June 9th, 20XX
"Duo, come in… Can you hear me? This is Roll, and I need your help… Answer me, please…"
There's nothing but static on the other end of the line. I press the headphones hard against my ears, waiting for some kind of message or pattern to emerge. It doesn't. It never has.
"Duo, come in. This is Roll, and I need your help… It's urgent..."
Maybe the Stardroids defeated him at last. Maybe he sacrificed himself in a battle against the Evil Energy. Or maybe he fulfilled his life's purpose and put himself to rest.
Maybe I really am completely, utterly alone.
When I got to room 143 during my hospital visit today, I walked in on an unfamiliar old woman tottering back to her bed, dragging her IV drip with her. She smiled and said, "who might you be?" For just a moment I thought this meant that Dr. Light had miraculously woken up and was being discharged. My mouth dropped open and a gasp squeaked out. Then a nurse leaned in and said in a hushed tone, "they've moved him over to 148, sweetie."
Room 148 doesn't have a window. Last week, the doctors told me they no longer expected Dr. Light to come out of his coma. So of course they'd move him here. He doesn't need a window, now or ever again.
Privately I seethed at the loss of the window. After all, Dr. Light might have understood, and enjoyed, my descriptions of the goings-on in the courtyard garden outside. Like the sparrows bathing themselves in the puddles after it rained. How the hydrangeas were growing into big balls of white, pink, and blue. "They look good enough to eat," I said to him yesterday. I thought he'd like that. Hydrangeas always used to remind him of cotton candy. Window or no window, I'd keep on telling him about the view, even if I had to make it up. But I resented having to make it up. My imagination was already stretched to its outer limits as it was.
"No Rock this time, either?" Ms. Saito, the daytime nurse, said. When I came in, she was checking Dr. Light's vitals. She didn't seem particularly alarmed, or encouraged, by the numbers on the screen.
"I came by myself," I said. A non-answer, but technically the truth.
"That's a shame," said Ms. Saito, frowning. She stared down at her file, and flipped through the pages as if trying to look preoccupied by what was in them. I kept watching her, wondering if her eyes would ever meet mine. They didn't. "We'd all like to see more of him before… you know…"
I nodded. "I'm sure you would."
See more of him? I thought. If he were here, you wouldn't be able to look him in the eye, either.
I wished Ms. Saito would stop talking and leave. I'd already had enough of her feigned sympathy for one day. I put my bag down in a chair and started rummaging through it, as a pretext for turning my back to her. Fortunately, she did leave. Perhaps it was because she'd made herself uncomfortable referring to you know. Excusing herself, she left the room and closed the door behind her, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was getting hard to keep up the polite facade.
"Good morning, Dr. Light," I said.
He didn't answer. But even though he didn't open his eyes, or stir, or say anything, I felt his presence reaching out to me from beneath the mound of white sheets. He was listening. I sat down on the bed and cradled his warm, wrinkled hand in mine.
The T.V. was dark and silent, just like yesterday. Good. I didn't like Ms. Saito, but at least she'd had the decency and the sense not to let Dr. Light hear the recent newscasts.
"The clouds are doing interesting things today," I said, glaring at the bare wall. "Just now, I see one that looks like a bear trying to catch a fish. Remember when you first taught us to look for shapes in clouds? And we'd lie on our backs in the grass for hours and hours…"
I stopped myself. Did people beat around the bush like this when they had exciting news to share? No. Better get to the point. Even now I could feel Dr. Light growing anxious. What day is it?, he was thinking. Thank goodness you're here, but where is my son?
"You're wondering where Rock has been, aren't you? Well, he and I have been so busy these past two days that we thought he should stay home to take care of things. You see, something wonderful has happened. I didn't mention it to Ms. Saito just now, because I wanted you to be the first to hear it." I took a deep breath. Please, let me get this right. If my delivery was off, or if the details didn't add up, my story wouldn't have the effect I intended. "Your final appeal… it went through! It was so close. You see, it's June 9th today, and the 15th, remember, was the day Rock had been scheduled to be… Well, what I'm saying is, Rock went to talk with Mr. Shikanai about the decision yesterday. And it's even better than you'd expected, Dr. Light. Not only did the judge postpone our expiration dates, he postponed them indefinitely."
I forced a grin, hoping it would come through somehow in my voice. "We've been designated important cultural artifacts. Not the legal personhood you were aiming for... but Mr. Shikanai thinks we can try again… in five or ten years, maybe, when people are more accepting… But the point is that we're safe, thanks to you. You fought so hard for us."
Now let me fight for you. I'll make sure you won't have to die knowing that you failed.
If Dr. Light was experiencing any relief, or joy, I couldn't see it in his face. His chest continued to rise and fall at the same pace, and there was no change in the rhythm of beeps coming from the vital signs monitor. But those things didn't deter me.
"And that isn't all. You're not going to believe this, but… Blues is alive! Duo discovered his body during a mission, orbiting Jupiter... found that he was still functional... and brought him back this morning. He doesn't remember fighting the Stardroids, or how he lost his helmet… and he's going to need a lot of repairs... but he's going to make it! Rock is looking after him. So of course you can understand why he wasn't able to come with me today.
"Isn't it amazing that all these things have happened in the past two days? It seems almost too good to be true..."
Perhaps I was pushing my luck. But Dr. Light's face showed no sign of being skeptical, and I was free to interpret his blank and peaceful expression however I wanted.
Now I had run out of lies and couldn't think of anything more to say. Tomorrow I would have to invent another happy alibi to explain Rock's absence, and in a couple of weeks I'd have to find a way to preemptively explain my absence, but my work for today was done.
I was exhausted. I had just created a world for Dr. Light, that good world which he'd refused to lose faith in. The world in which his life's work made sense.
It was heavy on my shoulders. I wanted to let go of it all, to be taken care of, to be the child I was supposed to be. I climbed onto the bed next to Dr. Light, wriggled under the tube of his oxygen mask, and nestled myself between his warm body and the crook of his arm. It was the closest thing to an embrace from my creator I could ever hope for again. I closed my eyes and sighed. The steady beeping of his heart rate was like a lullaby. If it weren't for the doctors and nurses chattering in the hall on the other side of the door, I could almost have imagined that we were at home and that he was cradling me in his arms and singing me to sleep.
"I miss you," I whispered, "so much…"
I let my sadness press down on me. There was no need to try to catch my tears before they rolled down my face and onto his arm. Even if all the happy untruths I'd told him today had been true, I would still be here now, crying, because I loved him and didn't want him to die, and he knew it.
How strange that the status report in the upper corner of my internal interface said that I was fine. But of course it didn't account for feelings, or for threats looming ahead in the future. And it had no idea that at the end of the month, or when Dr. Light died, whichever came first, someone was going to come to shut me down and take my body to the recycling center. Like each of Dr. Light's industrial robots when their time had come, like Rush, Eddie, Rightott, and Tango last winter. Like what would have happened to Rock on June 15th, if he hadn't vanished without a trace.
I stared up at the ceiling for a long time, moving only to wipe my face with my hands. I was painfully aware of the seconds, minutes, and hours ticking by. If only I could hold very still, perhaps they would slow down. I dared the universe to play along with this silly game of mine. Dr. Light's dream of robots and humans working together side by side as friends, a dream which once had encompassed the entire world, had dwindled to the two of us in this windowless little room. Unless Time itself intervened, it would soon be gone.
There was one hope for that dream, one last, dim, far-flung hope… but for me, thirty years was an impossibly long way away.
Recently I overheard Dr. Light's physician saying that it was stress which had probably caused his stroke. Specifically, the stress resulting from his stubborn fight to keep Rock and me alive. He said it with the same kind of disapproving tone that a doctor might use to complain about a patient's smoking or drinking habits. It wasn't meant for my ears, but it hurt nonetheless.
It hurt, and it was true. The long days spent testifying in court, the drudgery and humiliation of filing appeal after appeal, the endless meetings with lawyers and advisors, and his own painstaking private search for a lawful way to preserve us, any way, had been more than Dr. Light's ninety-five year old mind and body could endure.
The prelude to his collapse which put him here began last summer, when his most recent industrial robots had been put out of commission after only five years of service. He was the angriest I've seen him in years. No longer could he kowtow to clients' demands for the newest and most cost-efficient models at the expense of the tried-and-true, or the government's insistence on keeping his creations' lifespans short. If that was how his self-aware inventions were to be treated, he told the press, then the world would have to get by without them, and he closed Light Labs for good. That was when I noticed his bloodshot eyes, and a tremor in his hands which hadn't been there before.
Then the expiration dates of Rush, Eddie, Rightott, and Tango drew near, and we learned ours were to follow a few months later, and Dr. Light's bitterness took on a wild, desperate flavor. His legal offensive began in earnest… He stopped sleeping...
I'm ashamed to admit that Rock and I made his work even more difficult for him than it had to be. We had priorities of our own, which sometimes were at odds with his. Like when he found us in the woods on a cold afternoon last December, begging Rush to run away.
Although we heard him coming, I was still startled by the snap of his walking cane as he flung it to the ground, and then by the force in his hands when he grabbed us each by one arm, with all his strength, as if he were pulling us back from the edge of a cliff.
"Children! What in hell are you doing?"
We knew what we had been doing. But now that we'd been caught, we were speechless. Nothing we could say would manage to convince our creator that we had been in the right. We hadn't even thought about how Rush could survive on his own, or what sort of consequence we might face for freeing him. It had been an impulsive, last-ditch act.
"You were trying to save him?" Dr. Light said. "Well, I'm trying to save you. He's not worth risking your lives for. Come back, Rush."
Rush, crouching in the snow twenty meters ahead with his knees bent and his tail down, shifted his eyes from Rock to Dr. Light, then back to Rock again, unable to decide whose command he was supposed to follow.
"Won't you call him, Rock?" Dr. Light said.
"I don't want him to come back," Rock said. "They'll kill him. Don't ask me to do it. Please."
Dr. Light, with shame in his eyes, nodded and ambled ahead. "Rush!"
Rush jumped away. His confusion had disappeared, and he now seemed to think this was some kind of game. Dr. Light huffed after him, but soon returned defeated, and looked again pleadingly at my brother. "He listens to you, Rock."
Rock bowed his head and gritted his teeth. His right hand was still clutching the stone that he would have thrown at Rush if words and gestures alone hadn't been enough to get him to leave. I wondered how far his rebellion was going to go. Then Dr. Light put a firm hand on his shoulder and took a deep breath.
"Call him, son. I am ordering you."
I let out a gasp. Rock closed his eyes, bracing himself for the moment when his will would be thwarted by the second law. In the next instant an invisible force pried his fingers open, and the stone fell to the ground with an earthy thud.
"Come back, Rush," he said in a low monotone. It was his voice, yet different, lifeless, like air being forced through a bellows. It was awful.
On tentative feet Rush crept back to my brother's side, sat down, and nuzzled at his hand. Rock turned away and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. He was shaking with anger.
"Dr. Light," I said, "you just gave him a command." I let the surprise in my voice serve as a reproach. Dr. Light long ago had promised never to subject us to the second law, and until that day he never had.
"Do you think I wanted to do it?" Dr. Light said. He glared at me with a guilty, persecuted look. "I had no choice. What do you think would happen if the recycling center came tomorrow and found that Rush was gone? Don't you want to live? Don't you, Rock?"
I wanted to live, and I reluctantly nodded. But my brother, with his gaze fixed stubbornly down on poor, doomed Rush, didn't answer for a long time. Dr. Light grew increasingly impatient. He drew in closer, cradled Rock's face in his hands, and pored over him with wide, alarmed eyes. Rock returned his gaze but still did not answer.
"Come on, son. Won't you say you want to live?"
I didn't think that Rock really wanted to die. But he didn't know how to live in a world which no longer wanted him, and the steep drop from beloved hero to persona non grata had been especially painful.
"Can't you see past your programming for once?" Dr. Light said, and shook Rock by the shoulders. "You're worth something, all on your own. Even if you're not helping anyone. Even if it's others, like Rush here, who are being sacrificed for you. You're still worth something. It's what I've been trying to teach you all these years."
And then he shook me, too. He looked back at Rock, then at me, and then at Rock again, who had kept resolutely silent. He let out an exasperated groan. "We're going to do this by the book." He pressed his lips together as he gingerly picked up his walking cane. "The law says Rush has got to be decommissioned. You cannot disobey. If you do, then what chance will you have? You have no rights."
That last word came out like a broken gasp. It was as if Dr. Light had only then realized what an absurd situation we were in. Rock had saved the world, but one little act of defiance was all it would take to forfeit its goodwill. That word, and the crack in his voice as he said it, was an indictment of his entire life, a confession that if he'd had any foresight, any awareness, any compassion, he never would have created us. To be worth something, but to have no rights, was the terrible lot he'd imposed on the people he loved.
Dr. Light's heart broke that day. I know that now. I wish that Rock and I had noticed it in his slow and heavy gait as the three of us led Rush home. And if we had noticed it as we should have, and if we'd had a little foresight and compassion, then we would have let him know we didn't blame him for the fact that Rush was about to die. And I'm certain it would have made a difference to him if we'd told him how grateful we were for how hard he was working to save us. Enough of a difference, maybe, that what happened to him a few hours later might not have happened.
No, scratch that. Rock was beside himself with grief, and could not have managed all those things just then. But I… I was calm and alert, I was rational, I had my wits about me.
I should have done something.
That evening, Rock led Rush into the lab and decommissioned him himself. Then he ran outside into the garden and screamed at the night. Dr. Light followed after him, and when he reached the sliding door he seemed to stumble. He grabbed at the curtains and the whole rod came down. The next second he was on his back, rubbing at his head and howling in pain. I saw Rock's pale horrified face staring back through the door as I scrambled for the phone.
Dr. Light recovered from his first stroke, but it wouldn't be his last.
My brother has faced some terrifying things, but I've never seen him as scared as he was when the paramedics were loading Dr. Light into the ambulance that night. He trotted beside the gurney repeating, "Dad, Dad, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to upset you. I'll be good. I'm sorry, Dad!" until his face was streaked with tears and his black hair was wet with melted snow.
Someone was shaking me gently by the arm.
"Roll," said a woman's voice. "Visiting hours are closed."
I opened my eyes. It was Ms. Wada, the nighttime nurse, giving me her usual knowing wink.
I gasped. Night already? With no sunlight moving across room 148 to impress on me how long I'd been there, I had lost all track of time.
After the judge's decision had been made public, Ms. Wada, unlike Ms. Saito, had continued to look me in the eye, even though it seemed like a painful thing for her to do. Long ago I had used her pity to my advantage, and we had come to an agreement. She would turn a blind eye if I stayed until morning, as long as I ducked under the bed when the physician came in at his usual time.
But tonight I couldn't stay, even though I wanted to. I'd fulfilled my duty to Dr. Light, but there was someone else who needed me. I grabbed my things and ran out the door.
Two days ago Rock had vanished without a trace, and I still didn't know how to feel about it. Elated that he wasn't going to be destroyed on June 15th? Anxious that he was in trouble? Disappointed that he had run away and left me behind? Hopeful that he was working on a plan to save us? I needed answers, and I wasn't going to get them here.
To my surprise, the light to the lab was already on when I came home. I saw it from the road and started running and shouting my brother's name. I flung myself through the door, through the house, and down the basement stairs. At the bottom rung I looked up, shrieked, and fell backward.
In the middle of the room a massive robot, decked out in blue and red armor, his head nearly grazing the ceiling, was standing arms akimbo. He turned to me and smiled.
"You called, didn't you?" he said.
It was Duo.