Unfinished Pages: The Concept

Unfinished

I've always had many ideas for stories, and I've started many of them.  This summer, I decided to create a blog where I could start stories and give myself permission to never end them.  My original idea was to let other writers find my unfinished pages and put their own unique spin on them and that this blog would be a creative playground for my ideas.  A home of sorts of my ideas so that none of them every felt abandoned.

As I started playing with the stories, the endings started to come to me.  So, I'm turning this blog into a place where you can follow along with my creative process as I craft stories in draft form and then bring them to publication.  On the sidebar, you can see a list of stories I've already finished and published on Amazon, most of which I believe you can read for free with Kindle Unlimited. 

Perhaps not every story had an ending: yet.  But it seems as if I'm finding them along the way. 

Enjoy, 

Rachel 

 


Unfinished Pages: The Concept

Unfinished

You've stumbled across this journal. Maybe you found it tucked into a cushion of the worn couch at the coffee shop or on the table of your local winery.  Maybe you found it in the back of that drawer, the one that never shuts completely. Maybe it's your journal, partially scrawled with words, ideas for stories, incomplete stories, unfinished pages.  The blank book where you had to decide if you should make that first mark on the pages or keep it pristine. 

These Stories Weren't Abandoned 

These stories weren't abandoned. They weren't forgotten or left to fade away in the deep recesses on an unsharp memory. Just because they're incomplete doesn't mean they are without value. Mostly, these ideas found life, lived briefly if not fully, in a journal where a mark on a page means that no idea is ever left behind. 

And Now You've Found Them 

And now you've found them. The unfinished stories on the unfinished pages. 

Perhaps you'll respect them, gain their trust. Perhaps you'll find yourself in them. Maybe you'll foster them n the role of witness, idea lover, or story finisher. Perhaps you'll adopt one or more, give them a home, become a family. 

If you believe in the meet-cute, serendipity, or the answer to a prayer, perhaps you found this journal because there's something here you needed or desired.  Or maybe you're a really good closer, ninth-inning hero, cool-headed commander.  In that case, my beginning is your ending.

Let the ending begin! Rachel 

 

 

 


Melting Down

Late afternoon shadows fall across the golf course. He's decided that today is the day he's going to do it: ask Katreen's father for her hand in marriage.

He knows it's old-fashioned, a product of a former time, but Katreen tends to be an old-fashioned girl, choosing the values of an earlier time in history over how things were in today's world, even preferring to dress in a style that she called vintage retro. His beautiful, sweet, thoughtful vintage retro girlfriend, whom he hopes will soon be his wife.

They both knew that the other wasn't perfect but yet in their shared vulnerability, they'd found a type of perfection that neither imagined could even exist. He loved Katreen for her creativity, which she expressed through her journal and her unique way of dress, unlike any other woman in their zone. And he valued her stability and her loyalty to him.  

Popping The Question to Pop 

As they walk toward the final green, they are flanked by old ancient evergreen trees, unwavering in the shadowy glow of the afternoon sun. That's when he thinks the timing is right to say it; he values timing and is quite good at it most of the time. 

If her father didn't say yes...would she? 

"I think you know how much I love Katreen," he says. He's practiced saying this in his head many times and it's almost a relief to hear the words coming out of his mouth. "I think we're really good together, and I want to marry her.  I promise I'll be the best husband I can be and will always support her, encourage her, and protect her, keep her safe. I'm asking for your permission to marry her." 

An afternoon shadow falls across her father's face, his shoulder slumping a bit in what Josh reads as resignation. The father clears his throat, doesn't answer immediately. They've reached the tees, the final flag motioning them over from the distance. Her father glances at the flag, the evergreen trees, no doubt calculating the impact the slight breeze will have on where his ball lands. He takes a couple of test swings then hits the ball with a loud crack that launches it into the air.   

One Question and One Answer Suspended in Air

"Well, Katreen always has wanted to get married," her father's words hang in the air much like the golf ball hovers over the green. The two men stand and watch the ball'a trajectory, both calculating the speed and distance, both predicting where it might land. "And I knew this would be inevitable. At least it's you." 

Josh feels like his heart is beating fast. He understands that this is not the reply he'd wanted; her father hasn't given his blessing on their marriage yet.  He tries to be patient as he waits for the reply, knowing that human response can not always be precisely calculated. Still, this was a strange moment in time, with one question and one answer suspended in the air. The golf ball hovered over the green, then found a place to land, bouncing on the lush green grass of the final hole, just where he'd predicted it probably would. 

Perfection in the game of golf; imperfection in this game of life; perhaps he'd asked poorly, missed something in his request. He knew he wasn't a perfect human but he had developed some internal personal skills over his years. It was mostly wordplay that tripped him up, so he'd been careful to make his request clearly. 

Something to Understand; An Agreement is Made

Her father spoke, "You know I like and respect you, Josh.  And I know how much you love my daughter.  But if you really want to marry her, there's something you need to know. So let me ask you this: how much do you know about Katreen?" 

Josh thought he knew 82% of everything about Katreen. They'd spent the last six months dating and talking about many aspects of life. He knew her biggest secret; that she had a PH designation and that her left ear was smaller than the right due to an injury she'd sustained earlier in her life. He knew she was on medication to manage the memory loss that went along with the memory loss.  He knew she enjoyed keeping a journal, that security was quite important to her, and that she had stayed loyal to him even after he'd revealed his own designation. HH.  She was the most creative and loveliest human he'd ever encountered. 

"I think I know 82-84% about her," he said. 

"Yes," said her father. "Well, I think that might be right.  But, has she told you about the pills?" 

"You mean the medication she takes for her memory?"

Josh stepped up to the tee, making a calculation on distance, swinging his club, sending the first ball's twin into flight. The two men advanced into the dusk that was unfolding around them, stepping up their pace, recognizing that there wasn't much time left to finish the round and still get to their respective homes before curfew descended upon the city like an impenetrable force field. 

"Just know that if she ever misses even one dose, she will likely have a meltdown of the type you can even begin to imagine. Don't marry her if you can't make sure she takes her pills every day."  

His analytical brain tried to calculate a world where Katreen would "meltdown," and he just couldn't find any sort of evidence for it. Although they'd had some good-natured debates, he'd never seen any sign of her becoming angry or volatile.

Medicine or Melt Down

"I see," said Josh. "I promise I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that she always has her medication, even helping her track her supply and recording that she's taken it every day."

If staying on her medication was the "big secret" her father had just revealed, he'd do whatever it took to make sure that never happened, and he told this to her father, solidifying their agreement with words just as they reached the green, their golf balls just inches apart. 

A Rare Win 

The game came down to the final moments, Josh putting his ball into the hole with a quick calculated stroke; her father hitting his ball a bit too hard so that it skimmed over the hole instead of dropping in. It was rare that Josh won, but tonight, he had, and he finally got the firm handshake and the "welcome to the family" statement that he'd hoped to hear earlier. 

Back at his transport, he glanced down at the app he used to fastidiously track every golf game he played, taking joy in the numbers and the routine of recording them, something to be sure about in an uncertain time. His analytical mind noted that although his golf games with Katreen's father were usually very close, it was unusual for Josh to win. 

Well, he'd won tonight, in more than one way. He'd won at golf and now he could ask Katreen to marry him, guaranteeing both of them a more stable life together. At his moment, he felt like he was living his best life ever, the "robot boy," finding love and acceptance. 

A Lead on a Stone and a Transport Home STORY NOTES

Now he just needed to get a ring so that he could propose in the old fashioned way; he wanted a tangible symbol of their love and commitment. Finding a ring could be challenging, especially the type of unique ring that Katreen would like,  but he'd done a risk analysis on it, tracking not only the closed jewelry stores but also the jewelers who'd used to own them. He had a lead on a stone, and if plan A didn't work out, there was also a jeweler just outside his transport zone that he might be able to use if he was careful enough and had enough to trade.

But not tonight, dusk was already fading into darkness, and he needed to get his transport home and into the garage of his house, where he was certain Katreen was creating something innovative in the food zone.

He knew the meal would be just as beautiful as it was nutritious; she holds certificates in several of the family-friendly arts including tiny herb gardening, artistic meal preparation, and nutrient-rich meals; good for humans who needed to stay healthy; good for half-humans who needed to stay powered up for as long as they could before getting a charge at the local infusion center.

He wondered what vintage-inspired outfit she'd be wearing tonight and was grateful for her insistence on having "old-fashioned family dinners" together, just the two of them.  The thought made him smile, and he pressed the GO button. 

Finish Line: How will you finish this story? What do you think it means for Katreen to melt down?  What foreshadowing do you see in the story? 


Save the Date

Save the Date: An Unfinished Story by Rachel Zoe Thomae

It was the middle of the night, and she was dreaming. Dreams were rare these days, but sometimes, her mind worked around the dual protective process: masking+medications, to bring her fleeting images, little snippets of this and that from her day interwoven with puzzle pieces from her former life. 

IMG_9800

Her dream that night was surprisingly realistic: she walked down to an old-fashioned mailbox. She was in the country, and there was lots of tall grass around her. Her shoes crunched on gravel as she walked down to the mailbox, and there were birds chirping against a blue sky. If she was painting the scene, she'd title it "Idyllic Country Scene." 

She reaches the mailbox and opens it. Inside is a single envelope. She pulls it out and sees her name handwritten on the front of it. The envelope is white, a nice medium weight and somehow conveys the feeling of luxury. Inside, another white card. In the same handwriting, the card says "August 1, Flintrock" She flips it over; there's nothing else. Is it an invitation? 

In her dream, today's technology merges with yesterday's simplicity. From the invitation, a floating screen pops up. There are two words on the float screen "Accept" and "Delay," no option to send regrets. She doesn't have enough information to accept: is it an invitation? From who? For what? It's ridiculous to accept an invitation with so little invitation. She chooses quickly "Delay," the float screen dissolves, and the whole country scene flips, turns, and fades, like one of the old video editing techniques. 

And the dream ends. 

Unfinished Pages: The dream ends, but the story hasn't. How would you finish it?  I'm working on an ending for this one. Stay tuned! 


Time Slip

I hadn't talked to him since the day before, when we'd had a small argument about him being late to pick me up for Karne's party. He'd insisted he was on time, but the clock told the truth, and when I pointed to it, even he seemed surprised. He'd promised not to be late again, and he planned to meet me for coffee at the park by the pier because it was convenient to the v-way and an acceptable route for both of us as we headed out to work. 

The pre-work coffee down by the beach seemed like a simple enough way to reconnect without any extra implications for either of us. I'd joked that rework coffee was a downgrade since we'd already mastered the meet and greet a few weeks ago.  But I quickly shelved the idea because he was trying and any date with him was better than no date at all.  

I reminded myself of this as I took a sip of my own drink, a French vanilla latte, which was sliding from a little too hot to nearly tepid. My feelings began to cool as I searched for him, catching a shiver from the ocean breeze.  I felt goosebumps on my arms and the wind ruffled through my hair, as time continued to tick by no sign of Kirk anywhere. 

My instaphone chimed to let me know if was time to prepare for my EV to approach.  I took the last sip of my latte and tossed the cup into the trash, feeling sad and knowing that I might also be throwing away the hope of a relationship with someone who I'd really liked.  Except for him being late and then not showing up at all.  A breeze skimmed over my bare arms like a feather teasing it's way from my shoulder to my wrist and for one strange moment, I felt something like a butterfly briefly fluttering across my lips.

I'd felt a kiss like that before, and I shivered as I heard someone whisper my name.

Kirk was late.

But he was there.

I just couldn't see him.  



Caffeine Dispensaries

Caffeine was in committee and on the verge of being reclassified as a controlled substance.  In just a few weeks, the old-fashioned coffee dispensaries could be shut down, but the seniors might be grandfathered in.  With a card, you could purchase a single cup of coffee made by pouring hot water over ground beans.  

They'd been told they'd still get their daily coffee ration, but they still complained bitterly about the the shut down.  Some asked for coffee called Folgers, and some of them despised the H cups that we brewed for them at the HDCC. 

Still, they were lucky.  The would still get their daily coffee ration.  Most of us would not.  

 


Dolly: The Story of a Half-Doll

There is a flurry of activity in the house, and I know what that means. I am about to be put back into my box and up onto the shelf in my near-twin's room. Sometimes, you just have to give people context and help them believe what they want to (or don't want to) believe.  

My parents named me Dolmonica but when I never grew and remained the size of a child's doll, my nickname became dolly and that's the part I played some days.  I was the doll on the shelf, alive, and the alternate daughter, an HH, was allowed to lounge in her room.  Although it often seemed unfair, I took solace in the fact that we were both on display and that they'd decided to share our names like we shared their "love," naming her Monica Jane.

When I was out, she was put on electrical bypass; when she was out, I was put in a box.  

Mostly, I was allowed to roam freely about the house except when the state stopped by to check on Monica's welfare as they did all half human/half robot children. There weren't any new ones being delivered these days, and they kept close tabs on them, always worried that their tendencies toward the brilliance of robots combined with the compassion of humans could lead to a psychotic break and trigger the next human versus robot war.  After the last one, when hardly no one had survived, the treaties in place required careful monitoring of certain species, like the half-humans and half-animals. 

And they probably would have also monitored the half-dolls, but I don't know how many of them made it into the world alive, and no one knew that I existed.  

There was only one daughter of record born to my mother, a human nurse, and my father, a robot doctor. How he'd gotten involved with a doll had never been explained to me, but I knew about the time of free love when everyone and everything was allowed to love who they wanted to love, resulting in an assortment of unique individuals with very interesting characteristics.  You may have read about the story of the captain who was half dog and how he used his dog sense to rule over part of the sea; there were sometimes quite fortuitous combinations, but not all of the combining worked out so well.

Although half robot, Monica still aged like a human, so today she was a teenager, just like me, about to turn 16.  Monica had a switch, so it was easy to turn her on and off; I didn't, so my parents had to rely on my good behavior to not expose them or myself. Because Monica was often turned off, she hadn't learned as much as she could have if she'd received proper training. My parents covered for this by claiming that not only was she an HH but that she also had a disability that made it difficult for her to express herself when questioned by the welfare checkers.  Maybe at some point, they'd stop regarding her as a threat 

And really, I had zero reasons to be known; I had no idea of what would happen to me if I was discovered; perhaps I'd be taken away for testing or even something worse. Roaming about outside, I could be a target for a house lion, a swooping eagle, or any other sort of wild creature preying for nourishment.  My goal was singular: to remain unnoticed during the monthly welfare checks and to enjoy my freedom to roam freely in our house, help my parents with medical procedures after their patients were knocked out, and enjoy my creative pursuits, like sewing and fashion, the rest of the time.  

My mother had discovered my talent with a needle several years ago; I was exceptionally detailed and precise in my stitches and my doll-sized hands allowed me to get into tiny humans and neatly stitch up their surgical incisions, although I had no medical certification or training other than the direction I received from my parents, a well-respected surgical team due to my father's precision and my mother's compassion...and now my skill as well.  Playing an important role on their surgical team gave my life focus and purpose, perhaps more than any doll could ever imagine.  Still, I liked the dressing up part of being a doll, too.  All except for one outfit that I just couldn't stand.  

The only thing I really disliked about getting in the box was the ridiculous outfit I had to wear; a frilly little gingham checked dress with a pristine white pinafore and little white Mary Janes, something a toddler would wear, not a teenager who was about to turn 16. I preferred the clothes my mother had taught me to sew for myself; sometimes pretty dresses; other times skinny jeans with cropped tops and motorcycle jackets, just like my almost-twin Monica liked to wear when she was out.  

Although Monica didn't know that she had a near-twin, I was always fascinated by the times she was out so that I could observe how a non-doll teenager acted and behaved, even one who was mostly uneducated like Monica. It wasn't her fault; it was just that my parents kept her on electrical bypass most of the time, only allowing her out for a few hours a week to exercise, lounge about her room, color pictures in a blank art book, read stories written for much younger children, and eat real food instead of being fed only by powering up.

My mother set the box down on the bed, turned sideways, and I crawled into it, putting my feet on the floor and holding onto the sides of the box as my mother gently turned it upright, setting it on the shelf amidst Monica's stuffed animal collection. She'd been delivered around the same time as I'd been born, giving my parents a way to cover up my existence by their announcement that they had an HH.  Not everyone registered their half-human children, you know, so the fact that they had was ample coverage for my existence. 

For now, I looked through clear plastic toward the door.  My hair and features remained set at all times, but I had movement in the rest of my body.  It was important that I remain still during the welfare check; it was rare that I'd even be noticed among the stuffed animals but like I mentioned earlier, I had a good life and no reason to be discovered.  

Monica was carried into the room; she had long, blonde hair like me and today it floated over my father's arms as he set her down on her bed. She was dressed in skinny blue jeans and a simple pink t-shirt adorned with pictures of flowers. She'd power up in a few minutes, not realizing that she's been out for almost a day.  My mother put out her crayons and a pad of paper by her bedside, as well as a few children's books.  When Monica powered up, she'd reach for one or the other, and that's what she'd be doing when the welfare checker knocked on the door and walked into the room. 

Well, mostly.  


Dolly, A Story of a Half-Doll, Part 2

I wondered who they'd send today to check on Monica. Sometimes, they sent a robot. The robots were efficient in their questioning, programmed to logically move from one answer to the next. Since they'd already been told that Monica had a disability, they didn't pursue their secondary lines of questioning very aggressively.  It was a serious felony to mistreat a disabled person, and the robots were just as careful as the humans not to incite anger or disciplinary action. Satisfied that she meant no harm to anyone, they would quickly say their good-byes and move along to the next HH. 

Sometimes, however, they sent a human.  A full-on human, also trained to be careful with the questioning of an HH and especially one who was disabled. However, like my mother, some of the humans they sent out were curiously compassionate, tending to look around, engage in small talk, and ask questions out of order in order to verify their feelings that things were or were not okay.  The humans were the ones who lingered a little bit longer, knowing that something was not quite right but finding no proof to support how they felt.  And since there was always a rotation of welfare checkers so that no one could get attached, it was quite easy for my parents to evade any "feelings" by bringing up Monica's protective disability.

Today, we had a human.  When Miss Wentworth walked in and shut the door, I could see that she was young and eager to make a good impression.  She greeted Monica and asked if she could sit on her bed.  Monica nodded and Miss Wentworth exclaimed over her picture, which I couldn't see from my vantage point. "What a lovely girl," said Miss Wentworth, looking at the picture. "She looks a little bit like you!" 

"Baby doll," said Monica. 

"Oh, it's a picture of a baby doll," said Miss Wentworth.  "Oh, so pretty. You are a talented artist!  Now, tell me, what's your favorite thing to draw?"

"Baby doll," said Monica, and she pointed straight at me.  Now, if I'd had a heart, I'm sure it would have been racing.  I didn't think Monica had ever seen me or acknowledged me; she didn't ever reach for any of her stuffed animals, and I'd always felt like I'd blended in with them: just a girl in a box on a shelf. 

Miss Wentworth got up and came over to my box; I swear she looked straight into my eyes.  "Yes, what a pretty doll," she said, and I forced my body to stay still.  I could not move my hands or feet or any part of me.  In my mind, I went to a safe place of making tiny perfect stitches to keep perfectly still.  

"Baby doll, baby doll," said Monica, and she kept pointing at me.  Miss Wentworth picked up my box, and I tried to hold steady as she carried the box over to Monica.  "Here you go, here's your baby doll." 

If I breathed, I think I would have held my breathe at that moment, when Monica undid the lid of my box and pulled me out by my hair. Luckily, I could barely pain, or I'm sure I would have screamed.  I held my body rigid as she pulled me out, touching my hair and beaming at me.  "Baby....baby doll!" she crooned at me.  I tried not to kick my feet as she removed my shoes and ran her fingers over the bottom of my soles. 

"So, Miss Monica," said Miss Wentworth, her voice sounding like sunshine, all bright and warm, as if she was trying to lull Monica into a little nap of truth. "How are you doing? Are you getting enough food every day?  Do you like living here with your family?"

Monica put me in her arms, rocking me back and forth like I was a real baby.  "Yes," she said.  "It's really great here, and I'm fed very well every day.  I just want to know why I can never leave, why I don't have any friends, and how old I have to be to have a boyfriend and have my own baby."  

I'd never heard her say so many words at once, and clearly, Miss Wentworth wasn't expecting it either. She shifted uncomfortably on the bed to try and cover her discomfort at Monica's sudden shift from little-girl baby-girl talk to full sentences and serious questions. Even the tone of Monica's voice had changed.  Miss Wentworth was increasingly perturbed as Monica brought my impassive face up to t-shirted chest.  "Time to feed the baby!" she said, as cheerful as a field of daisies. 

"Um," said Miss Wentworth. "You keep taking care of your baby doll, I'm going to just go ask your mother a question," she said. I imagined that Miss Wentworth could get in all kinds of trouble for Monica's sudden outburst and exposure, and I honestly didn't know what to think about it either.  Was Monica completely losing it?  Was she overpowered from all of her recent charging sessions?  What would our parents say or do?  They couldn't just shut her down during the middle of the interview.  

When the door shut, Monica turned me around and held me up in front of her, where she proceeded to untie my pinafore and started to tug off my dress.  That was enough for me; I kicked my feet and refused to raise my arms.  If Monica was really losing it, was my dignity worth her undressing me? I'd never had anyone treat me this much like a doll before, and I definitely didn't like it.  As much as I hated that dress, I hated the way she was treating me even more.  

Monica turned me around and looked me straight in my unmoving eyes.  

"Well, hello there, sister," she said.  "I've been waiting to talk to you for a really long time."  


Dolly, The Story of a Half-Doll, Part 3

So Monica wasn't as empty-headed and inept as everyone thought she was; she wasn't the true doll-baby, not in the traditional sense of the word, but neither was I. My mind was flooded with questions, each one sinking me deeper into the depths of confusion. 

"But how long have you known?"  I said, and even as I asked the question, I could see how smart she was.  I could have stayed silent and rigid, pretended like nothing had ever happened.  But it was too late now, and I knew my life had changed forever, right here, right now, on a day that I least expected. 

We heard voices in the hall, a final glance from Monica to me; I went silent, rigid. I would not tell on her; if she did not tell on me. 

Monica went back to her baby-talk babbling, tucking me under the cover of her bed.  "Baby doll go night-night," she said. "Everybody all done!"

With my features set in place, I really couldn't see my mother's face, but I imagined how she must look.  All those preparations; all those days of carefully putting me in the box and Monica never taking me out.  

"Oh, this is a very valuable doll," my mother told Miss Wentworth. "A family heirloom; we don't really let Monica play with it. Really just for safekeeping up on the shelf."  

She was turning the tables on the welfare checker, making her think she'd done something wrong, but she didn't dive under the covers to rescue me, either.

Miss Wentworth may have been new and eager to impress, but she wasn't backing off that easily.  "Still," she said.  "I think we need to ask Monica about how she wants to have friends...now that she's getting older, she may want to start socializing more.  I know in this age of novel viruses that it's best for us to all stay physically distant, but there are still online meet-ups.." 

"Due to her...nature...." said my mother.  "Monica is only allowed to access preselected friends from the universal database, and unfortunately, we haven't been able to find any yet."

"Well," said Miss Wentworth, who seemed happy to have something proactive she could do.  "I can escalate a friendship ticket for Monica; it will be good practice for her to talk to someone in her own age range, she can practice her conversational skills for now, and perhaps an art class with other students in the future."

"That sounds really wonderful," said my mother, and I wondered how wonderful she really thought it was. This was the furthest any checker had ever pushed my parents; the last one, a robot, had only recommended daily reading practice to help Monica develop her information processing skills.  

Monica picked up one of her children's books. "The friends played to-get-her," she said.

"Together," cued my mother.  

"Together!" called out Monica. "They play-ed outside."

She dropped the book and picked up her art book and crayons, flipping past the page with my picture and drawing pictures of outside like in the book, drawing a big blue sky, tree trunks, and lots of leaves.  

"I see that her reading is coming along," said Miss Wentworth. "And her eye-hand coordination, too.  All excellent news, and we'll just want to keep an eye on the rest...now that she is almost 16, she may go through another developmental series.  I do think the socializing will help, so I'll be back in touch with a friendship passcode within the next day or two." 

Miss Wentworth shook my mother's hand and printed out a report from her air drive, with all of her recommendations for Monica. I'd been there for reports before, and this was the longest and most detailed one yet.  

I wondered what would happen once everyone realized that Monica knew a lot more than she said.  And what would happen when they'd decided to give a half-human access to the universal database.  If she'd inherited my father's robotic brilliance, she'd crack that thing wide open in no time.  Giving her a friend code was like inviting a bank robber to a grand opening and escorting them around the brain vaults.  

Not a good idea as far as I was concerned, but what could one doll-baby do about it?  

 


Dolly, The Story of a Half-Doll, Part 4

Monica went on bypass pretty quickly that afternoon, just like I'm sure both of us knew she would.  And I was immediately interrogated by both of my parents.

"Are you okay? Are you hurt? How about your hands?" 

"How did she get Miss Wentworth to take you down off the shelf?"

"Who took you out of the box?" 

"Did Monica really ask for friends and a boyfriend?" 

"What exactly happened?"

"Did you stay still the whole time?" 

"Did Miss Wentworth see you move?"

I mostly told the truth, and I only lied a little bit.  I told them everything just like it happened but I left out the part where I kicked Monica when she tried to undress me, that she knew I was her sister, and that we'd exchanged two sentences.  I didn't think it would hurt anything by excluding those facts or by letting them know that their two perfect doll daughters were anything but.  

And I honestly hoped that I could talk to Monica again and find out why my parents had insisted on keeping us separated all of these years: there must have been a reason, and it must be valid.  I marveled at how I'd just accepted how things were all of these years; how I'd been unable to reconcile my own freedom with Monica's.  Perhaps there was something in her that wanted to harm me or perhaps my parents were afraid she'd be unable to keep me a secret.  

I mean, imagine how it would be if you grew up many years after the dinosaurs went extinct and then found out that the only one was secretly living in your basement.  Wouldn't part of you want to tell the world?  

Maybe I shouldn't talk to her again, I thought. What if she couldn't keep me a secret?  What if I was discovered and exposed as a freakish doll-baby who was performing illicit surgeries on tiny humans under the guidance of her two very well respected parents, one of the best pediatric surgery teams in the region?  

If I thought my word had changed when I'd heard the words "hello, sister," I could only imagine how much they'd change if any other human or robot looked me in the eye and knew I could think, move, and speak, all of my own accord.

Would I be archived in the national database?  To talk or not to talk; that was the question.  Would anything I learned be worse than the gaps in my knowledge right now?  And when would I have another chance to talk to Monica again?  

She couldn't play the crazy card all the time.  

--

The next day, my parents were in the surgery unit, talking to the parents of a human infant, reassuring them of their delicate technique that would not only save the infant from imminent death but would also protect the baby from countless additional surgeries in the future. Yes, this was the technique that this doll-baby had developed over time, a whole new type of stitching technique that could only be done by tiny little hands and a need too small for an adult hand to grasp, a pattern so individualized that no robot would ever be able to replicate it, not even if they brought back the very best AI, which was strictly banned.  

I wouldn't be needed for another hour or so; I usually spent the time in our meditation room, preparing my focus before going into the surgery, but today, I wandered down the long hallway to the room at the very end; the charging room.  Half-humans were fueled with a combination of food, sleep, and charge infusions, but the typical HH only needed a recharge every week and then only for an hour. Most people didn't have a dedicated charging room in their homes; they typically went to an infusion center instead, and even in this time of the novel viruses, the charging rooms were clean and safe because the electricity automated killed any virus particles. 

Monica was charging, per usual.  I wondered if it was like a human sleeping, which I'd heard of but didn't do; I was only aware of my mother sleeping and our patients going under so as not to feel pain during their procedures.  I wondered if I removed her from the bypass if it would set off any alarms and figured it would; so I decided not to touch the equipment today, not to attempt to wake her and talk to her today, even though I know I still had at least 45 minutes before being called into the baby surgery.  

Still, I wondered if I could leave her some sort of message.  If I touched her, would the electric charge running through her body melt my delicate features? That would be a dead giveaway.  If I whispered a message to her, would she hear it? I knew that our post surgery patients sometimes said they'd heard everything their visitors had said as they recovered.  And I'd also read research about how twins had a special way of knowing what the other was thinking: would that apply to near twins as well?  

Stitching a baby's beating heart was easier than thinking of the right words to say; but I quietly said a few, anyway.  And then I went back to the meditation room, hoping that my attempt to share a message with my sister hadn't been the biggest mistake of my little plastic life. 

 


Dolly, The Story of a Half-Doll, part 5

The surgery on the tiny human went extraordinarily well; I felt more focused and energized than ever. My parents congratulated me on saving another life; I felt that they were reassured that I hadn't been hurt by Monica or traumatized by the situation earlier in the day. Remember, they only thought I'd been taken out of the box, perhaps a little roughly and earlier, they'd told me how proud they were of how brave I'd stayed when I could have been so easily revealed to the welfare checker.  

"You have so much resilience," said my father. "Innovative, detailed...those miracle-stitches that save lives"

"And so much compassion for our family," added my mother. "Helping keep all of us safe in a very unexpected situation."

If only they knew how unexpected it had really been. 

Could a doll feel pride and compassion? I could feel curious, focused, energized.  I could look out after my own safety.  I could think about many things, but I'm not sure how much I actually felt; like pain, things like love, kindness, compassion, sadness, fairness and hope were all fleeting to me.  I suppose it was the plastic or maybe it was because I literally had no heart. 

--

The next day, it was time for Monica's dinner and charging break, which she got daily. She was put on her bed, and when she awoke, there was a plate of nourishing food, including a special shake full of protein, vitamins, and electrolytes; she always ate all of the food, and she always drank all of the shake.  After which, she'd take out her crayons or read her books; I heard her reading with my mother from the other room. 

"The friends play-ed to-get-her," she said.  

"The friends played together," cued my mother, and Monica repeated her words.  I wondered if the day before had been an aberration; maybe Monica really was this person; maybe yesterday had all been my imagination. 

The doorbell sounded, and I wondered who it could be; I scrambled to a place behind the couch as there was no time for me to get into the box, especially not with Monica awake in the room to see me.  There was a rule that any doctors who performed surgeries in their own homes had to open the door to cases and although my parents hadn't widely publicized our address, they knew they had to answer the door or be fined. A patient would be whisked off to the surgery suites, never entering our personal home, so in this case, it was fine for me to take cover behind a couch.  

But it wasn't a patient at the door; it was Miss Wentworth, on a surprise welfare check.  Although they were technically allowed, we'd never had one before, and we were unprepared to see her so soon.  She apologized for just dropping by; this wasn't a technical check, but she'd just gotten permission for Monica to get into the universal database with a friend pass. The friend was named Katya, and she was also a half-human, looking to practice her conversational skills.  Miss Wentworth had also brought over a visual screen; since we had a half-human in the household, my parents were only allowed to access the universal database for medical diagnosis and surgical consultations. 

Now for the first time ever, we'd have a screen that would allow us to let the outside world into our home.  This was different than surgery.  This was personal. At my mother's request, the screen was set up in the family area so that Monica's interactions could be monitored for appropriateness ("especially in light of some of the things that happened yesterday") I knew that she was also keeping Miss Wentworth out of Monica's room, where one special family heirloom was patiently waiting behind a pretend plant instead of sitting in her box on the shelf.  

"Oh, there's Katya now," said Miss Wentworth, her eyes bright and her excitement about connecting the two girls obvious as she clapped her hands.  "Katya, I'd like you to meet your new friend, Monica."

Katya stared vaguely into the screen, and Monica mirrored her look. Two teenage girls looking sulkily at each other; wondering what each was doing there and who'd decided to force them to be friends.  Although I wasn't an expert on friends, as I had none of my own, I wondered if that every worked; telling someone who to like.  

"The friends played together!" said Monica, and Miss Wentworth happily told her that she was right. Friend could play together and now she had one. 

I just wondered what kind of games these two friends would play.  

By the time Miss Wentworth had the screen set up, Monica had already been off bypass for two hours, an hour later than usual.

--

When Miss Wentworth left, the screen was shut down for the night; enough stimulation, the adults agreed. In the process of putting Monica back to the charging room, I decided to sneak into her room.

I knew I had about 10 minutes; then I'd head straight to my own room, where I had my own little sewing center and where I designed my own clothes with tiny scissors, threads, fabrics of which my parents kept me well-stocked. I even had special paper that I could use to cut my own designs and tiny mannequins on which to display them.  

I scrambled up on the bed, where Monica had left her art pad and crayons before reading with our mother.  I hoped my message to Monica had gotten through the night before; I hoped she'd drawn me a picture that would somehow give me a clue about how we could proceed next.  

I looked at the picture; it was a butterfly with stained glass wings in shades of blue. Disappointed, I went to my little sewing room, where I went about designing my next outfit, and as I cut out the pattern with tiny scissors, I realized I'd seen that blue stained glass before, the window in the meditation room. But how would we talk in a place of pure silence?  

And how did Monica even know about that room?  It was in the hospital suite, and she'd never been allowed there before.