Aaron Howell sat quietly on his bed. While a normal eleven year old boy might be busy creating epic space battles with his toys, this one just did not have the energy. The late afternoon sun peered in from his window as he looked over the toys spread across the floor.
“You really need to clean up this mess,” the voice of his mom echoed in his head.
Without a sound, he got to his foot and proceeded to put all the toys away. When all was clean, he grabbed a picture from his nightstand with his right hand and hobbled back to his space on the bed.
The picture was of his mom, dad, and himself, standing at the gate of an amusement park. He was holding a foam sword in his left hand and a box of candy in the other. His dad held him on his shoulders, a captain’s hat, eye patch, and goofy smile adorning his face. His mom wore a red skull-and-crossbones bandanna over her curly blond hair. A smile just as silly ran from ear to ear. Aaron placed the picture down. It had been taken almost two months ago.
Aaron then looked at himself in the mirror on his closet door. His short brown hair, usually spiked, now sat flat. A heavy piece of gauze covered his left eye socket. A layer of bandages covered the stumps at the end of his left forearm and left knee.
There had been a car accident. The doctors had told him at the hospital that they had done everything they could to keep him in as big a piece as possible. They told him that both he and his dad were lucky to be alive. His dad had emerged from the wreckage unscathed. His mom, however, had drawn the short straw. Aaron then reached down and threw the picture across the room, the frame bouncing off the mirror with a loud clack. The sound of voices in the nearby living room ceased, and was followed by the heavy thud of footsteps.
“Buddy?” Aaron could hear his father ask as he slowly entered the room. “What’s going on in here?”
“Go away…” Aaron mumbled. His dad came in anyway, stopping to pick up the picture from the floor and putting it back on his nightstand before taking a seat at the end of the bed. Aaron pulled as far away from his dad as he could and curled into a little ball in the corner. He closed his eyes and waited for the intruder to leave.
“You have a visitor Aaron,” Mr. Howell said with a sigh. “Do you think that, maybe, you’d like to meet her?”
Aaron looked over at his dad to see him starring at the floor. His eyes were red and puffy, and there were very dark rings underneath them.
“Okay…” he whispered. His father nodded and turned towards the door.
“You can come in now, Mrs. Saker.”
Aaron watched as an old woman carrying a large case entered from the hallway. She wore a dark blue business suit and her grey hair was tied back in a bun. Her rosy skin and soft smile reminded him of his grandma. She slowly knelt down until she was at his eye level and placed the case beside him on the bed.
“Hello Aaron,” she said in a warm voice. “My name is Mrs. Saker. It’s very nice to meet you.” The old woman extended out her right hand. For a few moments, Aaron stared at it in silence. Eventually, his hand slowly reached out and accepted the hand shake.
“Are you a friend of my mom’s?” he asked.
Mrs. Saker responded with a small chuckle before shaking her head.
“I’m afraid not,” she replied. “I work for a man named Anderson. Your uncle hired my boss to make you a very special gift, Aaron. I’m here today to give it to you. Would you like to see it?”
Aaron looked over at the case. He tilted his head sideways for a moment, imagining what it could be. After a few more seconds he gave a small nod. Mrs. Saker then moved the case to the floor. With a fluid motion, she undid all the clips and opened the lid, turning it to Aaron with a warm smile. Sitting on the foam lining of the case was what appeared to be a hand, leg, and eye.
Aaron’s mouth fell open as he crawled to the edge of his bed to get a closer look. All three objects appeared to be made of some kind of plastic, with the hand and leg containing metal joints. Both the leg and hand were covered with some kind of white fabric. The eye looked perfectly smooth.
“Uncle James got me these?” Aaron asked, looking over to his dad.
“That’s right buddy,” Mr. Howell said with a weak smile. “You’re going to be good as new.”
Aaron returned his gaze to the pieces in front of him. His mouth continued to hang open for a few more moments until he managed to squeak, “Cool…”
“We can put them on right now, if you want to Aaron,” Mrs. Saker cooed. “Would you like that?”
Aaron looked back over at his dad, who in turn gave him a small nod.
“Well then,” Mrs. Saker smiled, “Let’s begin.”
Mrs. Saker had Aaron stretch out on his bed, and carefully removed the bandages from his arm, eye and leg. She laid each of the plastic pieces out on the bed and then sprayed down each area with something that burned.
“This is going to be very, very, painful at first, Aaron,” Mrs. Saker warned. “I’m afraid there is no getting around that. However, it will only last a few minutes. During that time, I want you to close your right eye and think of something that makes you very, very happy. Can you do that?”
Aaron nodded. He then held his right eye shut as tight as he could.
Sitting on his dad’s shoulder, a foam pirate sword in one hand and a box of candy in the other. His dad wearing a captain’s hat and eye patch. His mom alive, her hair done up in a red skull-and-crossbones bandanna.
“Integrate!” Mrs. Saker said sharply. He then felt thousands of tiny, red hot tendrils spread through his arm, leg, and eye socket. He let out a deafening scream as they burrowed deeper and deeper. He could feel them worming their way through him, each second more painful than the last. Finally they stopped moving. All the tendrils heated up even more, reaching such intensity Aaron thought he was going to catch on fire.
“Stop!” he shouted as he writhed on the bed. “Stop! Stop! Stop! STOP!”
Eventually his voice gave out, and Aaron faded into unconsciousness.
“It will take a few weeks for him to get used to the new parts,” Mrs. Saker sternly spoke to Aaron’s father. “The white fabric on the new leg and hand is specially treated, and in about a month his skin should have completely grown over them. By that time the iris of his new eye should change to perfectly match his natural eye color. Your brother-in-law specifically requested that Aaron have as normal an experience as possible after receiving these prosthetics, so they’re programmed to match the strength of his natural limbs. No super strength, no x-ray vision.”
Mrs. Saker then looked down at Aaron. His breathing was heavy as he slept soundly on his bed.
“I’m impressed that this went as well as it did,” Mrs. Saker continued. “Anderson usually doesn’t integrate his systems with biological material. That being said, we are not outside of the realm of side effects…”
“Thank you so, so much,” Mr. Howell interrupted as he enthusiastically shook Mrs. Saker’s hand. “You have no idea what this will mean to him.”
“Oh, I think I do Mr. Howell,” Mrs. Saker said as she quickly pulled her hand away. “But if anyone deserves your thanks, it would be your brother-in-law. From what I understand this whole thing cost him a pretty penny.”
Mr. Howell nodded in understanding. Mrs. Saker handed him a large packet of papers.
“Please read these documents thoroughly,” she said. “If you have any questions, there are instructions on how to contact my employer. Don’t try to find us. Things work out better if we come to you.”
Without another word, Mrs. Saker took her leave, vanishing into the night.
Mr. Howell then sat back down on Aaron’s bed, and silently watched his chest rise and fall. After several minutes, he lightly clasped his son’s new hand.
“Good as new.”
Four months following the integration, Aaron found himself sitting alone in the dark at the kitchen table, dressed in his pajamas. A steady stream of tears trickled from his right eye. He tightly gripped a bloody steak knife in his right hand as he sawed away at his left elbow.
“Get off…” Aaron said between whimpers of pain. “Get off…”
For every piece of flesh Aaron removed, the white fabric of the prosthetic would quickly spread to fill in the gap. This only caused Aaron to cut faster. The white fabric coated his arm at a matching pace.
“What the hell…” Aaron heard Mr. Howell’s groggy voice coming from the hall way. The lights to the kitchen flicked. Aaron watched as his dad rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Mr. Howell then noticed the steak knife. His mouth fell open as his face simultaneously drained of color.
“Jesus-fucking-Christ!” his dad shouted as he swiftly crossed the kitchen and yanked the knife out of his hand. “Holy hell, what the fuck are you doing!?!”
Aaron could tell his dad was only now able to see the full extent of the damage. What had started as a prosthetic hand was now up to his left elbow. His new leg was now halfway up his thigh. Tendrils of white fabric surrounded his left eye. Aaron tried to pull away, but his dad held him tightly by the shoulders.
“Why?” Mr. Howell asked.
“Let me go!” Aaron shouted at the top of his lungs. He began to squirm and beat on his dad’s chest. The grip did not yield.
“Aaron,” his dad yelled between the blows. “You’re not going anywhere!”
“Let go!” Aaron shouted again. He bit down hard on his father’s forearm. His dad let out a scream of pain and retaliated with a full blown slap across Aaron’s face. The room then filled with silence.
“I’m so, so, sorry I did that, buddy,” Mr. Howell now held him tightly in a bear hug. “But what the hell are you doing? Why?”
Aaron remained still, his face buried into his dad’s chest. He felt his dad run his fingers through his hair. He then sucked in a mighty breath and began to violently shake as he cried.
“I can’t take these things any more, dad!” Aaron said between sobs. “Please take them off! They’re not me!”
“They don’t feel like me! Every time I move them, or open my left eye, I can feel the tendrils inside me. They don’t feel like me! Its like gluing a bunch of broken toys together, but I can’t take them apart.”
Aaron held up his left arm.
“I cut, and I cut, and I cut, but they only get bigger! Dad, please get them off!”
Aaron felt his dad tighten the hug as he began to rock back and forth.
“Oh, buddy,” he said with a sigh, “We’ll get this sorted out. I’ll call Mrs. Saker right away. We’ll get you good as new.”
Mr. Howell sat in his favorite armchair, phone in hand, as he dialed the number he found in Mrs. Saker’s documents. The phone rang several times before switching over to what sounded like an old dial-up modem. The line then went silent.
“Mr. Howell?” said Mrs. Saker’s voice from the other side, “How may I help you?
“We have a problem, Mrs. Saker,” Mr. Howell whispered.
“Oh… no…. What’s the problem?”
“Aaron says that he can feel the hook-ups of the prosthetics inside him all the time,” Mr. Howell answered. “It’s driving him insane. It’s gotten so bad that I caught him trying to saw his own arm off. What’s happening to my son? What the hell did you do to him?”
Mrs. Saker fell silent for a few moments. Howell could eventually hear her mumble “Oh… god…” under her breath.
“What is it? What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry Mr. Howell,” Mrs. Saker began, “but your son’s consciousness has rejected the prosthetics.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Normally after integration the prosthetics hard wire themselves into the nervous system,” Mrs. Saker explained. “At that point, the subject’s consciousness is unable to differentiate the prosthetic from a natural limb. In Aaron’s case, however, his consciousness actively recognizes the parts as foreign objects.”
“So… how do you fix it?”
Mrs. Saker fell silent again.
“We don’t. The problem isn’t the tech. The problem is Aaron.”
“Christ, can you at least remove them then?” Mr. Howell pleaded.
“I’m afraid not,” Mrs. Saker sighed. “The components are integrated to his nervous system. There is no way of physically removing them without causing extensive damage to the rest of Aaron.”
Mr. Howell sank deeper into his chair. He held the phone away from himself as he closed his eyes and did all in his power to keep from breaking down. As he sniveled he could hear footsteps in the hallway. Without even looking he could tell that Aaron was most likely peering into the room.
“Mr. Howell?” Mrs. Saker asked. Her voice was faint.
“So that’s it then?” Mr. Howell asked.
“Not necessarily,” Mrs. Saker replied. “Given enough time, Aaron’s body might eventually synch with the new components or…”
Mr. Howell hung up, allowing the phone to fall to the ground. He then placed his head in his hands.
“Good as new, Dad?”
Mr. Howell felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Aaron grasping him with his prosthetic. Mr. Howell gave a sharp nod.
“Yeah buddy,” he said. “Good as new.”