Forever Friends

What if you could meet your best friend, soulmate and lifetime partner in a single person by the time you're one years old? It may seem like an impossible dream, but with the creation of Forever Friends, it's finally become a reality. These perfectly realistic androids are so human, that it's impossible to differentiate them from normal humans. The best part is that because these Forever Friends are linked to you in infancy, they will learn and grow with you every step of the way and become your perfect friend with the same hobbies, interests and desires. Add the fact that the government gives equal rights to every citizen, your life will be perfectly happy and free from selfish desires. Designed by two young girls with a dream of peaceful lives for all and an end to all world conflicts, Project Harmony was instated universally. However, is this the future Tessa and Lena wanted or will they find that they've only encouraged blissful ignorance and enslavement by our darkest desires?

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4. Victor

***Five Years Earlier***

He peeks through the crack of the office door, to see a man leaning forward on the desk as he looks at the computer screen. He must hunch slightly, as his tall and slender frame towers above the monitor when upright. He gently pushes the door open, creeping up behind this man with his Mahogany, Quiff-Cut hair, still messy from the night before. Wearing a simple pair of cotton pants and a close-fitting tee, he types rapidly, not sensing the man approaching from behind until he’s trapped in his arms, which wrap around him from behind. He stops typing and looks upward until he comes face to face with his maple-haired, blue-eyed assailant, who grins as he gazes back into the man’s grey eyes. He finally says, “good morning dear”, and kisses him.

The man laughs. “Percy, you do realize that it’s half past two, right? The morning is long gone and you’ve already wasted half a day. While you slept, I typed the entirety of my next article for the journal and have already begun next month’s feature. You lazy bum.”

Percy lets the man go and crosses his arms with a frown. “Well, I’m so sorry I can’t be as work-obsessed as you Victor. I actually need more than four hours of sleep to function. I get being ambitious, but I sometimes think you really are a monster Vic. A ruthless monster.”

Victor not only stops typing, but removes his hands from the keyboard completely as he gets on his feet. He faces his pale-skinned partner with a mischievous grin and rubs the stubble around his mouth and chin. “I’m a monster, am I?” He steps towards Percy, making him disengage. “Well, if that’s the case, then I suppose I’ll have to devour you, won’t I?”

“Wait, Victor, don’t!” Percy is pushed down to the sofa and pounced on by his loving monster. “Well, don’t blame me if this sofa gets ruined” he says, as he resigns himself to love.

“Here, your coffee. Black as night, just as you like it. I’ll never understand why though.”

Victor takes the cup graciously as he reads the paper on his tablet. “Thanks love.” He takes a sip and then continues. “I’m not sure what’s so hard to understand though. Coffee is meant to be enjoyed in its natural flavor. I’m the one who can’t understand how you can drown it in all that processed cream and artificial sugar. If it’s not black, I don’t see the point of drinking coffee at all. If the caffeine is all you want, just drink soda or energy drinks instead.”

“Yes, of course. How silly of me”, he says sarcastically. “There you go with your Russian sensibilities again. Is there a superstition about this matter as well?”

Victor looks at Percy with a confused expression. “Huh? This has nothing to do with my Russian sensibilities or culture for that matter. It’s just a simple fact and one I live by. And don’t jest about my ancestors and their superstitions. I don’t blame your Australian heritage for your quirks and preferences, do I, mate?” Victor smirks, enjoying teasing his easily irked lover.

Percy frowns and then snatches the tablet from Victor. “I believe we agreed no devices at the table. I’ll drink my coffee in the den.” He walks away, leaving Victor alone in the kitchen.

“Oh my, what an irritable man.” He laughs quietly to himself and continues drinking his coffee, as he pulls out his phone and continues reading up on what he was reading earlier. “The perfect humans, huh? Sounds like a bad sci-fi flick. Though I am curious as to why the President of this nation would give audience to a no name tech company. They must have something big to garner his interest. Guess it’ll be worth looking into for my next big story.” He focuses in on the picture of the two women team behind the brand. “Just what secrets might you have girls?”

“Vic, get your butt in here already!” Victor shakes his head with a smile and puts away his phone. He then gets up and answers the call of his hopelessly needy lover.

***

“This is a wonderful article Victor! I’m so impressed by your diligence investigating this matter. Who’d have guessed they’d be doing illegal medical procedures inside a food truck?”

“Well, I’ll admit it seemed far-fetched when I was tipped off on the story, but after investigating and infiltrating the operation, it made total sense. Because they operated as a food truck during the day, they could survey the local residents and find the best candidates, usually those who were poor, unhealthy and solitary and convince them that they would change their lives. At night, the selected patrons would return and enter the food truck, which was actually a makeshift operating room. They’d perform all kinds of procedures on them, with the promise of changing their lives for the better, but the truth was they either died from the procedures or after the doctors got the results they needed. They could pull this off for about a week and then they’d move on to a new area to start over again. Their mobile nature is what allowed them to go unnoticed for so long. If I wasn’t so disgusted by their activities, I might say I’m impressed.”

The older man, who is the chief editor of the Providence News Journal, looks intrigued. “It’s quite amazing that this was going on, but even more so that you managed to reveal the truth. You must have been observing them for quite some time, day and night. How did you manage that and still find time for Percival? You’ve always been a workaholic as it is, but to add in such intensive investigation outside your normal journalist duties, I find it hard to believe he was fine with your constant absence. I don’t mean to pry of course, but you two have been together since the beginning and so I’d hate to see you destroy something so wonderful, even if it’s for such a big story. You should take care to not get so caught up with your work, that you miss the most important clues of your own story. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but why not take a vacation? You certainly deserve it and I’ll happily give you that opportunity if you so wish.”

“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your generosity, but I can’t possibly go on vacation when such groundbreaking stories as these are out there. Even more so, due to the fact that this is a supposedly “perfect” utopian world. Finding major stories such as this one shows that we still have a way to go to perfection, even if our livelihood is much better than a millennium ago. I want to show the world that even in utopia, human nature breeds evil. Until someone can figure out a way to fix humans as a species, I don’t believe our world will ever be a true utopia.”

“I see. And do you believe that you’ve found such a story that will expose the cracks in our system? I can’t imagine it’ll be easy and there will not be many people who will like it.”

“I do believe I’ve uncovered such a story Sir, but there’s a lot of uncertainty around it. It may be my toughest investigation yet, but that makes me all the more excited.” He beams with his excitement. “So, on that note, I’d like to leave a bit earlier today so that I may follow my first lead if that’s ok, Chief Donahue?” He has a hopeful look of expectation, like a child.

He looks skeptical, but knows that Victor’s hunches are usually spot on, so he resigns himself to trusting him. “Very well, you may do as you wish. Just be careful Victor. Take care as to not destroy this publication’s reputation and most important of all, your marriage.”

“I understand Sir, and don’t worry about me and Percy. We’ve been married for just over ten years for a reason. Percy isn’t so fragile and needy that he can’t tolerate a few lonely nights. Besides, I do take care to find the time to show my love and appreciation for him. Especially since I know he only stepped down to a simple columnist so he wouldn’t dull my shine. I told him he didn’t have to do that, but he insisted, because the only thing that could make him happier than investigation new stories, is seeing me succeed. That selflessness of his is one of the many reasons I love him. So, I know we’ll be just fine. I appreciate your concern though Joe. Thanks.”

As Victor left Joe’s office, he truly believed the bond between he and Percy was unbreakable, but unbeknownst to him at that this time, he would discover he was wrong.

***

“What are you people hiding!” Victor tosses his phone in frustration. “I must know.”

“Victor, why don’t you come to bed now babe? It doesn’t sound like you’re progressing.”

“Come to bed? How could I possibly come to bed right now when there’s a major story that I must expose? I’ve called, emailed and even requested audience with those girls and President Burnett, but they’ve all responded with silence. I simply want to ask them some questions, so one would think if they had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be dodging me so insistently. So, no, I won’t come to bed. I’m heading out to get to the bottom of this once and for all. I’m going to go to the Carmike Artificial Technologies laboratory myself and break down the door if I must, to get answers!” He grabs his coat and heads for the door. However, just as he reaches for the doorknob with his right hand, he feels a firm pull on his left. “Percy, what-.”

“Don’t go. It’s time to let this go already Victor. You’re destroying yourself trying to find a conspiracy where there is none. You’re destroying us!” Percy looks up with a pained expression and tears in his eyes. Pleading he says, “please, just let it go and stay with me now. I’m so lonely here without you. It was hard enough with your last story, having you gone so often, but I thought once it was complete, you’d pay more attention to me again and spend more time. I even had the hope we’d go on a vacation together, but instead you came home to inform me of this new, grand investigation. I didn’t say anything then because I wanted to support you, but I can’t do this anymore! I need you to stay with me now, Victor, please! Don’t kill us.” Percy wraps his arms around Victor, desperately trying to hold onto him. “I love you so much.”

Victor’s expression is apologetic. “I’m sorry you feel this way; that you’ve been feeling like this for so long, and I swear will give you all my attention once this story is finished. Once I’ve exposed this secret operation, I’ll become a legend and then I’ll be making so much money, I’ll be able to take you anywhere in the world you want to go. We can travel to every country if you want, but I’m afraid I cannot give you that joy now.” He pushes Percy away and faces him. “I love you too love, more than I probably show, but this is something I have to do now. I’m so close, I can feel it. So, please don’t take this chance away from me. You should understand how it is. I mean, you used to be like this too. We used to talk about our investigations and even worked on some together. That’s how we ended up falling in love in the first place. I’m sure that if it were you being faced with such a big opportunity, you’d feel the same way I do. You’d-.”

“That’s precisely the reason!” Victor is taken aback by Percy’s sudden anger. “I do know how it feels to have the excitement of a new breaking story. I know how exhilarating the stakeouts, and inquiries of various parties with secrets can be. I too lived for those opportunities, but then I fell for you! I knew you felt the same as I did, if not even more and because I knew the feeling of envy towards others who got the bigger stories, so I decided that I’d back down and let you have it all. Besides me, no one came close to your skills and I was the only one better at it than you, so surely if I’d continued, you’d have grown to envy me to. You’d hate me and I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so I gave up the most important thing in my life, for something more important. It was you Victor. You became my most important thing in the world instead and I wanted to see you shine as bright as you do, so I stepped down and let you rise to the top. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life stroking your ego, thinking that you’d be as selfless for me one day too, but now I’m worried I’m wrong. Don’t let me be wrong Vic. Please say you’ll give up on this and stay with me. Let’s travel. Then we can return to adopt a couple kids and-.”

“No.” Percy’s words are stopped short at Victor’s abrupt response. Victor looks at his beloved, with tears in his eyes and pain in his eyes and although he feels guilty, he hardens his resolve to say what he must. “I never asked you to give up your chance for me. I thought you did it because it’s what you wanted. That it’d make you feel good to know you were doing such a selfless thing. Don’t misunderstand, I’m grateful that you loved me enough to do that, but if I’m being honest, I always thought it was a foolish action, but it was your mistake to make. You are wrong in thinking that I’d ever sacrifice my ambition for anyone, even you, who I love with all of my heart. I’d take a bullet for you, I’d give you a kidney and so on, but the one thing I’d never do, not even for you, is give up my career. You’ve always know that I wanted to reach the top and receive the fame and fortune of a high-profile journalist. I thought it was an aspect you found attractive in fact. Going against you with your own ambition was fun for me. I had hoped we’d be able to have the kind of relationship where we’d be rivals at work, but lovers at home, but you chose to yield to me for your romantic fantasy. That was your choice, not mine, so don’t try and blame me for it now. Now, I’ve already promised to spoil you once this case is solved, but if that’s not enough for you, then I don’t know what more I can say. I must go now.”

He opens the door and prepares to walk out, but peeks back to look at Percy and is almost struck with fear at what he sees. His usually bright and animated Percival, looks down with an expression full of anguish, pain and anger. He looks up slowly at Victor, tears still in his eyes and with a serious and haunting tone voice he says, “if you walk out that door Victor, I will never forgive you. I will curse you for all eternity and see to it that you never find happiness again. I don’t want to hurt you, but you’ve hurt me too much to care anymore. This is my final ultimatum. Stay here with me and let go of this foolish quest, or leave and destroy our happiness forevermore. What will it be?” Victor can tell that he’s serious and it hurts, but so is he.

He steps out into the hall of their apartment where they’ve lived together since they were just barely men at 18. “I love you Percy, so much. I will always love you. Goodbye, my love.” He walks away and Percy falls to his knees in shock. For four years they studied together at university, lived in this very apartment as roommates, became friends, started at the same company and after a year there, got married with the promise to spend their lives together. Now, ten years later, their love has disintegrated before their very eyes, becoming the blackness that now stains their hearts. Reaching for his phone, Percy cashes in the last bit of dignity he has.

***

Victor relentlessly attempts break the code for the door to the lab. He channels all his anger and sadness into it and after what seems like an eternity, he finally manages to crack the code and gain entry. “About damn time! I’m going to get my story no matter what it takes. I have nothing left to lose anyway.” He walks through the doors and does his best to silently navigate through the halls. However, once he arrives at what seems to be the lobby, the lights all come on at once and he’s surrounded by several officers. “What’s this?!”

An officer approaches him and shouts, “you are trespassing on private property under the highest level of government protection and are hereby under arrest. You have the right to remain silent and anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you.” He grabs Victor’s arms and pulls them back as another officer cuffs him.

Victor attempts to reason out of it. “Wait, this is wrong! This is just a simple technology lab with no government affiliation. I checked it just recently, so what you’re saying is a lie! I demand to be set free! I will surely get my attorney involved for this wrongful imprisonment.”

“This facility is protected and funded by the office of the President himself, so it’s you who is mistaken Sir. You may involve as many attorneys as you wish, but they will not be able to do anything to get you out of this mess. Now shut it and come quietly before we charge you with resisting arrest as well.” Victor is flabbergasted, but he goes silent, unsure of everything.

***

A few hours later, an officer opens Victor’s cell and releases him. “You’re free to go. Your bail was posted and the charges were dropped. You are one lucky man, more so than you probably even realize. Fortunate for you to have friends in high places. Or rather, have friends who do. Hurry up and get out of here.” Victor is confused, but does as he told.  

When he gets to the main lobby, he sees Joe waiting for him with a look of disapproval. “Thanks boss, I appreciate you bailing me out, but I insist I was wrongfully imprisoned! I-.”

“Shut up Victor! For once, listen when others talk to you. You’ve really stepped in it this time. Let’s continue this talk outside.” Joe walks out and Victor walks out like a scolded puppy. Once they’re in Joe’s car, he lets it rip. “The CAT lab you broke into was a government managed facility you fool! If the CEOs or the officials managing it were interested in pressing charges, you would’ve been out of luck. Thank goodness for you that Percy showed mercy.”

“Percy? What are you talking about? He was at home when I last saw him.”

“Well, in the eight hours you’ve been gone, he’s been rather busy. You really screwed it all up Victor, just as I warned you not to do. When your husband pleads and gives you an ultimatum, you don’t just blow him off! Don’t you understand it yet? That was him testing you. He wanted to see if you’d be selfless enough to give up this investigation for his sake, because you loved him as much as he loved you back then when he made his choice. But you failed.”

“I don’t understand what that has to do with any of this. What did I lose exactly?!”

“Everything! You’ve lost your story, your job, your reputation and your love, all because you decided to become Icarus and fly too close to the sun, you’ve been burned completely and you will likely never fly again. You see Victor, Percy has been sitting on this story for quite a while now. As you know, he teaches investigative journalism per diem at the university and happened to become a mentor to two students there. He’d been looking out for them since their first year, but in their final year, he learned of their success with their ambitious project to bring the perfect android to life and they promised him exclusive rights to the story at any time. However, he turned them down out of respect for you. He knew that a story of that magnitude would change things regardless of it was him or you who broke the story and so when you started reaching out to those girls, he insisted they ignore you and naturally the President had no desire to talk to you either. If you had been willing to give it up though, Percy had planned to let you be the one to break the story when the time was right, but only if you choose your marriage over your career. But you failed and so now you’ve lost a good man and an amazing story. And I’ve lost too, because Percy called me personally an hour ago to inform me he was resigning and taking this story to our rival network. We’ll be ruined now and it’s your fault. So, I have no choice but to retire you. I’ll keep you on, but only as a columnist. It’s due punishment for your selfishness I’d say and Percy agrees. I am so ashamed of you Victor. You could’ve been great.”

Victor is speechless, unable to believe all he’s just heard. It’s silent as Joe drops him off at his building. Even when he enters his apartment, he’s silent still, as he notices the empty drawers and walls. All traces of Percy are gone, only his silver ring remaining on the table. Victor sits in a chair and begins to laugh hysterically, until his amusement becomes anguish and the tears start to fall into his hands. He’s lost everything and he may never find true love again.

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