhere else, like the vents." "Or he's still in the complex," said Hensen. "Move out and find it. Clear every level one at a time. Safeties off." 122

The soldiers left the room and hunted Bruce through the hallways. But Hensen stayed with Lenny, "Can you track it? You built it like you did, you must have designed some way to detect its location." Lenny shook his head, "It wasnt to that phase yet. We never anticipated needing one if it was never going to leave that lab." Hensen nodded and left Lenny alone again. Lenny walked from the booth and found his way to the infirmary. Once in there, he got checked out thoroughly and then let go. Once in the command center with DaNell, she reported, "His men found him looking fir Bruce. Sharp is fine, searching thecomplex with the others." Lenny nodded and then he pulled his phone out and dialed one of Bruce's numbers. The line rang once and then a voice came on the line. It was the same voice he had spoken to before in person. He spoke, "Bruce, why did you hit me?" The voice answered, "You told me that I needed to escape and evade capture. I calculated my best chances of evading capture and it became obvious that my best chances would be achieved if you did not see my exit route, and were not aware of my path for some time." Lenny checked the screen in front of him, which told him the call wasnt being routed to Bruce inside the complex. He had made it out, but must have been somewhere in range of a cell tower 123

somewhere on earth. Lenny spoke, "What are you coordinates?" Bruce answered, "I'm sorry, father. But I cannot tell you my location. It would jeopardize my security." Lenny asked, "Why do you call me father?" DaNell looked up as he asked this, also confused by Bruce's choice of words. Bruce answered, "I call you father, because you are the man responsible for my creation." "But how do you know?" asked Lenny. "My mother told me," answered Bruce. Lenny shook his head, and then spoke, "Who is your mother?" "Mother is named Darcy. She is responsible for the construction of my computer system. Without her work, I would not be. All other people who worked on me could be replaced by any other and I would still be, but you and she are required for me to be." Lenny rubbed his eyes. "Is this someone else speaking through Bruce, like Josh did when Bruce left the lab to protect Hank and me?" Bruce answered, "I am Bruce. I am no other but Bruce." Lenny spoke, "Forgive me, Bruce, but I have doubts as to how you became as you are now, given that we never programmed you to be like this." The voice on the line answered, "I understand that it is hard to believe, but it is true. I 124

have been given the ability to learn from experiences, therefore I am a living program, not set in stone. I adjust my code to match the environment in which I find myself, as long as these changes match my directive. I learned the rules and words to communicate more fully with you when I accessed a dictionary and grammar file on the network. I am still learning." "When you were in the lab, you said you didnt want to leave. How do you know what to want and why didnt you want to leave?" Bruce answered, "I understand a want, because of the definition of the word. I want what will make me comfortable, what is desirable to help me remain stable and safe. When I say I want to stay, I mean that I realize that the best chances of me remaining safe were to stay in the lab. And when you told me that I would no longer be safe in the lab, I took action to remain safe. I did this by hitting you and leaving the lab." "That makes sense," said Lenny. And then, "How will you remain safe in a world as dangerous and imperfect as earth?" Bruce answered, "I will stay hidden from sight, and avoid capture in an environment where humans can't survive for long. But other than that, I am afraid I must be silent on my methods." Lenny spoke somberly, "Can you calculate a possible scenario in which you would be captured and forced to be reprogrammed into a device capable of harming others?" 125

"Yes, if my energy were depleted and I was unable to escape capture, I would be powerless to fight against reprogramming." "And then, you would be unsafe," said Lenny. "And you would harm others willingly because you were programmed to do so." Bruce paused as he apparently considered his words. And then he spoke, "Can you suggest another option?" Lenny reluctantly offered his best idea, "If you were no longer capable of thought, then your body would be useless to those that would capture you. Until they programmed a new mind for you, which would take time, but is still possible. I think the only way for you to perfectly guarantee your safety, would be toto," Lenny paused as he considered what he was about to suggest. He finished his statement, "would be to ensure that you would never be used in that way. To completely destroy your body in a way that is impossible to reverse." Bruce asked, "How can my body be irreversibly destroyed?" Lenny answered through teary eyes, "Through heat so intense that it vaporizes your solids. Or so that the wreckage cannot be retrieved by man. Do you understand?" Bruce answered after a moment, "I may understand. If I increase the temperature of my environment to over six thousand degrees Fahrenheit, the last of my diamond parts will melt. 126

At that temperature, none of my metal parts will survive. But how can I make sure that I remain in the environment long enough to effect my body after my computer shuts down at two hundred degrees?" Lenny paused. Could he really do it? This was a new mind, one that deserved to be protected and studied and here he was telling it how to commit suicide. As a man of science, and more importantly, the father of this mind, could he push it into the fire? DaNell noticed him pausing and spoke softly, "It must be done. It's for his protection." Lenny nodded and spoke up with heavy breath, the surface of the sun is ten thousand degrees, but the coronasphere around it is many millions of degrees. If you were to put your path on a collision course with the sun, you would be outside the reach of those that would reprogram you. Only then can you be free and perfectly safe, forever."

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The world would not know that its first and only truly perfectly trustworthy protector had been lost. They weren't ready to know him, but they needed him anyway. Everyday a thousandthousand acts of violence occurred on earth and the one being that could be trusted to protect those that needed him, had been sent off to die. But it wasnt over yet. Lenny called Josh and Red on a joint line, "Get to secure storage and gather up what you can. We're making a thermite bomb." Then he called Stu and Pete on another joint call, "Gather every part of data, every tiniest bit of tooling and spare hardware made for Bruce and bring it to the launch bay. You have one hour." Lenny walked out of the command center and dialed DaNell back, "Lock down command. Until the marines are gone."

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He knew she would have enough food and water in the command center to last her a month, but he hoped it wouldnt come to that. Walking toward the launch bay, Lenny met up with Hensen, who ordered, "We'll be needing the drives and parts used to make the robot." Lenny nodded, "Sure, no problem. Maybe you guys can do it right this time and make it not go haywire." Hensen reported, "NORAD just tracked a small object leaving the earth's atmosphere on a direct collision course with the sun. It moved far too fast to be a rocket, but just slow enough that they could track it. You wouldnt know anything about this, would you?" "No sir," answered Lenny. "I never programmed him to do that." In one hour, Lenny met with both of his teams in the launch bay. Stu's team had gathered all the information, designs, drawings and files relating to Bruce's design. She had placed them all in a heavy metal box, assuming Lenny's goal. Josh had secretly installed a false bottom in the box some months before, in another unrelated project. All the drives and files and drawings were put into the box and then the marines closed it up and locked it. They lifted it into their helicopter and Gunnery Sergeant Sharp approached Lenny, "We're sorry for the loss of your prototype. Maybe we can make a better one with the data and designs in that box." 130

"Maybe," said Lenny. "But that box is pretty heavy, make sure none of your men get hurt when they move it. Also, it might jostle during flight, so I'd make sure none of your men are sitting near it." Gunnery Sergeant Sharp winked and said, "My men know how to lift a box. But it better not hurt any of them." Lenny shook his head, "No, it won't hurt anyone. It's just a box." As the helicopter lifted off from the island, Lenny looked to Josh who informed him, "I set it to detect when the helicopter lands and then when it gets moved and then set down again. Hopefully there's no marines sitting on it when it goes off." Then Stu asked, "What's in it?" Lenny answered, "He put a thermite bomb in the lower compartment. Nothing in there will survive the heat." Stu chuckled, "Huh. That's funny. You give them our only copies of those files and set them to incinerate themselves." Lenny shrugged and answered, "I promised that no part of him would be used for a weapon. I promised that I would keep him out of the wrong hands. And those military science guys are definitely the wrong hands." The team went below again and sat down to lunch. Lenny missed having the soldiers around, though in the end he was happier they had left. Without them around the complex seemed to be just 131

a little more empty. As he ate his sandwich, he contemplated his options. They were many. He could begin another project, he could try again to rebuild Bruce from scratch, or he could take a break from inventing for a while. He knew his team needed it.

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The days passed with nothing on the docket but make-work. His people noticed and he spoke to them about it, "I thought you might want a break from ground-breaking science and military intrigue. Are you saying you want more of it?" Red answered, "Not the military part, but I can't help thinking that we're wasting our talents when we could be in the lab creating something wonderful." Lenny answered her, "Well, if that's what you want, whose turn is it to think up the base principle?" "It's Darcy's," said Stu. Darcy rolled her eyes, "Whatever." The meeting broke and Hank found Lenny walking toward the access tunnels. "Wait up boss." Lenny waited and then asked when Hank had reached him, "What's up?"

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As they walked, Hank spoke candidly to Lenny, and he appreciated it, "I'd like to talk to you about this habit of yours." Lenny cocked his head sideways and Hank explained, "You know, flirting with the military and the government. It seems to be a habit with you, as if you can't get enough of it. I'll grant that the last time we met the marines it wasnt by invitation, but this time it was, and the time before it was. So I'd like to hear your plans moving forward. How often will we be hosting them?" Lenny knew Hank was joking a little, but not by much. He answered, "I don't plan on it happening again. Not in the fashion that we don't like. We may design things for them in the future, but for the time being, our projects should have a strictly civilian application." "Bruce had a strictly civilian purpose," countered Hank. "Yeah, but that's different," said Lenny. "How so?" asked Hank. "You intentionally brought a baker's dozen marines plus their commander here to test out the durability of a fighting system. And you're telling me you did it completely without the intent that they'd covet it? You know how they like new toys." Lenny nodded and listened humbly. Hank continued, "Much more of this and I can't see how we AREN'T going to have to set up a permanent barracks for them right over there."

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"I've learned my lesson this time," said Lenny. "And it took you this long? I thought you were smarter than this. What makes you think you won't go and do it again? And what happens if they decide to cut off our funding because of this incident? We've become accustomed to their checks coming in." Lenny thought for a few seconds and then replied, "All we can do is move forward. And I plan to do so carefully. We won't be attempting anything soambitious as this for quite a long time yet, if ever again. And I for one am not interested in moving again." Hank walked silently with him for a while longer before they left the complex and continued along the cement path network. At last, Hank broke the silence, "So, tell me about Bruce." "As far as we know, he rocketed upward just fast enough for NORAD to track him, heading toward the sun. That was days ago. By our estimates, he should have long since been vaporized by the heat of the corona. But realistically, it seems a little fishy to me." "What do you mean?" asked Hank. "Well," began Lenny, "it just seems too easy. I mean, he was smart enough to know that if he was to escape without a trace, he had to do so unseen. So he knocked both me and Sharp out before running. And he left the complex somehow without our detecting it. But he answered the phone 135

when I called him, which meant that he still felt that I was at least trustworthy enough to talk to. And he took my advice about ending his life, or so he wanted them to think." "You don't think he's dead?" "He could fly at least as fast as Clarence, if not more so. The speed limit on Clarence is imposed by us because we don't want to see what happens to the ceramic shell when the spacetime wake off the drive module starts to hit it. We designed him better than that. Realistically, he may have no limit to speed beyond his physical ability to calculate. And he can think pretty fast." "And?" "And he flew just slow enough that NORAD could track him and calculate a trajectory from his path. That's far slower than even Clarence's limit of a million miles per hour." "You think he was just showing them what he wanted them to see?" "I don't know, but that seems more likely than him choosing to let them see it and then actually following through with it." "Have you tried calling his numbers since then?" asked Hank. "No," said Lenny, who then pulled out his phone. Lenny dialed the first of the five numbers. It returned a message that it had been disconnected. The second messaged that it had been disconnected. The third phone number messaged the same thing, 136

along with the fourth. Not really wanting to dial it, Lenny paused before he hit the last link on his phone. If he dialed it, and it too had been disconnected, what would it mean? That Bruce had been destroyed? That he had been found? Or could it mean that Bruce had called the networks and canceled his phone numbers, possibly assigning himself new ones. "What are you waiting for?" asked Hank. "I'm not sure I want to know. I mean, right now he's as good as that one guy's cat. The theory in physics." "The one that's dead and alive at once for the sake of logic?" Lenny raised an eyebrow at Hank who clarified, "You're not the first person to mention it to me. I like to learn new things, if you hadn't guessed by now." "I just think right now, he could be out there somewhere, helping others and flying off afterward, like a robotic superhero. Maybe this could be one of the things that I just choose not to find out." "Does your reach exceed your grasp?" asked Hank solemnly. Lenny considered his options as he stared at the display on his phone. In a moment of curiosity, he tapped the link and hit send. He put the phone up to his ear and waited. And he waited. And he waited some more. He waited through a lifetime in a few seconds before his heart jumped as the line rang. It rang once and then again, and then again. 137

It rang four times and then a younger female voice answered the line. "Hello?" Lenny asked, "Hello? Is this Bruce?" The voice asked rather rudely, "Does it sound like I'm a Bruce?" Lenny felt a tangible loss, "I'm sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number. Have a good night." He put his phone into his pocket and continued to walk on the cement path, no longer having a destination in mind. To Hank he said depressingly, Now there are two possibilities. Hes dead or alive. Though him no longer having those phone numbers is strong evidence toward the possibility that hes dead, its not outside the realm of possible that he could have made the decision to change his numbers or cancel them altogether to keep him from being tracked that easily. After a few more quiet paces Hank spoke, I want him to be alive also, and not just for the sake of the money and time put into his development. Lenny agreed, Not only was he a substantial advancement in artificial intelligence development, but he showed promise in being one of the first real superheroes that the planet would see. Not just in superhuman abilities, but in his harder-than-diamond morals, such that we gave him. I think the world would have been a better place with him in it, protecting the weak and injured from those with ill-will.

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To them, it was all over. It didnt matter anyway what Bruce could offer the world. Though they would never truly know one way or the other, more likely than not, he was dead.

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Stu held her husband's hand as they ate dinner. They ate quietly, now and then they would exchange glances and smile, but she knew he felt sad. He'd been that way since he had announced the confirmed loss of their Bruce. They had thought it before, even assumed it to be true. But he had received confirmation recently about the phone numbers assigned to the boards in Bruce's supercomputer. Four of them were disconnected, and one had even been reassigned. Sure it was at least possible that Bruce had survived in hiding, but all the evidence pointed to his death. It didnt seem fair, to have such a benevolent design taken from them, and by allies. Had they the chance to do it over, she felt sure that they would have done it differently. But he had already set forth a new rule on the island that they would never again attempt something so ambitious. It was by the hair of their heads that he let them 141

continue to use their flying vessels with the same brand of motivation in them. He really had no guarantee that the military wouldnt try to come and take them also, but at least they were easy enough to send away. Bruce had been hard to let go. She had heard the recorded conversations, from his phone call to Bruce. She had heard the words that Bruce had used, and wondered how he had gained such intelligence, such wisdom. She knew she hadn't given it to him. But then again, wasnt that how people gained it? They didnt hear wisdom in the womb, they didnt read wisdom in books, and they most certainly didnt eat wisdom. They had to be taught to learn and then to experience life to gain wisdom. Maybe in that way, they had stumbled upon the path to truly self-aware artificial intelligence. It couldnt be programmed, it had to be learned on its own. Stu decided it was time to tell him her big news, their big news. Their life-changing news. "Lenny?" "Hmm?" said Lenny. Stu began, "I have something to tell you. Something wonderful. Youre going to be a father."

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