THE OTHER BOY
The girl is waiting for us at the door. The lab coat is gone and she escorts us downstairs. The labs are emptying as the scientists are all heading home. I wonder where I’m heading, but the doubt doesn’t last for long. They filter out of the building and we are the last ones out the door. The sun’s setting, and there’s a calm wind blowing through the city.
We head for the subway, walking leisurely. I know what our pace means. It means she’s got all she need right here, the person she treasures most, her son. Even the girl seems more relaxed in this world. She’s lost the feral edge to her demeanor and is humming a tune as she walks ahead of us.
The last car of the train, emptier than the rest. Office people surround me, and I realize that I’m wearing an old t-shirt and sweatpants. I ignore the strange looks and settle down at the window. Part of our journey is underground, and part of it is above ground. The train takes us away from the skyscrapers in a matter of seconds and I see the suburbs.
But they’re not normal suburbs. They’re more like gardens, with houses dropped in at periodic intervals. People are going around in golf-carts with solar panels mounted on top. This world, if nothing else, is environmentally conscious.
The nearest house happens to be ours. It feels like I’ve seen it before. The first word that comes to mind is grand. It’s not really a house either. I can’t see much of it from the gate, but when the doors open, boy… it’s definitely grand. The house is huge, deceivingly old-fashioned. I can see the modern interior. There are security cameras on the red-tiled roof, and retina scanners where a doorbell should be. I see the floodlights under the gargoyles and finally, the two motorbikes parked carefully at the side of the house.
We step inside and the façade ends. Everything is sharp edges and transparent material, tinted glass and dark wood. It’s like the settings in magazines, everything perfectly arranged. I realize that this house hasn’t been lived in recently. There is nothing out of place. It’s sterile, like any second a camera crew is going to come in and do a shoot for some interior design magazine.
“Nice place,” I say, taking off my shoes. The kitchen isn’t arranged perfectly, and I know that Laurel isn’t the housekeeper, home chef kind of person. It makes me feel better. She grabs us three bottles of juice and heads into the basement.
Laurel takes ‘bringing work home’ to a whole other level. I’m pretty sure she’s got the exact same furniture that’s in her lab at the Vertex. But something is a room with tinted glass. I don’t know what it is about the room, but it scares me and excites me at the same time. Like the second before jumping off a diving board, magnified by a hundred times.
The girl is the first one to the door of the room, sliding it open and slipping inside. The air inside is cool, refrigerator-cool. There’s a bed in the middle of the room, and a boy is lying on it. He’s unconscious, hooked up to machines that are running his body for him.
“Who is he?” I ask.
“Your vessel, your surrogate,” Laurel answers. “Your body never came back to us after you went to Earth. Your conscious simply returned, and we arranged for it to take control of Cole’s body.”
“And what happened to his conscious?”
“Wasn’t there in the first place. I know it’s insensitive, but the family consented. He was comatose for three years before we started using his body. He’s still unresponsive to any treatment except when you occupy his body.”
I shiver, half with cold and half to get rid of the feeling that I’m some sort of Poltergeist. Occupying somebody else’s body. No matter how I think of it, it sounds pretty messed up.
“I like his face better,” the girl comments. “Not to mention he was actually useful.”
And she’s back to being her callous self. I’m tired of her constant comments about my uselessness. My life at the moment is messed up enough without constant reminders of how completely lost I am.
“You know what, Lieutenant MJ Benson?” I say. “You can take your smart-ass comments and shove them up-”
I’m struck with an idea. It isn’t at the best moment, but I take a second to work it through. There are gaps in my memory, things that I don’t know. I’m struck with the feeling that if these people had gotten to me earlier I wouldn’t have been so clueless. I wouldn’t have been so empty. I’m sure that I was storing memories, and Cole is my hard drive.
“I think you broke him,” Laurel says. I realize I haven’t said anything and that I’ve been standing with my mouth half-open for more than a minute.
“I think I stored my memories, with Cole,” I say. “He’s my hard drive.”