MR MONEY AND GIRL
The first thing that Latoya saw of this money man was a spray of diamonds firing out his nose as she was filing into the room. Black hair slicked back over his head and juxtaposed with the plain white robe he wore. Sweeping them to the floor, he began smiling when their eyes met.
"What's yer name, miss?"
She paused for a moment. "They said I have to say D-ninety-nine eighty-nine."
"Yeah, but what's your name?" He smiled at her, waving his hand to invite her to sit next to him on the table. Sitting by his side was a stool painted silver, with a small plush cushion resting upon the seat.
"My name's Latoya Spence." Squinting at the strange creature inviting her over, she tried to see if he had any more gems or sparkly things. "Why'd you have those in your nose, mister?"
The rich man shrugged. "It's what I'm here for, it's my namesake. I've got a lot bought and sold in my past, and I need money to do it."
Latoya frowned at him, crossing her arms as she stared into his smiling visage. "What's your name? Are you the one who…"
"Bought and sold, bought and sold. I tell ya, I know what it's like. That's my whole life, my sum of the existence, nutshelled for your enjoyment. Name's Mister Money."
"Did you buy… me here, or did someone buy you?"
Mr. Money shrugged, and a few emeralds began rolling out of his armpits and out his sleeves, clattering and clacking on the floor as they scattered across the room. "I'm the reason you got brought or bought here. Not directly, but you're here now, so this is a reason. Who might've gotten you sold to a place like this?"
Dropping her eyes to the table, a quiet voice said, "My parents."
"That's a shame. Big boon for the Foundation, though. It's a big, wide web of an institution that you guys are a part of."
"Are you saying this was a good thing?" Latoya looked up with daggers. "Nothing could be worse than this."
Surrendering with raised hands, Mr. Money began leaning back on his stool. "Oh, no, no, miss, I didn't mean it like that. I was just following the money. I don't know what they've told you, but it's probably nothing great."
Saying nothing, Latoya's eyes continued chopping into Money's mug. Sighing, he leaned forwards, clasping his hands together.
"You're going to have to learn the economy of this place if you want to make some kind of life. I can give you some words, if you want. I'm in here with you, you know. We're one and the same. Prisoners."
Mr. Money glanced over to the glass panel slated behind Latoya, and his own distorted reflection. The sheen of the light above covered his reflection's face. Looking up at him, she began slowly nodding. "I don't know anything. I don't know what I'm doing."
"You've got the most important thing down. You haven't gone to pieces. At least, I don't think you have. If you can keep that together, that's gonna be your most important asset."
"I don't know I don't like it." Harrumphing, and re-folding her arms, Latoya gave Mr. Money a resentful look. "I can't do anything about anything here."
"You have a few advantages, going into things."
"Luckily, you're a little lady. Most of the feminine types here, in your line of work, they're the non-violent types. Low-income folks nobody was going to miss, people born in the wrong place at the wrong time, that sort of thing. People like you.
Now, a lot of the boys aren't like that. The dregs of society are a much larger percentage, thugs and prisoners. Be careful around them. The white coats do a pretty good about keeping things in line, but always be wary. It's not a safe place here."
Turning her head away, Latoya's voice grew quiet. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"Oh…" Running his fingers through his hair, Mr. Money tried clearing his throat. "Well, perhaps I can engage in a bit of speculation?"
The doors opened, and two individuals, adorned with white coats and head-covering rubber masks, stepped in, gesturing towards Latoya. Looking back at Mr. Money for a moment, she hopped off the stool, and slowly began walking with her captors.
Walking down the hall, she strode forward with eyes closed. This wasn't an unfamiliar path anymore. It was her life. Someday she might be lucky enough to forget anything else.
AQUARIUM AND BOY
Tim felt the pride swelling in his chest as the gaze of his many loyal fish friends flowed over him. His adventure complete, the day saved. Many titles had been earned along the way, Lord of the Undercurrent, Master of the Great Tank, Circumventer of Bubbles and Defender of the Glass stood at the height of achievement. All around him, the court of the Gill Kingdom were standing and applauding him and his heroics.
Princess Fishsticks stood beside him, and next to them the Knights Coral and Carol, and finally the King Nematode, in all his glory. Not as much glory as that which Tim was nearly broadcasting to the universe, but he carried himself in his own way.
The sound of the proclamations still rang in the air. Rejoicing was at hand. The adventure to save the kingdom had come to a close.
In the hall, nobody was moving. They all stared, smiles fixed, watching and waiting as Tim beamed out at them all. King Nematode, clearing his throat, stood up from his throne. "As Tim has saved us from danger, we shall forever be grateful. It is, however time for him to return to his home."
The word 'return' echoed in Tim's mind. That could not happen. This was such a wonderful place, to swim and be free from any constraints. The creatures he had met here had taught him so much. How to swim, how to fight, who lives, who dies, who tells your story… Clearing his own throat, Tim spoke out in his clearest tone.
"I can't possibly. There's still so much to do here, your fishiness. Fixing the filter, defeating the dastardly Beta Battlers of the Bottle Filter Fortress…"
Shaking his head, the King tapped a green trident on the floor. The audience began filing out at once, slipping through the gates to the great hall and out of sight. "You have already saved us from great crisis, son. Crawdad Steve has been reduced to a shell of his former self, and we have you to thank for that. But now we must take matters into our own hands."
Raising a hand to speak, Tim felt the webbed hand of the princess on his shoulder. "It is for the best, Ser Tim-Tim. You have much to return to."
Tim shook his head, sinking slowly to the floor. "No, no. I can't. I've hardly begun to live a life…"
The hall was empty now, of all friends and allies. All those smiling fishy faces departed, leaving only bubbles and the gentle current of their wake.
Sitting down next to Tim, King Nematode extending an arm around his shoulder. "Do not forsake your world for ours, there is much more for you there than there is here."
Tim wasn't looking at him. "There's nothing for me up there."
"There's nothing for you down here, either. We're done playing, Tim. It's time to go home."
Pushing back tears, waiting for just a moment too long, Tim looked up to the King's face and saw empty space. The majesty of the room had disappeared, on the floor the words 'THANK YOU FOR ENJOYING THE AMAZE-O DIVE TANK - DR. W' burned in the floor for a moment.
Sitting alone, Tim wept into the ether of water. Gurgling draining was pulling at his body, pushing him upwards. Resisting was futile, and Tim allowed himself to surrender to the pulling force of reality.
Fuzzy whiteness blinded Tim for just a moment. The sound of the machines faded back in, and he felt the shallow wetness of the tank. Back in the testing chamber, neck-deep in a glass fishtank. Two masked technicians, in baggy white jumpsuits, lifted him out, and gently placed him back in his chair. The letters and digits D, seven, one, four, four floated through his brain.
Tim closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the orange jumpsuit was back. The numbness, all over, was back. Twisting his neck, his eyes drifted past the technicians strapping him back into the mechanical contraption that served as his bodily prosthetic. Coming to land on the fish tank, he watched as blurry shapes flitted in and out of his vision.
They pushed him out and they were gone.
ROBO-DUDE AND INFANT
David wasn't happy from the moment his swaying, crying form had been plopped upon the playhouse floor. Robo-Dude stood watching, as apprehensively as a robot could muster. Wailing and weeping, David slapped his hands on the floor and was throwing his toys in vain.
Taking a few steps towards the boy, Robo-Dude looked up with his cubical metal face.
"ROBO-DUDE GREETS YOU, HUMAN CHILD."
Almost instantly, David was scrabbling away from the noise. If it were possible, his weeping even intensified. This went on for quite some time, with David flapping around carrying on and making a scene. Robo-Dude stood patiently. Repeating the words he had said, more and more quietly, until it was hardly more than a whisper.
Screaming turned to hiccuping, and from there, quiet curling and crying. Robo-Dude watched, quietly and repeatedly introducing himself in close proximity to the child. Standing watch, the bot toy watched as David finally closed his eyes, and slept.
Dimming lights signaled a nap time, and for a few hours, the only noise in the chamber was the bare whispering of Robo-Dude's voice box. Finally, David's eyes cracked open again. The calm, monotonous repetition of infinite introductions got his attention, David began watching.
Seeing his audience's attention, Robo-Dude began acting at once. "GREETINGS HUMAN CHILD. ROBO-DUDE IS HERE TO BE YOUR FUN-TIME BUDDY. ROBO-DUDE WILL NEVER BETRAY YOU, AND HAS BUBBLES."
Bubbles began billowing out from the robot's chest. Eyes opening wide as walruses, David sat up, watching the bubbles float lazily past his face. Sitting for a few minutes, David looked as stunned as any infantile person might be seeing such a scene. One bubble ambled its way to his face, and came to rest on his nose. Slapping it with his hand, David was delighted to find it popped, and he quickly began making short work of the other bubbles.
Bubbling with joy, David was laughing. Laughing and playing, sitting in place, sticking close to the Robo-Dude. Eventually, all good things come to an end. White coats with black goggles came for him, picking the baby up and out. David's whining echoed down the hall, as Robo-Dude watched him go.
MR. LAUGH AND GIRL
I hadn't popped my limbs off in awhile, so waking up with sore joints is always a fun way to start the day. Rubbing my elbows and knees, I thought about what might be tested on me while waiting for Foundation handlers to come and collect me. They hadn't scheduled a new slough of tests for awhile, hopefully they've got something new.
Once you've seen one of the kids the Foundation brings in, you know them all. My eyes started stinging as light beamed in from the now-open door. A nurse, wearing a bright pink apron and an air-raid mask, is bringing me tea. I take a deep sip, and wipe my mouth. It's time to go.
Whenever I'm walking through the halls of the Foundation, I always feel like I'm backstage somewhere. I don't know why, never even been to a concert much less get a backstage pass, but I guess they stuck the feeling in there somewhere. Part of the cobbled concoction that is me.
Two sterile gray chairs, with a glass table standing in the middle. No guards in the room today. My joints twinge with pain as I sit down, but with some grimacing, it's bearable. Rubbing my wrists, I begin preparing myself to get this over with. Two deep breaths, close eyes, heads up.
Opening my eyes, I see a kid sitting across from me. Young, with smooth dark skin and black freckles running across her face. There's a hawkish intensity to her eyes, an unusual fierceness for a kid. Reminds me of when I used to try and make Mr. Mad chuckle. Not smart.
"Hey there, sport. I'm Mr. Laugh."
Nothing. Squat. I try to look at her mouth, looking to convince myself she's stifling a giggle. Her expression is derelict of laughter.
"You're not much of a laugher, huh?" Glancing down, I feel my mouth dry up. One of the kid's legs ends halfway down her thigh. It's red, scraped and irritated. A black knob of her body's creation protrudes at the tip. Maybe bone. It looks painful.
Looking up at me, she squeaks. "I don't laugh."
"Well, if you're going to be living around here, you should take it when you can get it. Nothing's much less amusing than ending up in one of their room's that's like a permanent dunk tank, y'know?
Slowly shaking their head, those hawk eyes zeroed in on my own. "When I was a child, my home was attacked in the war. They shot my father, and as I held his head, he said to me 'I'll always be here.'"
"Jesus." I leaned back in my chair, looking the kid over. Her breathing had quickened, and under the table her hands were curling into fists.
"That was when he died. After that, it's not funny anymore."
Leaning back over the table, I look her in the eyes. "Listen. I don't know how you got here, but I know how it is. Not having parents. Being alone. I was made, not born."
Her face was painting me a picture of disinterest. I'd have to reach into my guts to find a way to reach this kid.
"So, when I was first made, by a Doctor, a bad Doctor, he set me up in a parking lot two weeks late for the circus."
Checking on my audience, she was at least looking at me now. "So, I'm looking around, and the first thing I see is a leg. Just some guy's leg, but not a guy's leg, laying in the middle of a parking spot. Perfectly squared with the lines, right dead-center smack in the middle of the space. Like someone stuck it there just for me."
That got her interest piqued. Looking over at me, I could feel the touch of her eyes on me before seeing them. "I didn't know what to do with it. First thing I did, tried to find a hospital. Only problem with that, is I go in and they tell me they're not taking donations. I tried to explain, but they just laughed, and laughed…. sent me on my way."
Curiosity was overtaking her disinterest by storm. I'd have to come up with a point to all this soon. "I went to the police, maybe thinking they could help me out, but they think it's a gag. I guess that's what you get when someone lets you go on April Fools day. The sergeant at the desk was more concerned with his donuts than me, and let me ramble on and wave this leg around until his laughing knocked over his coffee. They kicked me out after that."
Interest was waning. Now or never, it was time for the kill.
"Eventually, I got picked up by these spooks, and they brought me here. Meanwhile, I've still got this leg, with no clue what to do with it. "
Breathing in deeply, I reached down, firmly grasping my leg. With a hollow popping noise, I detached it, and placed it on the table. Skeptically and tentatively reaching out, her hesitation quickly turned to joy as my plastic-esque leg shrunk from adult recluse size to kid-sized. It was pink. It was meant for her.
Winking at her, I have a sly grin on my face. "Maybe you can help me out?"
Cue gasping, her grin shattered the practiced mask of her face. Pushing out of the chair, she ran out into the hall behind her, yelling "Look! Look!" They don't care, but that doesn't matter. She thinks they might, and that brings a smile to her face. I couldn't make her laugh but, looking down to my new stump, I think a smile was enough.