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Rupert grimaced at the sudden, stinging shock of having conscious hands for the first time. His appropriately perceptive doctor caught this immediately, and gently patted his patient’s shoulder.

“It’s all right, son,” he murmured, gripping the boy’s arm tightly, “It gets better.” He placed less tension on Rupert—the boy was already tense enough—but continued to whisper encouraging words to him, still just as firm and bold as he spoke. Rupert slowly nodded, understanding, and flexed his hand again. A slight, tingling bolt of pain shot up his arm.

He groaned at the sharp ache but quickly regretted it. He wiped the exasperated expression off of his face and hoped the doctor had not heard him. He felt the doctor’s disapproving gaze burn into his back. Desperately wanting to prove the doctor’s disappointment in him false, Rupert turned his head to face his companion and his hand flopped down onto the table, his control of it lost without his complete concentration. He grinned sheepishly.

“You have to focus, Rupert, my boy!” the doctor exclaimed emphatically, reaching out towards the dead-looking appendage that lay still on the tabletop, being careful not to touch it, “Now, son, lift this hand up… bring it to life!” Rupert licked his lips, preparing himself for the grueling task ahead of him, and, with great, arduous difficulty, he lifted his hand into the air. He grunted and wavered, struggling to maintain the position, but faltered and fell, his hand crashing onto the table. He hadn’t realized he was crying until the first of the tears splashed against his wrist, and he discovered that he could feel them—really feel them—for the first time in his life. He was mesmerized by the feeling, the tender, loving caress of the droplets wetting his supple skin, entranced with a gift that his own body had given him. He was brought back into reality by the voice of the doctor.

“Don’t worry about it, Rupert,” he soothed calmly, resuming his patting of the boy’s arm, “We’ll work on it some more tomorrow. Go get some rest, boy—you deserve it.” He led the boy to his room and waited patiently as Rupert stripped off his sweaty, uncomfortable hospital gown and put on the pair of plaid pajamas that was draped over his bedrail. As he snuggled under the covers, the doctor walked over, a certain reassuring confidence in his step, and rubbed Rupert’s forehead.

“You’ll get it tomorrow,” the doctor whispered, a little smile playing on his lips, “I promise it… You’ll get it tomorrow…” Slowly his patient drifted off, carried by the soothing hum of his voice.

He was back in the chair again. He struggled to break free. Nothing worked—only his head would move, in frantic, involuntary jerks. A spasm constricted his neck, and he wept, head twitching violently, crying out for his mother. She unexpectedly materialized before him, a familiar shape emerging from the blackness that surrounded him. Rather than howling for help as he had desperately wanted to just seconds ago, he found himself repeating the same hopeless questions he asked all those years ago.

“Momma,” he began, tears stinging his eyes, already knowing the answers, “Why can’t I go outside? Why can’t I play? Why can’t I move, Momma?” Instead of giving him the kind, sweet, sympathetic look he had come to anticipate, his mother’s eyes lit up like hellfire. She growled impatiently, annoyed, her breath creating a large, purple cloud of repulsive, loathsome gas.

“Don’t you understand?” she screeched, “You can’t do anything! Anything! I was cursed with you… you foul, pathetic, lump of flesh! You’re just a dirty, lousy… cripple!” The word hurt him for reasons he didn’t know. He had often heard it from visiting neighbors and distant relatives, but never from his own mother.

“But, Momma,” he pleaded. She cut him off brusquely.

“But nothing!” she spat, “You ruined my life! I was cursed to have something as vile, as disgusting, as… freakish as you!” Her berating invaded and impaired his mind, her intolerance a most corrosive acid. Tears quietly flew down his face as he endured her abuse.

“But, but… Momma!” he sobbed, “M-m-Momma! I love you, Momma! Please, Momma…” Embers licked at his face. He screamed. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t move.

“You worthless sack of scum!” she shouted, continuing with her endless insults. Rupert cried harder and harder. He shrank, smaller and smaller, younger and younger.

“Why, Momma? Why? Why? Why…? Why… Why… Why…?”

He awoke with a start. He was panting. Drops of sweat dotted his forehead. He moaned aloud, physically ill from his dream. The pattering of footsteps echoed down the hallway and a shout rang out. The room went white.

The unpleasant buzz of the fluorescent light roused him from his sleep. He blinked, the world slowly coming into focus. The doctor stood, looming over him, obscuring the odious light, stroking the boy’s reddish hair.

“Rupert…” he murmured, “Rupert… awake, pal?” Rupert smiled weakly at him.

“Caaaaaa…” he garbled, trying in vain to lift his arms high enough to touch the doctor’s face, “Caaaaaa… aaaaaaaahh…” The doctor firmly grasped his arms and tucked them back under the dull, white sheets of the hospital bed.

“Sh-sh,” he shushed, patting Rupert’s head, “Rest up, now. You’ll need you’re energy for tomorrow.” He gave his patient’s face a final pet, and began to walk from the room.

“Caaaaaa… aaaaaaaahh!” The doctor spun around. Rupert’s arms were raised above his head, his fingers outstretched and curling. They swayed from side to side, unsteady as the mind of their master. The doctor ran back to Rupert.

“Whoa—wow, Rupert… That’s really… Wow, I never would have…” he stopped dead and simply gawked at his patient’s progress for a moment. He shook his head like a wet dog and collected himself.

“Really, Rupert… That’s fantastic. You’ve done it, my boy! You’ve brought those arms back from the dead!” he laughed and clapped his gloved hands. Rupert did the same. “You don’t even know how proud of you I am, Rupert! Let’s put these arms down for now,” he waited while Rupert lowered his arms, “And get some rest… and tomorrow, you can have a little treat.” The doctor winked. “Good night, my boy!” Rupert smiled and his tongue slid out of his mouth.

“Goooo… Gooooooo aye!” Rupert cried. For a brief moment, genuine tears sparkled at the edges of the doctor’s eyelids. He blinked them away.

“Good night… son.” He exited the room.

Light spilled from the clear, polished window. Rupert awoke at the morning’s first tentative glow, and had been awaiting the doctor’s return for hours. As if he was able to read the boy’s mind, the doctor stepped coolly into the room and smiled.

“Good morning, Rupert,” he said, strolling over towards the bed, “Ready for your surprise?” Rupert’s head bobbed up and down and he laughed, eager for his reward. The doctor reached into the inner pocket of his lab coat—acting as ostentatious as a magician during his show in Vegas—and from it produced a small square wrapped in shiny gold foil. He opened the package with exaggerated diligence, knowing that Rupert savored each and every peel of the casing. Finally, the square was revealed as its true self—a sweetly fragrant brown substance. The doctor moved closer to Rupert and held the treasure out in his hand, beckoning the boy to take it. Rupert hesitantly stuck out a hand and clumsily closed his fist around the prize.

“It’s chocolate, Rupert,” the doctor said softly, “Chocolate… can you say that?” Rupert held the splendid-smelling gift in his palm. It melted a little, staining his skin a light brown.

“Ka… Ka-cha… Chaaaaa… koh… laht!” he proclaimed triumphantly. The doctor clapped.

“Very good, Rupert!” he cried, “Now… take a taste!” He mimed taking the object from his own hand and placing it own his tongue. Rupert followed his motions and soon his mouth was overwhelmed with a sweet, creamy, fantastic flavor. He, employing some animal instinct, briefly chewed the candy and, the taste overwhelming his tongue, quickly gulped it down with delight. He licked his lips and grinned at the doctor, thankful for his treat.

“I wasn’t supposed to show you this until later, Rupert,” he said, “But I was so impressed with you yesterday, I just… I couldn’t keep it from you. We’ve fixed so much more, son! You can hear and see, as you might have already noticed, and now, you can taste and smell! Imagine! No more of this… flavorless intravenous feeding!” The doctor kicked a metal stand that stood by the wall. Rupert had no idea what any of these words had meant, but he acted excited anyhow.
“We’ve almost fixed you, Rupert…” the doctor whispered, “We’ve almost made you… normal. You’re tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing… and look, you’ve already started to master movement! You good boy! All we have left is improving movement…” The doctor put a hand on his chin, “Movement and… touch. Yes…” he paused, thinking hard. Another white coat-clad person appeared in the doorway. Suddenly, the doctor snapped back into his happy-go-lucky personality.
“Well, Rupert,” he said, shuffling towards the exit and the new, silent stranger, “enjoy the rest of your treat, and I shall see you in a couple of hours!” He tossed the remainder of the chocolate bar onto the bed and slipped out of the door. Rupert snatched it greedily, stuffing a few chunks of chocolate into his mouth. He lay back, sighing contentedly, and fell asleep, his treasure held tightly in his hand, brown dapples on his lips.
Sissy. Sissy was coming after him. She was flailing her arms, brandishing a hot, metal… thing. Momma was screaming—screaming at her to stop. He was trying to get away from her, but couldn’t move, couldn’t escape. She was too fast. She tugged the awful chair back and shoved it into his face. It scorched his flesh—he felt his face melting away. Sissy pulled his head back and something sliced through the skin on his temples. She burned him, she burned him…
Rupert was shaken awake by trembling hands. The friendly doctor was back, but he appeared apprehensive, a little frightened. He scooped Rupert into his arms and carried him out of the room.
“Rupert… awake? Good. Glad to see it. Glad.” Though he was attempting to keep a stable, confident tone as he spoke, Rupert could easily detect a note of anxiety in his voice.
“Caaaaaa… daaaaak taaaaaaa…” Rupert yawned. The doctor shushed him.
“Don’t you worry a bit, my boy!” the doctor said, his voice wavering, his eyes avoiding his patient’s at all costs, “Don’t you worry a bit! We’ll fix you up, won’t we? How about you go right back to sleep now, Rupert?” He put his shaky fingers over the boy’s eyelids and the boy slept.
Chops. Good old Chops. His only friend in the world. He was a beautiful, soft gray, and covered in black spots. He looked at him longingly, wishing to go back, to be with Chops again. If only he could touch him… Once, he had tried to coax Chops onto his lap, and it had worked. The dog’s bristly fur had brushed against his face, and he felt marvelous, and was astonished by what he touched—touched! Maybe if he tried again… if only he could grab his dog, grab him with his hands…
“…I’ll only be gone a moment.” Rupert was now lying on a cold lab table, placed into yet another white room. Another outsider stood by the door, waiting for the doctor. They both exited the room, mumbling hastily back and forth, leaving Rupert alone on the table. Remembering his treat, he pulled the last of the chocolate out of his pocket and gorged himself on it. As he relished his tasty delight, he heard snatches of the conversation taking place in the hallway.
“…Was born with it, huh? Then how did we manage to…”
“…Shock limbs into life… Cloning worked as well…”
“…Defying nature… We’ve never been this far before…”
“…Poor kid… Family never really…”
“…Brain damage? Isn’t he just paralyzed instead of…”
“…Sister did that… Attacked him with a knife and a flattening iron…”
“…Damned shame… Mother went insane after that happened I…”
“…Feel so bad… Have to give him…”
“…The dog too…”
“…Poor boy deserves something…”

The furious muttering ended and both people reentered the room. The doctor stepped forward, cleared his throat, and addressed Rupert.
“All right, son,” he said smoothly, “We’re going to make you go to sleep again. Don’t worry about that. It’s just a little tiny shot—won’t take more than a second. When you wake up, we’ll give you another little shot, and you’ll feel fine. Ready?” Before Rupert could so much as gurgle, the doctor had moved in and injected the needle. Rupert faded off almost immediately, the last image in his mind the kindly, promising face of the doctor.
They pricked him with a needle again and brought him back to reality. Both of his companions were misty-eyed and gazing at him proudly.
“Our creation,” said the doctor, wiping his eye. His cohort nodded. Rupert smiled.
“D-d-d-d-d…” he stuttered, “D-d-d… Doctor.” He laughed, giddy and gleeful. “Doctor… Doctor!” He leapt up from the table, screaming, “Doctor!” at the top of his lungs.
“We’ve done it! You’re cured, Rupert!” he yelled, “Cured, my boy! And all because of one little shot.” He smiled jubilantly. All three laughed and cried together for one beautiful moment.
“And, Rupert…” the other person said, “We have another surprise for you. Look there, under that dish.” She pointed to a large, immaculate glass container, foolishly perched on the edge of a table. Rupert rubbed his eyes in disbelief. His jaw almost unlatched and dropped to the floor. The doctor nodded.
“It’s Chops,” he said, tears of joy choking his voice, “Your Chops. In the flesh. And once he’s done in the incubator, he’s all yours.” Rupert ran to the doctor, sobbing and hugging him.
“But, what did…? How did…?”
“A nice little thing called ‘cloning’,” the doctor said, patting the boy’s back, “But we’ll talk about that later. Enjoy your freedom now.”
No sooner than the doctor had said that, a loud bang erupted from deep within the building. The walls shook violently. Rupert was rocketed into the lab table that held Chops. The glass fell to the floor and shattered. Burly men in black garb burst through the door.
“Take everything!” the brawniest of them barked, “Get these crimes against nature out of here!” The drones seized essentially every object from the room, including Rupert’s only company.
“My boy!” yelled the doctor, fighting as he was dragged away, “My creation!” He was forced through the door. The room was ignited—flames snaked up the blackened walls, across the emptied tables, ravaging the room. Embers scattered across the floor—the remnants of the drone’s pillage turned to ash. Rupert rose and tried to escape, but found himself staggering through the burning room. He saw a great flash of orange fire and then blackness. The fire materialized in front of him again, only to disappear once more. His eyesight was giving out—it flickered like a dying light bulb. He heard the roar of the blazes, but the noise soon dulled to a monotonous buzz. The smoldering papers and melting plastic became odorless to him; the unpleasant, coppery taste of his blood fizzled out as well.
As his eyes began to fail him once again, he spotted the gray-black pile on the floor—Chops. He lurched towards it, wanting one last time to pet him, one last touch with his new hands. Before he reached the beloved animal, he tripped and fell to the floor. The room went black.
He felt his body begin to stiffen. It was back again. His neck twisted with spasmodic movements. It had conquered him. Mustering one last ounce of strength, he temporarily fought off his paralysis and stretched his fingers—his final move. The smoke-choked air rushed through them, blanketing them with gray smog.
They were brushing against something now, something bristly, furry… something utterly wonderful. He had felt Chops. For the first time in his life, he had really felt Chops, touched him with his hands. He smiled—a last voluntary action—and the sensation melted away.
With his last chance, he had won.





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