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Everyone in the room held their breath as JonJon's eyes closed.
"Is he doing the right thing?" Lehman asked in a trembling voice as his tears continued to fall.
"I think that he's doing the right thing for him. I don't know that much about Androids, but I've heard some stories about the unusual steps they sometimes take to destroy themselves when their loved ones die." Roger said quietly.
"Yeah. Connie told me and Benny about an Android like JonJon who killed himself like that." Vincent said quietly.
"I don't know if it's a flaw in Android design, or maybe it's just a fact of life. When you love anyone that much, losing them is too much to bear. If you look around at some of the colonists on this ship, you can see the same pain that JonJon's been carrying in their eyes." Roger said with concern.
JonJon's eyes opened and everyone in the room stared at what they saw.
The usually peaceful and loving eyes of JonJon were dull and lifeless.
There was no expression on his face and when he spoke, the tone of his voice was only one step removed from a computer generated voice.
"This is the END-USER LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR THE 'M.A.R.C. Memory Modification Program- Version 3.012'. LISTEN CAREFULLY: This End-User License Agreement is a legal agreement between you (either an individual or a single entity) and the creator of this software, Lorenzo Hoffmann for the purpose of memory storage modification for the Android unit identified above. The SOFTWARE PRODUCT may only be used in conjunction with an unmodified M.A.R.C. unit. By accessing the memory module or otherwise using the SOFTWARE PRODUCT, you agree to be bound by the terms..."
Vincent stared in disbelief for a moment, then said, "I can't believe it, JonJon has a EULA!"
Everyone listened as JonJon continued to speak in a flat, emotionless voice.
Finally Lehman nudged Vincent and quietly asked, "Does that mean he's really a girl android?"
Vincent blinked with surprise at the question, then cautiously said, "No Lehman, EULA means End User's License Agreement. It's just a software legal thing, it's nothing to worry about."
Then he leaned over to whisper in Lehman's ear, "And I'm pretty sure JonJon is really a boy."
"Do you accept the terms of this agreement?" JonJon's monotone voice asked without any expression, then waited.
"Yes." Vincent said seriously.
Lehman looked at Vincent with concern at his immediate agreement.
"You always say 'yes' to a EULA or it won't let you go on." Vincent said frankly.
"Before restart, would you like to modify base parameters?" JonJon's toneless voice asked.
"What does that mean?" Lehman asked curiously.
"You have the opportunity to change the unit's Personal Information, Designated Companion, Sexual Orientation, and Self-Awareness."
"We need to change the companion." Vincent said immediately.
Cyril nodded his agreement.
"Current designated companion is listed as 'Munroe Daniels', a secondary companion was later added, listed as 'Jeremy Daniels'. Do you wish to alter the designated companion listing?" JonJon's voice asked in an eerie, lifeless tone.
"Yes." Vincent said firmly.
"State the name of the new designated companion."
Vincent looked around at the others with question.
After a long moment of silence, Lehman said, "The new companion's name is Lehman."
JonJon's vacant eyes blinked once, then he asked, "New designated companion is listed as 'Lehman', is this correct?"
"Yes." Lehman said seriously.
"Modification complete. Would you like to modify other base parameters or continue with unit restart?"
"What were the parameters again?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Personal Information, Designated Companion, Sexual Orientation, and Self-Awareness."
"What's self-awareness?" Lehman asked curiously.
JonJon's eyes blinked once, then he said, "This toggle parameter will designate whether the M.A.R.C. unit will believe himself to be Human or Android upon awakening. Current setting is: Android awareness."
"Yeah. Let's leave that like it is." Vincent said quietly.
"No modification was performed. Would you like to modify other base parameters or continue with unit restart?"
"Should we go through the personal information to make sure there isn't anything that's going to bother him later?" Vincent asked as he looked around at the others.
"Null default settings are also available for Personal information."
"What does that mean?" Vincent asked cautiously.
JonJon's eyes blinked once, then he said, "The null settings will allow the M.A.R.C. unit to discover his personal information rather than having the parameters specified in advance."
"That sounds good, let's do that." Vincent said as he looked at the others with question.
"Is that everything?" Cyril asked the group.
"I think we should see what the sexual orientation setting is." Vincent said shyly.
"Current sexual orientation setting is: Bisexual. Would you like to modify this setting or continue with restart?"
"What are the choices?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"The Sexual Orientation parameters can be set as: Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or non-sexual."
"I don't want to have to decide something like that for JonJon." Vincent said in a pained voice.
"Let's just leave him as bisexual. That seems to be the least likely to limit his choices in the future." Cyril said carefully.
"Yeah, okay." Vincent said uneasily, then said to JonJon, "Don't make any change."
"No modification was performed. Would you like to modify other base parameters or continue with unit restart?"
"That's it isn't it?" Lehman asked as he looked around the group.
"Yes. Go ahead." Cyril said quietly.
"Restart." Lehman said in a whisper.
"The M.A.R.C. Memory Modification Program- Version 3.012 includes a memory restoration feature. Should the effects of the memory modification yield unexpected or undesired results, instruct the M.A.R.C. unit to connect with the memory storage module that contains this program and select the memory restoration option. The memory storage unit currently holds... three... sets of archived memories. System restart in 3... 2... 1..."
* * * * *
JonJon looked around the room curiously, then smiled a warm happy smile when he looked at Lehman.
"What happened Lehman? I don't remember what I'm doing here." JonJon asked curiously.
"You've just been reactivated and you've lost your memory." Cyril said honestly.
"How did that happen? Was I damaged?" JonJon asked with confusion.
"No. At least not physically. You had some memories that were causing you difficulty, so you chose to forget them." Cyril said frankly.
"I don't know where I am or who any of you are... except Lehman." JonJon said quietly.
"Well, I'm Vincent and you're on the Federation Starship Yorktown. You and Lehman are on your way to a new colony where you'll be living." Vincent said seriously.
"Just the two of us? Alone?" JonJon asked with concern.
"No JonJon. The two of you will be living with Cyril and I." Roger said seriously.
Cyril looked at Roger with surprise at the statement.
"They need us." Roger said simply.
Cyril's look became tender as he nodded his agreement.
"Is my name JonJon?"
"That's your nickname." Vincent said quietly.
"What's my real name?" JonJon asked curiously.
"Cyril, can I talk to you outside for a moment?" Roger asked seriously.
"Certainly." Cyril said hesitantly.
"Boys, hold off on telling JonJon his full name for a minute. Okay?" Roger asked from the doorway.
"Sure. Whatever you say Roger." Vincent said slowly.
Roger nodded, then led Cyril out into the hall.
* * * * *
"Is something wrong? Why don't they want me to know my name?" JonJon asked in confusion as he looked around the office.
"I think they just don't want to tell you the wrong thing. Give them a minute to discuss things." Lehman said gently.
"You're nice. I like you." JonJon said with a loving smile at Lehman.
"I like you too JonJon." Lehman said as he moved in to give JonJon a hug.
* * * * *
Cyril and Roger walked into the room a moment later, both wearing serious expressions.
"Boys, Roger and I have decided something, but it's not something we have the right to decide by ourselves." Cyril said seriously.
"I bet I can guess." Vincent said with a smile.
Roger glanced at Vincent and slightly nodded.
"Lehman, I don't think JonJon is sufficiently aware of his situation to make this decision so I'm going to ask you to make this decision for both of you." Roger said as he looked into Lehman's eyes.
"Okay." Lehman said reluctantly.
"If you would agree to it, Roger and I would like to adopt you and JonJon into our family. The two of you would be our sons." Roger said seriously.
"But I'm an Android." JonJon said cautiously.
"We know that JonJon. All that means is that we'll have one Human son and one Android son." Roger said tenderly.
"I just look Human, I'm really a Chameloid." Lehman said quietly.
"I think I remember Cyril mentioning something about that, but I don't really know anything about your people." Roger said frankly.
"It doesn't matter. One of our sons will be an Android and the other will be a Chameloid. We wouldn't treat you one bit different if you were both Human." Cyril said honestly.
"Is adopting them going to be any problem for you? I mean, since Lehman isn't a Federation citizen?" Vincent asked carefully.
"Let me worry about that. I may have to call in a few favors and do some things that, shall we say, may venture into the gray areas of the law. But I believe that I will be able to make those arrangements." Cyril said speculatively.
"If you need any help from Clan Short just let me know. Since I'm a member I can do the Safe Haven Act thing if you need me to." Vincent said seriously.
Cyril smiled and said, "Thank you Vincent. I'll keep that in mind."
"What about my name?" JonJon asked quietly.
"Well, it may take a while for me to get everything done officially, but as far as I'm concerned it's settled. From now on your name is going to be Jonathan Byrne." Cyril said seriously.
"And me?" Lehman asked in a timid whisper.
"And you are Lehman Byrne." Roger said gently.
"Wow! So I get to have a last name like everyone else?" Lehman asked with excitement as he ran to Roger to pull him into a hug.
"That's right Lehman." Roger said as his expression filled with ultimate peace.
Cyril walked to JonJon's side and opened his arms.
JonJon stood and reluctantly moved into Cyril's arms.
"You're my son now JonJon. Everything is going to be fine." Cyril said gently.
"Will it be okay if I call you dad?" JonJon asked in a whisper.
"I would like that very much." Cyril said, then shared a loving look with Roger.
The sound of Vincent's stomach growling broke the tender scene and everyone started laughing.
"Why don't you boys go get yourselves something to eat while I start making my calls?" Cyril said gently.
"Anything you say, Dad." JonJon said with a joyful smile.
"Be sure to watch after your brother." Roger said happily.
"I will... Other Dad." JonJon finished uncertainly.
"That'll do." Roger said with a chuckle.
Vincent's stomach growled again, gaining everyone's attention.
"We'd better get him to the cafeteria before it attacks someone." Lehman said with a chuckle.
"We'll be right here when you're finished." Cyril said from behind his desk.
Lehman and JonJon both nodded that they heard, then hurried out the door with Vincent following a step behind.
* * * * *
"There's Benny." Lehman said as soon as they walked into the Engineer's Mess Hall.
"Who's that?" JonJon asked curiously.
"That's kind of hard to explain." Lehman said with a helpless expression directed at Vincent.
"Go on and get your food, I'm going to talk to him." Vincent said seriously.
"Okay. But let me know if we need to leave or anything. I don't want JonJon to have to deal with anything too bad today." Lehman said with concern.
"Trust me." Vincent said with an assuring smile, then walked to Benny's table.
* * * * *
"Can I sit with you?" Vincent asked quietly.
Benny looked up from his untouched plate of food, then glanced over his shoulder at the serving line and spotted JonJon and Lehman.
"Just me." Vincent added quietly.
"I guess so." Benny said reluctantly.
Vincent sat down, then quietly asked, "Are we still friends?"
"Do you still want to be?" Benny asked as he finally forced himself to look into Vincent's eyes.
"Are you going to try to make me choose between you and JonJon?" Vincent asked seriously.
Benny was surprised by the blunt question and averted his gaze again before saying, "No. I won't make you choose."
"Good. Then as far as I'm concerned, we're still friends just like before." Vincent said with a small smile.
Benny nodded that he heard.
"I've got the feeling that you really don't want to talk about JonJon now. Is that about right?" Vincent asked curiously.
Benny nodded again.
"Okay..." Vincent said, then stopped to think.
After a moment to consider, Vincent finally asked, "Then what do you want to talk about?"
Benny thought for a moment, then quietly said, "There is one thing I've been kind of wondering about, but I didn't want to upset you by asking."
"What's that?" Vincent asked with surprise.
"Well, after what you said to me at the pool this morning it got me to thinking... are you turning gay?" Benny asked cautiously.
Vincent smiled and said, "No I'm not. But I can understand why you might think I was."
"Really?" Benny asked with surprise.
"Yeah. It's a really big long story and some of its stuff that I really don't feel like talking about. But I'll tell you the main things so maybe you'll understand what I'm trying to do." Vincent said seriously.
Benny continued to look at Vincent with surprise as he reluctantly nodded.
"Okay. I'm straight. If you're ever not sure about that, just ask T'Lani, she'll tell you." Vincent said seriously.
"I guess she would know." Benny said hesitantly.
Vincent smiled and nodded, then continued, "I guess what it's really about is that sometimes I have feelings that may be a little gay. Or maybe they're just normal feelings and I was taught to think that they're gay... whatever. The thing I figured out is that if I think you look good in your swim trunks, I should just go ahead and tell you. That way I know what I'm feeling, you know what I'm feeling and that's it. If I pretended not to notice how you looked and felt guilty about thinking things like that, then I might end up being like my dad."
"Like your dad?" Benny prompted.
"He went nuts and killed people. But that's not what I'm talking about. From the stuff that Daddy Joe told me, my dad had these gay feelings but hated gays so much that he just kind of kept them bottled up inside him and hated himself for feeling that way. He used to scream at my brother a lot and hit him. Daddy Joe says it's because my dad was really turned on by Lawrence."
"That's sick." Benny said quietly.
"Yeah. But I can sort of understand it... when I was in school on Earth, if there was someone I liked, I wouldn't tell them. I was... I guess I was kinda mean to them." Vincent finished in a mumble.
"Yeah. Okay, I get that," Benny said with concern.
"So I understand what my dad was feeling, at least a little bit, and that really scares me," Vincent said frankly.
"Okay. I can understand that too," Benny said with assurance.
"Good. I'm sorry if that was weird at the pool. I'm still figuring this stuff out and I'm not too good at it yet," Vincent said, shyly.
"It's fine Vincent. Just keep on doing what you're doing and if someone doesn't understand, then just explain it to them... or if that's too weird, send them to me and I'll explain it," Benny said seriously.
"Really? You'd do that?" Vincent asked with a smile.
"I wouldn't want to do it every day, but if you needed me to, yeah. I'd do that," Benny answered, gently.
Vincent nodded, then gave Benny an apologetic look and asked, "Can we talk about JonJon yet?"
Benny considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah, okay."
"Let me go get some food first. I'm starving." Vincent said quickly.
"I'll go with you. I wasn't feeling very hungry on my first trip through the serving line, so I hardly got anything." Benny said as he stood.
* * * * *
"You look really worried, is something bad about to happen?" JonJon asked Lehman as they stood at the back of a short line of people.
"I'm not sure." Lehman said with concern.
"If it's bothering you, maybe you should talk about it." JonJon said cautiously.
Lehman smiled at JonJon and said, "I'll tell you what. We'll give Vincent a chance to talk to Benny, then we'll tell you about it when he gets back."
JonJon looked at Lehman with confusion.
"Do you know what you're going to want?" Lehman asked as they picked up their trays, then continued, "I think Benny needs time to figure out some things. If I say anything before he figures those things out, I might end up hurting your feelings or his. So we'll wait."
JonJon nodded his agreement, then started looking at the food selections.
"I wish Vincent was here. I don't know what some of this stuff is." Lehman said as he looked over the various types of meats.
"I think I know what most of it is, I just don't remember if I like it or not." JonJon said quietly.
"This should be an interesting meal... that looks familiar, what's that one called?" Lehman asked as he pointed.
"Roast beef." JonJon said seriously.
"I guess it doesn't matter. I'll just take some and hopefully I'll like it." Lehman said as he put a few thin slices of roast beef onto his plate.
"Me too." JonJon said then looked further down the line.
"Oh, I see now. You pick the meat you want here, then you can pick the bread in the next case, then all the veggies and stuff to make sandwiches." JonJon said as he moved around Lehman to the next section of the serving line.
"You'll have to show me what to do." Lehman said cautiously.
"It's easy. Just put your meat on the bread, then put whatever else you want on top." JonJon said as he selected some lettuce and tomatoes for his sandwich.
"Okay..." Lehman said reluctantly as he followed JonJon's example.
"Now you'll probably want to put something on the bread or the sandwich might be kinda dry." JonJon said then moved to the condiment area.
"Oh, I know what those things are. I'll have catsup." Lehman said happily.
JonJon smiled and put some catsup on his own sandwich.
* * * * *
Vincent noticed that Lehman and JonJon had taken a table the opposite end of the room from Benny's.
"How is he?" Benny asked as they made their way through the line.
"Confused." Vincent said quietly.
"I guess that makes sense." Benny said distantly.
"He's happier than he was." Vincent said absently as he continued to scoot his empty tray down the line.
"Like how?" Benny asked curiously.
"I'm not sure how to describe it, but before, he'd get this look. And I'd know that he was feeling it." Vincent said as he looked at the selection of soups.
"Yeah. I know that look." Benny said quietly.
"Before, when I'd see him with that look, I'd try to do stuff to take his mind off it... Now I guess I don't have to do that." Vincent said frankly.
Benny nodded that he understood.
"I think I'm going to get something from the protein processor. They don't have what I'm hungry for here." Vincent said as he poured himself a glass of water.
"What are you hungry for?" Benny asked curiously.
"Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich." Vincent said honestly.
"Yeah, tomato soup does sound good." Benny said with a considering nod.
"If you'll take my drink back to the table, I'll bring soup for both of us."
"Sounds like a plan, I'll meet you there." Benny said and accepted Vincent's glass of water.
* * * * *
"So if you don't know about the food, then that probably means you aren't from Earth." JonJon said quietly.
"No. I'm from a planet that's pretty far away. I don't know what the Federation people call it but the translation from my language to yours would be... Frozen Night Sky or Frozen Dark? Something like that... It doesn't matter. I'm a lot better off here." Lehman said frankly.
"Why?" JonJon asked curiously.
"Well, first of all, I've never had so much food before. Your people eat all the time! Back on my world, my family was very poor and we had to be careful not to eat too much because an extra bite of food today might be the bite of food that we would need to keep us alive tomorrow. We barely ate enough to keep us alive and somewhat healthy." Lehman said distantly.
"Why are you here instead of with your family?" JonJon asked with concern.
"There was a plague and my parents died. After that I was put into a foundling home and, well, there were a lot of us and only so much food to go around. I guess the people who took care of us made sure we didn't starve to death or kill each other. But that's about it. That place wasn't anything like a home." Lehman said seriously.
"What are Roger and Cyril like? I mean, do you think we'll be happy with them?" JonJon asked cautiously.
Lehman considered for a moment, then said, "I don't really know much more about them than you do, but they seem to be nice. From what I've overheard, Cyril is one of the leaders of the colony we'll be setting up. So that probably means we won't be sleeping on a cold floor while our stomachs growl."
"I guess you know what that feels like?" JonJon asked quietly.
"Yeah, actually, I do. But that's all over with now. Right now we just have to work to make the best life we can for ourselves." Lehman said happily.
"I'm glad you're my brother. I'd probably be really scared to be doing all this new stuff without you." JonJon said quietly.
"I'm glad too, JonJon. Ever since I first met you, you've been nice to me and treated me like a part of your family. Now that this has happened, it's like we really are family." Lehman said happily.
"Cyril said I chose to forget... do you know why?" JonJon asked quietly.
"I've only known you for one day so I don't really know that much. But I do know the basics." Lehman said seriously.
"Will you tell me?" JonJon asked quietly.
Lehman considered for a moment, then said, "Your companion died. It was hurting you all the time, every day. Forgetting was a way to make that pain go away."
"So it would be like if you died?" JonJon asked in a whisper.
"No. Not exactly. It would be like if I died after you had known me and been my best friend and brother for years." Lehman said frankly.
JonJon thought about the words, then said, "I can understand why I chose to forget then. Even imagining that hurts me."
"Then don't. That was another lifetime. This is a new beginning for both of us. Enjoy it with me." Lehman said hopefully.
JonJon smiled as he looked into Lehman's eyes and said, "I will."
* * * * *
As Vincent sat his tray on the table, he automatically handed one of the bowls of soup to Benny.
"Thanks." Benny whispered.
Vincent took a bite of his grilled cheese sandwich, then looked at Benny carefully.
"You're still mad at him." Vincent said speculatively.
"Yeah. I just don't know how he could throw everything away like it never mattered." Benny said in a whisper.
"Try thinking about it this way. Humans do all kinds of crazy things to help them forget the things that are hurting them. They drink, do drugs and sometimes end up just going completely nuts because they can't cope. This was JonJon's way of dealing with something that was too big for him." Vincent said frankly.
"I guess I can sort of understand that." Benny said quietly.
"Benny. I can understand some of what JonJon was dealing with because I have a few of the same problems. My parents died less than a month ago and it's like there's this dead place inside me that hurts sometimes. After it happened, I left Earth and I've been working on the Yorktown ever since. I don't really think about my parents that much and when I do... well, I usually don't feel anything. I think I'm a lot like JonJon. But instead of forgetting it, I'm kind of ignoring it." Vincent said quietly.
"I'm sorry Vincent; I didn't know it was hurting you that much," Benny said seriously.
"It isn't right now. But I have a feeling that one of these days it's going to hit me. And when it does, I'll need T'Lani and all my friends because I'll probably be a real mess." Vincent said quietly.
"I'll be there whenever you need me." Benny said sincerely.
"Will you be there for JonJon too?" Vincent asked seriously.
Benny closed his eyes and thought for a second, then said, "Yeah. I will. It just hurt me when he decided that he wanted to forget me, just like that."
"I know that if he could have chosen one person to remember, it would have been you. Lehman and I are his friends, but you're his best friend and you always will be." Vincent said as he looked deeply into Benny's eyes.
"Okay. Then I guess we'd better switch tables before my best friend finishes his lunch and I miss the chance to make up with him." Benny said weakly.
"Yeah. Let's go."
Well, I am so glad that Benny has forgiven Jon-Jon. I also am hoping they can build a new friendship and become even closer. They will have time to build a new life together on the new planet and the new colony. This story is going to become very interesting.
The most amazing part to me is that now there are going to be two versions of events for us to monitor. For those of you that don't know, there is actually another story with similar people in it, well, almost identical people, actually. It is called Frontier, and you can find it on bentandtwisted.us. It is, or was the story of Vincent and his friends and it continues in a different timeline than this one. The split in the timeline took place at the time the boys opened a certain box. I won't go into details here, except to say that in one timeline there was something in the box, and in the other timeline the box was empty. This story follows the boys that found the box to be empty, and it will relate the ongoing activities of everyone and what will happen to them from now on. I do, however, suggest that if you haven't read the first thirty chapters of 'Frontier' that you take the time to do so, as there are important things that have taken place in the earlier chapters and they will still impact the lives of the people that populate this story.
Those of you who have not read other stories by MultiMapper, you are missing a lot of wonderful reading. I can highly and enthusiastically recommend any story written by him, some a little more than others, but they each have their very good points.
I also would appreciate it if you would take the time to send MultiMapper a message, letting him know that you have read his story or stories, so he knows there are people that read his work. In case it isn't obvious, it is a good idea to do this for any author who's stories you have enjoyed. It really does help us keep our minds on writing and we make fewer mistakes and hopefully, we write better stories. I can assure you that if you have suggestions for the stories, they will be considered, and they might just find their way into a chapter or two.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher