Steven (part 2 of 4)

“I wanna take Steven.” Sara said.

“Light of my life, sweet sweet child, no. We told you from the beginning he could not leave his tank.” Sara stomped her feet, displeased. Her parents raised their eyebrows in surprise. This was a new side of their daughter they had never seen. Sara and Steven bonded over a month’s time, spending almost every waking minute together and even some sleeping; a dream for them. But when it came time for Sara to head overseas again for school she refused to leave her friend behind.

She shipped out the next day without him. Saying goodbye was unfortunately one way as Steven still couldn’t speak coherently. Instead he looked sorrowfully on as Sara left the room, knowing she wouldn’t return for some months. Her parents cheered him, promising that while she busily studied so would he, and by the time she saw him again he would be able to welcome her home personally.

The next few weeks dragged. It never occurred to Sara to be lonely before, but since meeting Steven she found herself feeling restless when not at his side. Every time she looked through a window it only served as reminder of looking into Steven’s glass tank. Steven on the other hand was determined to make the best of the separation. Unlike Sara’s loneliness he felt almost palpable pain in his heart. Being so distant from the reason you were created can wear on one’s mind. So he threw himself into studies, hoping to hold meaningful conversations with Sara once she returned. Steven progressed while Sara fell behind; her grades slipped and her prestige fell to the wayside.

She soon found herself called to the dean’s office. All sorts of moody she stared at the floor while he begged for an explanation. “Why have your grades slip?” He asked kindly. “Is it a teacher? We can move you to a different tutor if that’s -“

“It’s not that,” she interrupted. “I just miss someone.”

“Miss… Your parents you miss?” The dean blinked at the oddity. Though still a young child never before had Sara shown any signs of homesickness.

“Not them…” She trailed off and refused to say more. 

The dean jumped on the phone to her parents, who more than displeased were troubled their only child was unhappy. After much discussion Sara was home by the end of the week.  Bursting into the laboratory directly from the airport she felt her heart swell at the sight of the giant fish tank. Climbing the metal steps leading to the top she clanked down a platform running along its curves.

Steven emerged from the water with a grin. “Hello Sara,” he greeted. Sara almost fell back in surprise. Steven had learned to talk. He spoke perfectly save a slight watery accent. Ecstatic she leapt forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. Taken aback Steven lost all train of thought but instinctively hugged back, careful to keep her from falling into the water.

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Steven (part 1 of 4)

The only child of two prominent biological scientists Sara grew up wanting little. Recognized for her brains early on in life she felt herself carried place to place by boat, by plane, and by car to experience the life her parents saw fit. By five she stepped foot on all major continents and by eight achieved great scholastic achievements in more schools than she had fingers. Everyone marveled at her many gifts – none of which were sociability.

Distant since birth only when laying alone in her crib did she not fuss or whine. As she aged she learned to cope but still regarded physical and emotional attachment with mild annoyance. Her parents, although socially awkward themselves, recognized what an issue it could become. The love in their hearts propelled them to test the desire in their minds in the creation of a solution.   

“Now darling,” Sara’s mother cooed, leading her down the hall by hand. “Mommy and Daddy are very excited about this.” A few months ago Sara noticed a change come over her parents. Never ones to be considered home-bodies they’d begun spending even more and more time at work until simply moving there full time, toothbrushes and all, leaving the house to her and the maids. Of course Sara was a little curious as to what new life-stage brought about such change, but kept well enough to herself and bothered with it little. But when her mother gathered her from afternoon studies, on a rare week of vacation at home and not abroad, Sarah let herself feel a little excited.   

Entering her parent’s laboratory and current home, a large high-ceilinged room far underground. Her father straightened from his cluttered desk and stood. “Darling,” he greeted, unable to hide his enthusiasm. Sara knew her parents were diligent in their work, devoting all their time and energy in whatever they set their minds to, but she felt they could have spared a moment to at least take out the trash. It was piling in the corner… “Come here,” her father held her at arm’s length, admiring how she’d grown since last he saw her. “We have something wonderful to show you.” Without further ado Sarah’s hands, held by her parents, led her to the center of the room where a giant circular tank posed, a story high and several yards wide.

Stopping a few feet away she gazed into the clear water. The exhibit left no space for hiding, so there he was. He remained still but she never doubted for a second he was alive. “What is it?” She asked.

“Not what, sweetheart, who.”

“Where did you get him from?”

“Nowhere sweetie.”

“You had to have gotten him from somewhere.”

“Well darling, humanoid sea creatures don’t actually exist in real life.” Her mother explained. “They just don’t. Odd, I know. We don’t really know why. So we thought: why not make one?”

“We know because of your travels and studies you don’t have time to make friends, so we made one for you. We thought, maybe if you’re interested, he could be a sort of play companion for you. Like a brother. You always wanted a brother…” Her mother clasped her hands fondly.

“Of course he can never leave this room.” Her father interjected. “He can’t leave the water for extended periods of time and even if he could, people would become jealous of you and steal him away. So don’t tell anyone about your new sibling, alright Sara?”

“Can he talk?” She asked.

“No, not yet.” Her father frowned. “He was created a blank slate and we have slowly been introducing him to different subjects. Maybe someday he’ll be as smart as you.”

Sara slowly approached the tank and, peering inside, touched her nose to the glass. She watched as the long-bodied creature, “Steven V” a plaque above her head numbered him, opened his eyes. Slowly he rose up and swam closer. She gauged him part mermaid, part dog.

Swimming up to the glass he examined her, sizing her up. Never had she seen such deep eyes. She heard her parents hold breaths in the background. Nothing was certain. Would they like each other? Would they bond as hoped? Would she appreciate him or continue to show little interest in any sort of interaction? Would he fulfill his purpose in life or would the fifth installment backfire at the most crucial moment?

After agonizing moments Steven touched his nose to the glass as well. In the mind of a child, even one as intellectually inclined as Sara’s, with that simple act and the knowledge he was hers there was no question. “Certainly,” she said. “Like a brother.”      

Bazooka 7

“What happened to Santa?”

“What?” I looked across the table at Officer Buck.

“You haven’t said what happened to Santa and the waitress yet.” He complained.

“Uh…”

“Did they survive the diner attack?”

“Yes,”

“Do you know what happened to them afterwards?”

“Kind of.” Buck raised an eyebrow. “I’m getting to it,” I said, annoyed. “I’m busy trying to get arrested at the moment.”

Unfortunately I was more out of shape than I thought. Shorty sped out of sight leaving me with a cramp in my side and all around feeling just a little bit lost. Aimlessly I wandered around the city until stars shone, eventually making my way back to my small and dingy apartment, befitting my long-term unemployed status.

I lay in bed and thought back on the day. Attacked by a hail of assault weapons, beat up multiple times by a girl half my age, height, and weight, a case of mistaken identity that’s made me one of the most wanted men of the last five years.  I felt all that should be spread out over at least a week’s time instead of less than twenty-four hours. 

I thought about going down to the police station the following morning. Maybe I could talk enough sense to warrant a memo for all the bounty hunters to leave me the hell alone. But what if they didn’t care I wasn’t the real guy? The police captain had been catching a lot of heat from the public for not catching the serial bank robber named Mike; perhaps he would lock me up in his place just to appease the masses? So perhaps I would wipe the slate clean and pretend the day never happened, instead going about my daily business of trying to find a job.   

I settled on pancakes for breakfast and fought hard to sleep, too sore and tired to weigh my options anymore. The next morning I forgot breakfast and instead walked out the front door heading to the unemployment office.

Walking down the sidewalk I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise up in fear. I whistled in an attempt to dispel the feeling but to no avail. I risked a glance over my shoulder and saw nothing. Breathing deeply I faced forward to have one of my few remaining lives scared out of me.

“It’s you!” A gruff voice bombarded me before a thick arm wrapped around my neck, bending me in half with excited affection.

“Who?” I croaked out, managing to look up from my crippled position. “You?”

The old man from the diner beamed down on me. “Gee, I’m sure glad you’re not dead!” He chirped merrily, dragging me down the street to an unknown destination.        

Bazooka 6

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” I groaned despairingly as Shorty moved in for the cuffing deed. Then a thought occurred to me. “So that explains that woman!” I snapped my fingers in revelation.

Shorty blinked and paused mid-step. “You mean me?”

“No. Jesus, not you. You’re five. This was a woman…” I lost myself momentarily in the memory. That split second is all Shorty needed, tackling me to the ground and detained me in one fell swoop.

“Who are you talking about?” She pressed.

“Is that a gun?” I felt cold steel against the back of my neck. 

“No,” she chided. “It’s a piece of metal pipe I carry around for use in situations like this. Now tell me about this woman.”

“I don’t know who she is,” I said. “She showed up this morning after you punched me and shot up the diner I was at. I ran away and haven’t seen her since.”

“What did she look like?”

“Tall, thin, tan…”

“What was she wearing?”

“A dress?” I felt the metal move from my head. I glanced over my shoulder to see a withering look. “I think it was yellow,” I elaborated. “And she wore boots.”

“Damn it,” Shorty looked away, pained as she stashed her heat away in one of her infinite pockets. Promptly she stood and strolled away.

“Where are you going?” Jumping to my feet I trailed after.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably back to the police station to look up another bounty.”

“So… you don’t want me anymore?” I felt relieved yet troubled at the sudden shift.

“It’s not that,” she sighed. “I’m just out of my league. Annett’s after you, which means no one else is.”

“Annett,” I tasted the name on my tongue. “So she is a bounty hunter?”

“Obviously,” Shorty condescended.

“I thought only grubby little dropouts like you were bounty hunters, not tall women in high heels.”

“It’s a strange line of work that attracts a strange line of people.”

“Is she really that good?” I asked. “She just outpaces everyone?”

Shorty glanced from left to right. “No, not really. She is good at what she does, no doubt. But more than that it means no one else is stupid enough to get in her way.”

“No shit, she tried to kill me.”

“She didn’t try to kill you, she just doesn’t know how to be subtle. I’m surprised she let you get away.”

“I ran.” I specified.

“She let you get away.” She corrected. “Either way I’m out. Have a nice life behind bars. Sorry about the mistaken identity, but no one’s going to give you sympathy. Especially not Annett.”

I slowed and stopped, watching the short figured girl shrink with each step. I wasn’t smart; not at all. But I wasn’t stupid either. “Hey!” I ran after Shorty and grabbed her elbow. “Arrest me.”

“What?” She asked, trying to shake me off.

I held tighter. “I’ll go with you willingly. Arrest me. If this Annett is as bad as you say she is and as bad as I remember her to be I’d rather plead my case in court than keep running.”

“Sucks to be you.” She said coolly. Disengaging herself she walked away faster.

“I’m serious.” I chased after. She quickened her pace and it wasn’t long before I flat out ran to keep her in sight. “Arrest me! You can collect the bounty and feet your cat!”

“Get away from me creepy old man!”    

“I’ll put the handcuffs on myself!”

“No!”

Bazooka 5

“Mistaken identity?” I repeated.

“Seems that way,” she observed.

“So some other guy committed a bunch of robberies and everyone thinks I’m him?”

“Seems that way,” The young girl and I walked along the boardwalk. The sun was setting, sending pretty pink hues over the land. The scene was stunning. I would rather be anywhere else. A man also going by the name of Mike just so happened to be a notorious bank robber. At large for more than a year, showing no signs of slowing down, the authorities were desperate. Lacking a last name or even a photo they called out the big guns; placing a hefty bounty on his head a flood of bounty hunters, the girl to my right included, flocked to the city from all over the world. “You look similar to the description and after some asking around I found out your name is Mike,” she continued and shrugged. “So I thought you were him.”  

“So what’s your name?” I asked, trying to take my mind off the reality looming over me.

“Shorty.” The girl answered simply. She held my hand, fingers laced. She insisted on the physical contact lest I “be tempted to dump” her. Others walking by probably thought I scored a girl half my age, the lucky bastard.

“Shorty?” I licked my second ice cream cone of the day.

“It’s what my mom calls me.” She smiled brightly at the mention.

“Did that start before or after you learned to punch like a street fighter?” I could feel my jaw move in a way it never had before. I was certain something was not where it should be.

“Oh, she doesn’t know I do this for a living. She thinks I work at a fruit stand.”

“Both sound ridiculous.” I couldn’t see it. The girl, Shorty, looked like she weighed all of a single pound and spent too much time at comic conventions. True, she’d gotten the upper hand on me twice, but she had the element of surprise preceding both.  

“How’d you get all those cuts?” She asked absentmindedly, working away at her own cone. “I only hit you a couple times, yet you look like you’ve been mugged by a gang. Better not hit you again or they won’t take you.”

“Who won’t take me?”

“You’re pretty slow too. No matter,” throwing the remainder of her ice-cream over her shoulder ( I felt slighted at the waste) she reached towards the handcuffs still dangling from my wrist. 

I pulled back, hands outstretched. “Please,” I begged a kid half my age for the second time in less than an hour. “I still don’t get it. Who are you?”

“I told you, I’m Shorty the Bounty Hunter.”

“But I’m not the guy. Mistaken identity, remember?” She advancing – I retreating, trying to bide time to think of an escape. Maybe I could bribe her with more ice cream?

“For the record, I believe you.” She said. “I believe you when you say you’re the wrong Mike. I believe you when you say you haven’t done anything wrong. But there’s a wanted poster hanging front and center in the downtown police station that’s got your face written all over it. Money is money and I got a cat needs feeding. Sorry pal…”