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Coming of Age Inspirational Science Fiction

“Thank you. Thanks a lot.” Dione swallowed and blinked, but a few tears dripped down her cheek anyway. She drew in a sharp breath to quell a sob and grasped the hand of the man in front of her. “I promise to repay you, I will.”


“Take your time, Dione. I’m glad I could help. It’s the least I could do for—for Arne.” He patted her hand and dropped it, then turned away. He glanced through the observation window once before walking down the hall and out the door. 


Dione faced the window, set her shoulders, and opened the door. 


The boy’s eyelids fluttered open. He looked so small, lying there under grey sheets with monitors standing guard around his bed. His eyes darted around the small room before coming to rest on her. 


“Mom?”


She sat on the edge of the bed and reached for his hand beneath the blanket. “I’m here, Hanson. How do you feel?”


“It hurts.”


“I know. It will get better, I promise.”


He looked around. “Where’s Dad? Why didn’t they put us in the same room?”


Dione pressed her lips together as tears burned in her eyes again. “Honey, Dad…” she squeezed his hand gently. “Dad didn’t make it.”


The little boy’s face crumpled. They cried. He held onto his mom’s hand like it was a lifeline, but he writhed and kicked until a metal clang echoed off the guard rail.


His sob choked in his throat. Dione’s own grief was drenched in anxiety as Hanson pulled his left arm out from under the sheets. 


The flesh a few inches past his shoulder was red and inflamed where it met metal. An elbow glinted in the light, then a forearm, then a hand. Hanson stared at the shiny fingers as they curled one by one. He made a fist, then used the hand to pull the blankets away from the rest of his body. 


His boxers allowed him to see the same alteration halfway up his thigh. He stared. 


“I’m a cyborg?”


Dione chewed on her lip, not knowing what to say. 


“That’s okay. Cyborgs”—he took in a shaky breath—“Cyborgs are cool, right?”


His mom nodded. “Definitely.”


A doctor walked in, accompanied by a robot assistant who set about refilling the pouches hanging from the monitors. It re-connected the dislodged tubes to the boy’s good arm, then retreated to a corner. 


The doctor checked Hanson over and nodded. “It’ll be sore for a while yet. We’re going to keep you here for another week to make sure you don’t aggravate the seams, but you should be back to school in a month.” 


“Will I still be able to play flatball?”


“For short periods of time, yes. But I’d advise against joining a team.”


Hanson’s face fell. 


The doctor patted his good shoulder. “It will be tough, kiddo, but you’ve got to push through. There’s nothing else you can do. It is what it is now.”


“No, it’s not.” Hanson sniffed and wiped his nose on the sheet. “My dad always said it is what you make it.” 


The doctor smiled. “You’ll make it out just fine, Hanson.”



The week confined to his hospital room was torture to Hanson, but re-learning how to walk was just as bad. It hurt. It was humiliating. He felt like a baby.


Sometimes he cried when the therapist left, but he did not give up. He wanted to walk normally when he went back to school. 



His friends hung back at first, and Hanson didn’t know what to do. It was still him, right? But they kept looking at him funny. Was it because he limped? He couldn’t help it; his prosthetics were heavy. 


He followed them to the flatball court at recess. This one was outside, so there were no gravity shifts, but it was still a fun game. Kids lined the side of the court. The oldest two separated from the row and chose their sides, then started calling names. 


Encelad was called, and Mima, and Rheana. Even Tythes was called first. Hanson waited patiently. Flara and Mahli left his sides. Soon he was alone. 


The kid whose turn it was to choose—Jinop—frowned. “Are you watching from there?”


Hanson shook his head and gave a little bounce. “I’m playing.”


“Are you allowed?” Jinop asked. 


Tythes scratched his nose. “We don’t want you to get hurt.”


“It’s okay, guys, I’m fine.”


Jinop sighed. “You’re on our team then.”


The game was tougher than Hanson remembered, and he had to work hard to keep up. He felt out of breath while the other kids were laughing and shouting. Was this was the therapist meant about muscle atrophy? 


Finally the ball bounced off Rheana’s elbow and came to him. He smacked it toward the goal. 


The ball popped. 


Every kid’s eyes turned to him. He felt small as he picked the rubber off his metal hand. 


“Aw, come on,” Mima groaned. “What else are we supposed to do all recess? That was the last ball.”


“There are more in the gym,” Mahli suggested.


“But they won’t let us take those outside.”


The kids slowly scattered across the playground, some in little groups to the fence corners to talk and others to hang upside down on the monkey bars. 


Flara stayed behind. “I’m sorry about your dad, Hanson.”


He looked at her, startled. “Why are you sorry?”


“I don’t know. That’s what Mommy told me to say. I guess it just means I’m sad for you.”


“Oh. Uh, thanks.”


Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Also, I want to show you a secret.”


“What is it?” 


“Come here.” She led him to an alcove in the school wall and stepped past the bushes. 


Hanson followed warily until they were both out of sight, trapped between brick and leaves. “What’s the secret?”


“You can’t tell anyone, okay?”


“Okay.”


Flara rolled up her sleeve—she always wore long sleeves—and peeled the skin off her right hand. Hanson stared. Underneath, her hand was riddled in scar tissue, but all five fingers were metal. 


“You’re a cyborg too?”


“Yeah. But it’s a secret.”


“Why?” 


“I don’t know; Mommy said I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, or they would think I was weird. Kind of like you with flatball today.” 


“I wish I had a skin-glove-thing like that.”


Flara shrugged. “Ask your mom to buy you one. Everyone knows now, but maybe they will forget.”


“Not if I punch another ball.”


“You have to be careful. Only hit it with your good hand. If it comes to the other side, just miss it.”


“Don’t people figure it out?”


“Nope.”


“So I can’t stay on the team then.”


“I guess not.”


 

Hanson did not get a skin-glove-thingy because his mom said it was too expensive. He was disappointed, because now there was no reversing the way the other children treated him. Some of them bullied him; but the majority just didn’t know how to act around him, so they avoided him, which was as bad. Flara was his only friend, but she had other friends to spend time with. 


Half a gyration went by, and the seams between his flesh and the prosthetics began to itch and ache. He was growing. They sold his flatball uniform; it didn’t fit him now anyway.



One night as Dione tucked him in bed, he asked, “What’s a loan?”


She picked his backpack up from the floor and hung it on the footboard. “Where did you hear that?”


“You were talking to the lady at the bank about it. What is it?”


Dione sighed and sat down on the bed. “It’s when you ask for money to use and promise to pay it back later.”


“Why do you need money?”


“Well, you need upgrades, and I still have to pay Dad’s friend back for your surgery.”


Hanson bunched his blanket in his fists and looked at them ruefully, comparing the metal fingers with the human ones. “Did it cost a lot of money to make me a cyborg?”


“Yes, it did, but it was worth it.” She ruffled his hair. “I’m just glad you’re here with me.”


“But I cost so much money.”


“Honey, I love you. You are worth it to me.”


“But isn’t that why you have to work so much?”


“Listen. You don’t need to worry about that.”


He pouted. “I wish the accident had never happened.”


“Me too, Hanson, but there’s no point to that line of thinking. It is what it is. Now goodnight.”


“Goodnight, Mom.”


Dione kissed him and flipped the light switch as she left the room. 


Hanson snuggled deeper into his blankets and mumbled to himself, “It is what you make it.”



He made a resolution. The next evening when his mom came home, he had the table set already. He helped with the dishes without being told. He even did most of his homework while she showered. 


When they sat together on the couch in front of their little TV, he didn’t tell her that Mahli’s family had gotten new hologram projectors for every room in the house. He told her that he had gotten all his spelling words right, but he didn’t tell her that Jinop had called him a machine-brain afterward. He told her that he was scared to get upgrades, but he didn’t tell her that Flara got new fingers four times a gyration. 



Usually, kids from Exopla attended basic school until they were eight gyrations old. Then they would choose a career and do another gyration or two of specific education before getting a job in that field. Hanson was still a gyration away from finishing his basic requirements when a suited individual came to visit.



Hanson walked softly with his chemistry homework to the worn couch where his mother was sitting. She looked tired. Her eyes were red. “Mom?”


She wiped her cheek. “What is it?”


“Can you double check this formula?”


“Sure, just give me a minute.” She went to the bathroom to blow her nose.


Hanson didn’t tell her that the other kids used soft tissue paper instead of toilet paper to blow their noses with. She came back and sat down, and he handed her the booklet. 


“Mom, what was the lady from the bank doing here?”


“Nothing. We were just talking.”


“It’s about the loan, isn’t it.”


“Hanson, you don’t need to worry about it. Now, look at this equation here.”


“But Mom, Mr. Frode called me into his office today.”


“Why?”


“I’ve got the highest grades in auto and tech class. His brother is a ship mechanic and needs an apprentice.”


“No. Hanson, no. You will not be flying around the universe yet. You are too young.”


“But I could help.”


“I don’t want to hear any more about it. You’re almost finished growing, so there won’t be any new expenses on our account, and I can get everything paid off. Don’t worry about it.”



But Dione tried too hard. She loved her boy to distraction, and it killed her. She died of heart failure at work four rotations later. 


Hanson met with his principal the next day. Mr. Frode was more than willing to introduce him to his brother.



“But are you sure this isn’t all too soon?”


“I am sure, sir. I need something—something to keep busy with. I can’t go back home.”


Mr. Frode nodded. “I guess there’s nothing more to be done, then. It is what it is.”


“No disrespect meant, sir, but that’s not true. It is what you make it. I’m going to be the best mechanic out there.” His eyes teared, but he swallowed and continued. “I’m going to pay off the debts, and I'm going to be a man they’d be proud of.”

November 27, 2021 04:44

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4 comments

Nora Kariss
15:05 Dec 04, 2021

So sweet! Love it ❤️

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Keri Dyck
18:44 Dec 04, 2021

Oh thank you ☺️

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Hallie Blatz
23:03 Nov 27, 2021

😭😭😭😭😭😭 This was amazing! I think it’s the best writing you’ve done in a while! (The rest has been good too 😉) I hope he’s okay.

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Keri Dyck
23:04 Nov 27, 2021

Awww thank you :)

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