By Adeline Ike
Original Artwork by Ashlyn Ike
His piercing beady eyes almost pin me to my chair, but my hands are finally free. His face reflects the lights as his lips curve into a slithering smile. He sits on the other side of the desk, arms crossed over his chest. It's Rhys Leebo—my parents' boss. I've met Rhys many times when he came to our house for get-togethers. He was practically family. His son Aiden and I are the same age and played together in our younger years. Yeah, little Aiden was kinda cute.
I'm confused and hurt to find out it was 'Uncle Rhys' that sent two men to capture me. Some of my outrage subsided while riding in the back of the truck as the two men apologized non-stop. I didn't recognize either man but they obviously knew who I was. "We're sorry miss Cox." They said, "It will all make sense soon!" I recognized the enormous tech building when the old truck pulled in. All three security gates opened automatically as we passed the sensors. A large garage door had opened at the base of a ramp leading to the underground parking where we entered.
Leebo Labs was my parents' second home as they worked on their inventions. I had only seen the outside from the fence. I begged to go in with my mom once but was told it takes a security clearance to get past the reception area. On my 10th birthday, my mom took my fingerprints as if she was taking me to work. She whispered and argued with my dad that night before telling me it just wasn't the right time. It never came up again.
And here I am, inside now -- still shocked and waiting for Rhys' explanation he owes me. The large room has modern gray and yellow colors with computers and screens everywhere. My phone sits on the table in front of Rhys—taken from my dress pocket -- and it's still dead. Is Iddy listening somehow? Iddy said he was 'breaking codes' but that was hours ago. Maybe his battery is really dead now. Did he guess I was coming here? Iddy scolded me that he couldn't physically help me...yet! What's he up to?
Rhys leans forward, "Safara, I'm so sorry if my guys scared you -- that wasn't my intent" He paused to watch me closely. I look him straight in the eyes. Let him know how mad I am.
"You're probably confused and mad...I know it was wrong to...uhh...bring you here, but I had no other choice."
I scuff, "No other choice? Do you know how scared I was being thrown over someone's shoulder like a sack? To have my hands tied...and now you're just gonna say, 'You're probably confused'?" I laugh like a maniac.
"Safara, if you would just listen to me, I can explain...please."
I look at my phone. Maybe Iddy needs more time? Rhys follows my gaze. He picks the phone up with curiosity and stares at the phone like he's lost in deep thought.
"Is this the phone... the one your parents got you?"
"Yes. It's precious to me." I stare at him.
"A gift from your parents before the--"
"Just stop!" I shout.
He puts the phone back on the table and slides his hands behind his neck, "Let's have an adult conversation. Can we do that?" I desperately want to grab my phone but cross my arms against my chest.
"You know how close I was to your dad, we were best buds at MIT. We had big dreams and knew what we wanted. So we made all of this happen!" He spreads his arms proudly. "When your mother came along, things... began to change. Your dad was...distracted. Your mother was brilliant, the best coder we had...and your dad just had to fall in love with her."
"Your parents grew distant and worked alone. But I trusted them to surprise me if they ever 'broke the code.' And I...I was consumed with my own project. But then...then there was that terrible...accident..." He stops, his eyes are almost misty. I'm also choked up. "Safara, I don't know what happened...their lab...the camera footage...just fire..." He stopped. He knew I couldn't handle more. A minute passes in silence.
Rhys looks up at me "I finally had the courage to look at their work—luckily most of it was backed up since the fire destroyed the lab—but key parts of their work are... are encrypted. But yesterday I finally found something. Something that linked all the way back to you, Safara."
I gulp, "What?"
Rhys suddenly jumps up, "Yes, after all these years of trying to reach singularity, I think your parents cracked the code -- secretly -- and have hidden it from me." His face shifts darker. Rhys looks betrayed as I watch his blood pressure visibly rise. "They knew this was my one and only dream, and stole it from me, in my own house!" his voice is not so calm now. "What right do they have to tell me it was too dangerous and had to be shut down before such power ran into the wrong hands! Who are they to judge me, Safara!!" Rhys suddenly realizes he's frightening me and sits back down to calm himself. Rhys looks to the side of the room and I follow his eyes.
The doors to my left slide open. A young man in a white lab coat brings in something tall on a cart. The object is covered in a blue sheet. The man is clumsy and stumbles while glancing at me but quickly straightens himself. He looks at me in raw embarrassment. Aiden? I gasp in my mind. Can't be, I... I haven't seen him in forever. I look down so as not to stare, I can feel heat rising in my face.
"You remember my son Aiden, right Safara?" I nod a little too quickly. "He's in his second year of college now and not even 18 yet. Brilliant just like his humble old man." Rhys stands again as he slaps Aiden's shoulder--and chuckles. But Aiden just looks at me strangely - not quite the boy I remember.
I don't see the resemblance between father and son. Aiden is somewhat shorter than his father. The only thing similar is their blue eyes and white lab coats. I'm annoyed that I'm still blushing.
"And this, Safara, is P7, the special project your parents worked on for the last 10 years. They were smart enough to keep at least one of these outside the lab."
He motions to his son, who reaches up and pulls the sheet off the tall mystery. I stare with my mouth open. It's a full silver robot standing eerily lifeless. My parents were working on a robot? They never even talked about robots! I gaze for a while and then begin to speak.
"And..." I swallow, "It's not finished?"
"Tonight it is, at least...I think it may be. Safara. Look closely."
I get out of my chair and stand directly in front of it.
"Look at what's on P7's chest," Rhys explains.
I examine the machine. It's mainly silver. I see lots of rivets and pivot points and some electronics between gaps in metal where pieces need to move. It's not exactly pleasant to look at but it's something my mom and dad made... and that makes it special. I look at Rhys and shrug my shoulders. "What am I looking for?" I ask.
"Look right in the middle of the chest—there's a fingerprint scanner, and right below it are two initials."
"S.C.?" I ask "Security Clearance?"
"Safara Cox," he says, "Now touch it."
"What?" I'm confused.
"Touch it," Rhys demands.
"Why? What will it do?"
He gives me a challenging look, "That is what we are all here to find out. I'm convinced that somehow your clever mother encrypted her masterpiece to her daughter's fingerprint. And I need to see how far they got with this project."
I look at Aiden who nods his head encouragingly. I slowly step forward and reach my finger to its metal chest, but I hesitate. Dangerous dream...my parents hid this from Rhys because he had a dangerous dream. What if this is his dream? What happens if I touch this? Do I have a choice?
But I must know what this robot is. It's the only bridge to my parents that I have left. I bring my finger to the fingerprint scanner and rest it on the sensor. The sensor glows briefly and beeps softly, but nothing else happens...wait, it's glowing, the whole thing is glowing!
Blue light illuminates the room, coming from all cracks of the machine. I gasp and step back, shielding my eyes with my arm.
I look at Rhys, his eyes are fierce with excitement. But the machine's light suddenly dims and it remains frozen. The room is quiet…as the eyes of the robot fully open...