Mr. Green and his son receive a special package in the mail.
|"Welcome to Nephesh Center!" The cheery voice chirped from behind the front desk. Grandpa Joe's bushy eyebrows gathered into a frown as he scowled at the chipper creature.
"It's one of them newfangled robots," he grumbled.
"Now, dad," Anders chided, awkwardly patting the old man's shoulder, "They haven't been called robots for twenty years now, remember? They're Androids."
"Androids, eh?" Joe reached out a shaky hand to poke at the being. Anders grabbed the hand before Joe's fingers could make contact. He held his dad's hand, remembering when the roles were reversed and Joe would keep him from making social faux pas.
Joe turned his rheumy eyes away from the Android and to his son as another Android came with a floating gurney.
"I don't wanna go," Joe whined. Anders sighed, realizing yet again how childish the old man had become, and gave a gentle tug on Joe's sleeve.
"This is the way it is, dad."
"Sending me off on an iceberg, eh?" Joe shook his head in disgust. "It didn't used to be this way."
"Iceberg? Dad, I don't know what you're talking about--"
"They used to send their old timers off on an iceberg," Joe interrupted, yanking his hand free with a sniff. "They'd have no use for'em so they'd stick'em on the cold ice and shove'em off to sea. To die. Alone."
"You won't be alone--"
"You plannin' on watching my final moments, sonny?"
Anders flushed red and Joe turned his wrinkled face away. "I didn't think so."
"No tears," Joe interrupted, "As you said, this is the way it is now." Joe shuffled forward and allowed himself to be helped onto the gurney. The Android smiled and pulled a blanket up to the old man's chin.
"Dad..." Anders reached out a hand for one final goodbye, but Joe wouldn't look at him. With a cheerful wave, the Android pushed the gurney across the room and past a set of doors that screamed Private!.
Anders dropped his arm and stared, silent, at the door. The merry infomercial for the Nepesh Center blared behind Anders as he left the building.
* * *
"So Grandpa is gone?" 47082 sniffed.
Anders sighed and rubbed his bald head. He tilted the black umbrella so it would cover both the boy and himself. The rain dribbled off the sides and splashed down his neck. With a frown, he wondered how it was that so many technologies had made life easier, but they still couldn't make an umbrella that kept a person dry.
"Yes, Four. He's gone," Anders pointed at the coffin that was being lowered into the ground. The funeral was a facade, a way for the grieved to come to terms with the death of a loved one. Once the coffin was lowered, the Androids would send the box and body to a furnace deep in the earth. After the service, a hologram epitaph would be added to the collection near the mausoleum for anyone who wished to view it and remember.
"They'll, um, bury Grandpa and we'll be able to come back and put flowers in the Memory Garden for him." Anders said. From the corner of his eye he could see his son's lips start to wobble.
"I'll bring him sunflowers," Four vowed, wiping a sleeve against his runny nose, "Every day. They was his favorites."
"Not every day, son. There's school..."
"Then every other day," Four crossed twiggy arms across his chest and lifted a stubborn chin.
Anders tousled the boy's wild, red hair, remembering how Four's mother used to stand the exact same way. Only with one flash of her beautiful green eyes, Anders would melt and let her win whatever fight she had picked.
"Sunflowers for Grandpa, then. And Carnations for your mom," Anders agreed, "We'll bring the bouquets on Saturday."
"But I wanted to go tomorrow!" Four whined, "We can't leave him without flowers--"
"We have a package arriving tomorrow," Anders interrupted. He shifted the umbrella to one gloved hand and took Four's hand with the other. With one last glance at the hole in the ground, Anders turned his son away.
"Now that Grandpa is gone," Anders cleared his throat, ashamed at the sudden emotion rising inside him, "There's nobody to care for you while I'm at work so--"
"I can take care of myself, dad."
"--I ordered an Android to oversee your online studies and make sure you don't burn the house down while I'm gone," Anders continued, ignoring Four's protest. "I should have gotten you one a couple years ago when you started school, but your grandpa..." Anders trailed off and opened the door to their flying car.
Four kicked a clod of dirt, slipped into the back seat, and glared at the Android driver at the wheel.
"Grandpa said they was evil and were taking over our inni--inni--innipenence."
"Independence," Anders corrected, glancing at the driver with flushed cheeks.
Slamming the door shut behind him, Anders buckled and repeated the same thing he'd heard since he was a boy, "They're a help, not a hindrance. At any rate, the Android arrives tomorrow and we both need to be there to accept the package and program it for future duties."
Four's chin rose and his arms crossed against his chest. Anders had a feeling the boy's stubborn stance would be coming out to play often during the next few days. Leaning his head back against the seat, he closed his eyes and let the Android drive them home.
* * *
"So, yer finally gettin' a 'droid, huh?"
Four rolled his eyes at 79823 and picked at a scab on his elbow.
"Yeah, dad thinks I need a babysitter while he's at work. I'm almost eight-years-old, I know how to make a sandwich and I can program a computer better than he can. I should be able to stay home alone!"
"Aw, it ain't gonna be that bad," Seven grinned, "I reprogrammed my 'droid a loooooong time ago. Now I get cookies at every meal and I don't hafta take baths anymore."
Four sniffed. He'd been wondering what that smell was. Instead of commenting on his friend's unique aroma, he groaned.
"My dad would notice if I did that."
"You bet your bucket, I would," Anders chuckled. The doorbell chimed and he ruffled Four's hair as he passed to open it. With a swipe of his microchipped hand the door swung open to a smiling Android and one large, wooden box. With another swipe of the hand Anders signed the order form and the box was gently pushed into the living room.
"We are happy to be of service," the Android said. With another smile and a wave, the delivery droid took its leave.
Anders bit his lip as he inspected the large box.
"Four, come give me a hand with this," Anders gestured the boy to come closer, "It looks like it needs both of our thumbprints to open the box."
Four took a tentative step forward and stretched out a shaky hand. In unison, father and son pressed their digits against a small screen on the box. The screen flashed blue as it recognized their identities. With a crack, the box opened, revealing a nude, brown haired, twenty-something-year-old man.
Four jumped back in surprise, "Where's his clothes?"
Anders scrolled through the directions on the box's screen and coughed back a laugh.
"Looks like we have to order those separately. Guess we can't have our buddy, here, out in public until we can get him some duds. But until we can buy some his size, why don't you run upstairs and grab a pair of grandpa's old pants. They'll be a little big but--"
"But...they belong to grandpa!" Four protested.
"Grandpa's gone," Anders reminded him, his voice stern, "Go get the pants while I start our guy up. Now, where is the 'on' button...?" He hunched over the box's screen and squinted as he searched for the information.
"I can help with that, Mr. Green," Seven chimed in, "We have three 'droids at our house. One of'em is mine and I know all about turning'em on and off."
"Off?" Anders pursed his lips, "I don't think you're supposed to turn them off, Seven..."
Four sighed and trudged off the stairs, his dad's voice in full lecture mode. He was grateful the instruction wasn't aimed at him, for once. Taking his time, he sorted through the clothes in his grandpa's closet before settling on a pair of beige slacks. By the time he had trudged back downstairs, their new Android was online. Four held out the pants, turning his face away from the machine's nakedness.
"Thank you, Four," the Android took the offered clothing and, bouncing on one leg, wiggled his way into decency.
"He...he knows my name!" Four hissed at his dad.
Anders laughed, "Of course he does, son. He's programmed--"
"No, dad. He called me 'Four'. Isn't he supposed to call me by my proper desi...desi...?
"Designation?" Anders frowned as he studied the Android, "I suppose so. Maybe it's a glitch--"
"We've been called many things in our day, but never a glitch," the Android grinned. Its eyes suddenly lit up and he walked over to a bouquet of flowers in a vase, next to the front door.
"Sunflowers. Our favorite!"
"Those are for grandpa!" Four shouted, "Don't touch'em!"
The Android turned to Anders and cocked an eyebrow, "Shouldn't those be in Memory Garden by now? We thought you would have shown us the proper respect--"
"Excuse me?" Anders snapped.
"We suppose you would have preferred to send us out to sea on an iceberg," the Android crossed his arms across his bare chest and winked at Four, "Then you wouldn't be obliged to bring us flowers."
"Dad?" Anders' jaw dropped open in surprise, "Is that...is that you?"
"In the flesh, in a manner of speaking."
Anders sighed, then spoke softly, his voice trailing into silence. "We never expected--"
The Android shrugged, its voice perfectly modulated, "We know. And now you do too, son."
Anders reached out a hand and this time, his father took it.