Reality Bytes

A "My Life as a Teenage Robot" Fanfic

Chapter Five – Thanks For The Memories

Tuck struggled to keep his crimson mech upright.  Automobile-size boulders bounced off the fuselage, sailing into the sky to be sucked into the black hole growing over the mountain.  The mountain's summit had already been devoured by the abyss, along with the enemy fortress at the very top.  A fortress that contained Brad and Jenny's only hopes of reconnecting their minds with their bodies, back in the real world.

Tuck stared as more chunks of the sky started to flake away and disappear into the hole.  "Now what are we supposed to do?" he asked in a weak voice.

Hundred-foot trees shot into the sky, plucked up like dandelions.  Brad watched virtual Armageddon unfold before his eyes.  "Any chance of getting in touch with that Ozzie guy?  The operating system plumber dude?  He's probably our only way out of here."

The mountain stream ripped away from the riverbed, and the water flowed upwards into a waterspout, spiraling towards the hole's gaping maw.  "It's worth a try," said Jenny, trying to sound hopeful.  She shouted into the air.  "Ozzie!  Ozzie?"

But this time, there was no response.  Another piece of sky ripped in two like an old bedsheet, and was sucked into the growling, hissing void.

"Maybe he's just busy?" she suggested.

"Maybe he got sucked into the black hole," shuddered Brad. 

Suddenly, a new contact started beeping on the radar screen in front of Tuck.

"It's not an enemy robot," he said.  "It's not even moving.  It just looks like some kind of plain old radio beacon."

"Unless anybody has any better ideas," said Jenny, "I think we should follow it."

Tuck struggled with his mech's controls, as the shrieking winds made flying nearly impossible.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, he landed the crimson mech, and just ran the final half mile towards the beeping signal on his radar screen.  Even that was made difficult by the raging reality-storm.

They homed in on the strange radar signal, hoping to see a base, a fortification, any kind of building.  But as they came over the final outcropping of rock, there was nothing …  nothing but a five-foot ledge jutting out from the side of the mountain.  No, wait … there was something else.  A narrow crack in the stone face, maybe two feet wide.

It didn't look like an exit portal, but they didn't have any other ideas.  Tuck maneuvered his mech as close as he could to the ledge, and cracked open the canopy.  Jenny and Brad braced themselves against the inside of the cockpit, took a deep breath, and jumped as hard as they could towards the mountain ledge.

The hurricane-force wind caught them as soon as they left the cockpit, and started to pull them upwards.  But Brad managed to get a hand on a piece of rock, and Jenny wrapped her fingers around the lip of the crack.  Together, they pulled themselves downwards, and swung their bodies into the narrow fissure.

There was no time to rest – things were only getting worse, and the game world was dissolving away into a blizzard of pixels.  Brad felt his way ahead into the cold, clammy darkness, and Jenny followed right behind him.  The wind died down, and soon, they were groping their way through total inky blackness.

Jenny bumped her elbow against a chunk of rock in the dark, and winced as a stab of pain shot up her arm.  "This so totally sucks," she moaned.  "I actually get to be a normal teenage girl for once, and all I've done is run for my life from video arcade rejects.  I'm cold, and I'm sore, and I feel lousy.  What a gyp!"

"Look at it this way," said Brad, "you've got to be alive to feel cold and sore and lousy."

"You're not helping," she grumbled. "Can you see anything at all ahead of you?  Is it the way out?  It actually feels like it's getting a little colder."

"I think you're right.  Hey – I think we're coming to the end of this passage!  I can see a light up ahead!"

"Good, I'm starting to get a little claustrophobic."

The light was getting brighter, and they shuffled along a bit faster.  Now they could actually see the exit to the narrow mountain passage.  But the outside didn't seem to have any form or features – it was just a uniform, bright white.  Jenny didn't know what they would find, but anything was preferable to creeping around in a tiny crack through millions of tons of mountain.

Brad and Jenny stumbled out of the mountain passage, blinking their eyes from the sudden brightness.  She took a few steps forward, and heard her booted feet make a familiar crunching sound with every step.

"That sounds like … snow," she said.

They shielded their eyes and looked around.  They were standing in about a foot of white, powdery snow, with more drifting out of the sky.  They were in a small clearing, surrounded by snow-covered trees and bushes on all sides.  Jenny looked behind them and, to her surprise, the mountain passage that they just walked out of – actually, the entire mountain – simply wasn't there.  As if it was never there in the first place.

"How in the … where did the mountain go?" said Jenny, mystified.

Brad looked as completely baffled as she was.  "You know, nothing in here surprises me anymore.  I guess that passage was a one-way trip."

She groaned, and a white cloud of vapor hung in the air from her breath.  Hey, that's cool!  She giggled, and exhaled again, making clouds of vapor with her breath, watching the patterns of swirling flakes they made.

"Do you have any idea where we are, Brad?".

"Well, it sure isn't the living room," he smirked.  "But the sky seems to be in one piece.  And I don't see a giant sucking hole up there.  Just clouds and snow flurries."

"Is this part of the game?"

"I'm not sure.  If it is, I've never seen it before," shrugged Brad.  "Kinda peaceful, actually."

Jenny slowly turned around, taking in their new surroundings.  Snow-clad trees, with brown and white bark, stretched as far as she could see in every direction.  She didn't hear hisses, or roars, or explosions … all she could hear was the faint gurgling of a brook winding its way through the distant woods.  A brief wind whistled through the trees, just enough to stir powder into the air, and raise goose bumps on the back of her neck.  It's … it's so beautiful.

She picked out a big, lazy snowflake, and stuck out her tongue.  It landed, lingered for a split second, and then dissolved into her mouth.

"It tingles," she giggled.  "It actually tingles!"  Then she felt a mischievous urge, and reached down to scoop up a snowball.  The snow felt so different against her hand; so cold, so crunchy.  "Hey, Brad."

"What is it, J – oomph!"  Jenny's snowball caught him full in the face.

She doubled over, laughing.  "That's for getting us stuck in here, genius!"

Brad stumbled around, clutching at his eyes.  Jenny worried briefly, and ran over to check on him – just as Brad grabbed a low-hanging tree branch, and gave it a hard shake.  A shower of white powder rained down on Jenny, covering her hair, shoulders, and back.

She jumped into the air, and it was Brad's turn to laugh.  "Virtual reality or not, nobody gets the Bradster with an unprovoked snowball and just walks away!"

"Aieeee!  That's cold!" she squealed.  She rubbed her hands through her hair, pulling it free from her normal pigtails for the first time in her life.  Snow flew off in every direction.

"Well, duh, it's cold!  It's frozen water.  Look, stop, you're just getting it down your neck."  Brad brushed the snow off of Jenny's shoulders, and scooped some cool slush from the neck of her halter top … and he stopped, suddenly looking very self-conscious.  Jenny noticed an unusual awkwardness about him, and something else – a flash of a blush on his cheeks?

"Umm … you're shivering, Jenny," he stammered.  "We've got to find shelter somewhere and warm up.  You're … ah … you're not exactly dressed for the weather."

That was true enough – a halter top and short skirt weren't very practical in this environment.  Jenny dusted the rest of the snow out of her hair, a little surprised and a little amused at Brad's discomfort.  Then she pointed excitedly towards the sky.  "Check it out!  Smoke!"

A dark wisp of smoke twisted into the sky, only a short distance away.  Brad grabbed Jenny by the arm, and they ran through the woods as best they could, through a foot of snow.  The running itself helped warm them a bit, but the temperature, and the still-falling snow, started to sink into their bodies.  They came out into another small clearing, and found the source of the smoke.

A small, rustic log cabin sat in the middle of the clearing; simple, humble, but to Brad and Jenny it looked like a five-star hotel.  The snow, which had been coming down in flurries, started to pick up a bit, and they ran the rest of the way towards the door of the cabin.

"Hot dog!  Ozzie m-must have p-put this cabin here for us!" said Brad, through chattering teeth.  "We're home f-f-free!"  He managed to open the sliding handle on the cabin door with his shaking hands, and they hopped inside, shivering violently.

"In a f-f-few seconds we'll be b-b-back in the living room, and this will all be a f-f-fantastic, weird memory," smiled Jenny.  She raised her voice.  "Ozzie!  Ozzie, exit port please!"

They looked around the inside of the log cabin.  There was an old couch and chair, a small wooden table, other scattered furniture and equipment, and a fireplace flickering with a dim flame.  Jenny expected a unnatural green door to phase into existence at any moment.  Any moment now, a glimmer of green light would flash into being, and the portal back home would appear.  Any moment, now.

"Is something supposed to be happening?" Brad finally asked.

"The operating system always appeared when I called it b-b-before," she said weakly.  "You d-d-don't suppose that it really was d-d-destroyed in the game …"  If the operating system can't help us, then we're … we're done for.  And we can't wait forever – if we stay much longer, it won't matter if Ozzie ever finds us.

"It's got to be out there somewhere."  Brad grabbed Jenny by the arms, and rubbed them vigorously.  "Look, Jen, if you don't get warmed up soon, you'll turn blue and white again.  You're going to catch virtual pneumonia.  Go sit by the fire."

Jenny had to agree that being cold sucked, so she sat down a few feet in front of the fireplace, soaking in as much heat as she could.  Brad found an old wool blanket lying over the top of the old couch, and wrapped it around her shoulders.  In the corner of the cabin stood a small pile of dry wood, ready for use.  He tossed a few logs into the fire, and the dry bark instantly ignited.  In a few seconds, roaring flames filled the cabin with a flickering light and a hearty warmth.

Brad rubbed his hands together.  "Okay, we won't freeze to death.  That's a good thing."  He sat down next to Jenny, and started taking off his shoes and socks.  "The snow in my shoes soaked my feet," he explained.  Brad stretched his bare feet out towards the fireplace.  "O-o-ohhh, wow, that really feels good."

"I wonder …"  Jenny reached down to the tall blue boots on her legs, which were also soaked with melted snow.  She gave one firm tug and, to her amazement, it slid off.  She tossed the boots by the side of the fireplace and stretched her human legs out next to Brad's, fascinated by the tiny, wiggling toes at the end of her feet.

"Ow!  O-o-ohhh … Ahh!"  The heat from the fire felt like thousands of stickpins poking at her, but it felt wonderful in a strange way.  She closed her eyes and just enjoyed the sensation of her frigid limbs soaking in the life-giving heat.

She turned to Brad with a puzzled look.  "I've got a really strange feeling in my nose, Brad.  Of course, I've never had a nose before, so every feeling is a strange one.  Is that … smell?"

Brad sniffed the air.  A pleasant smoky aroma hung in the air … yet there was something else.  "I smell something too, Jenny.  It smells like … chocolate?"

In another dark corner of the log cabin sat an old cast iron stove.  Brad found a steel pot on top of it that was warm to the touch.  On the wall, a rough wooden shelf held a pair of tin cups.  He grabbed them, and rushed back to the fireplace.

"Well, somebody made this, Jen.  Maybe they'll be able to help us?"  But Jenny wasn't too hopeful.  Despite the fire and the pot, there was no sign of life anywhere.

He poured a cup of hot, thick liquid into a cup, and placed it in her hands.  The rich vapors from the drink danced into her nostrils; she practically felt warmer just inhaling its aroma.  She got brave enough to take a sip.  As rich as the aroma was, it tasted a hundred times better.  "I can taste this," beamed Jenny.  "I can smell and taste this drink!"

Brad emptied his cup.  "Wow, this is hot cocoa.  Don't know who made it, don't care.  It's good.  It really hits the spot."  Brad poured another cup, with shaking hands.

"Brad, for crying out loud, you're still freezing," said Jenny.  "The blanket's big enough for both of us.  There's no sense in you catching virtual pneumonia, either."

"All right," he said, too cold to argue.  He knelt down in front of the crackling fire, next to Jenny, and after a moment's hesitation, they wrapped themselves together in the blanket.

A few moments of silence passed as their bodies warmed up, basking from the dancing flames in the fireplace, revived by the penetrating warmth of the cocoa.  Jenny tried to think of a solution to their larger problem – how to get out of the virtual reality world.  Everything she remembered from her mother's experiments involved using the operating system to make an exit portal.  They'd never imagined using the helmet in such a bizarre way, and she couldn't think of any creative solutions at the moment.

Brad didn't seem to be his usual optimistic, carefree self.  He'd never say so openly, but she could tell that he thought they were goners.  And she was starting to feel the same way.  They probably wouldn't die, but Brad would end up a vegetable, and her mom would probably have to overhaul her electronic brain, or even install a new one.  That would be as bad as dying.

The future looked grim and beyond their control.  All she could do was focus on the present.

And despite everything, the present felt … fantastic.

The feel of the fire, huddled next to Brad, the taste of the chocolate, the smell of the smoke, was flooding her with sensations she'd only imagined could exist.  She wanted it to go on for a while longer.  Half an hour ago, this had all seemed like a nightmare.  Now … now it felt like everything she'd ever wanted.

She glanced over at Brad, and noticed that he'd been staring at her – then he snapped his eyes away.  Brad had never seemed uncomfortable around her before.  Jenny started to figure things out.  The human body that the game created for me must be pretty.  Brad thinks so, and he's feeling guilty about it.  Jenny giggled to herself.  She felt a little flattered, even if Brad was only attracted to a phony computer image.  It's probably the best that I can ever hope for.  He probably has his pick of real girls to choose from.

Brad finally overcame his awkwardness, and spoke.  "Jenny – I just wanted to say I'm sorry.  Sorry for getting you stuck in here with me in this stupid video world.  I thought the whole thing would be one big game.  I never imagined any of this would happen.  I sure never wanted to get you hurt.  I wanted to be a robot so bad – I guess I wasn't a very good one."  The flickering light highlighted the pain on his face.

"Brad, don't feel bad," she blurted.  "Look, I was mad at you earlier, but – I know what it feels like to have crazy, impossible dreams.  And you did get to see what it felt like to be a robot, and I finally got to have human sensations and feelings!  And all I've ever wanted was to know how it felt … to …"  She couldn't finish her sentence.

You're my best, truest friend, Jenny thought to herself, and it could never be anything more than that … but in this world … anything seems possible …

There was a sharp crack from the fire, and one of the burning logs snapped in half.  A glowing ember bounced out of the fireplace and landed against the tender sole of Jenny's foot.

She jumped with a squeal, and involuntarily lunged towards Brad.  He caught her by reflex, and suddenly their faces were mere inches apart, with shocked expressions on each.  The fire, the sensations, and the moment got the better of her.  To Brad's amazement – and to hers – Jenny planted a quick, clumsy kiss on his mouth, bashing their noses and foreheads in the process.

Jenny pulled away, horrified, her face buried in her hands in shame.  "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry!  Brad, I'm so sorry!"  She rubbed her nose and head, and tears welled up in her eyes.

Brad was stupefied – it had all happened so fast.  "Jenny?  Uh … wow.  What was that?"

She jumped to her feet and ran to the couch, sobbing with embarrassment.  "I know, I know, it was stupid.  I'm sorry.  It's just that I've never tasted or smelled anything before, and I've never been able to … feel anything before.  And I've always wanted to know what a kiss feels like.  And in this body, it seemed like my only chance, because if I ever get back in my ugly, freaky metal body, it'll never, ever happen.  But I guess I'm just a klutz no matter what I look like.  Brad, I'm so sorry."

Jenny cried into the arm of the couch.  Brad gritted his teeth, made a decision.  If we're going to die, then I have to tell her.

He walked over towards the wood stove.  There was a small, crude washtub sitting next to it, and hanging just above the tub was a dusty shaving mirror.  He grabbed it, and sat down on the couch, next to his best friend.

He held the mirror up to Jenny's face, trying to muster the courage to speak.  "Jenny, what do you see?  Do you see a freak?"

Jenny hadn't actually seen herself yet in human form.  Tears flowed from large, icy blue eyes, down the soft curves of reddened cheeks covered by strands of long, wet blue hair.  Still, it's a lot prettier than my usual hideous metal self.  "I guess I'm beautiful," she moped.  "The game software did a really good job making up this phony body."

Brad set the mirror down, and looked into her eyes.  He was as nervous and uncomfortable as she'd ever seen him.  "Jenny, why do you suppose you look like this?  Why didn't the game just make you look like your exo-skin?"

She thought for a second.  "I can't really guess," she sniffled.

"Back in the game world, the doctor had to give you some kind of health transfusion from me.  It was the only way to bring you back after the power outage."

"Gee … thanks."  Sure, it was only game health, but she believed that Brad would have given her half his blood if she needed it.

Brad took a deep, shaking breath, and went on.  "Once, I had this …"  He stopped, cleared his throat, and tried again.  "Jenny, every now and then I have this dream.  And … uh … you're in it."

Jenny gulped.  "You have a dream … about me?"

"We're hanging out, y'know, after school.  And your mother comes out of the house with this big test tube.  And she says, 'XJ-9!  It's time to take your medicine!'"  He did a terrible imitation of Mrs. Wakeman's voice, making them both chuckle a bit.  "I know, I know, weird.  It's a dream, okay?  All right.  Then … you take the test tube, and you drink it."

Brad tugged at his collar.  "As soon as you finish the medicine, your metal skin starts to peel off, like a … like a flower opening up.  Then all of the sudden the ground is covered with these metal pieces, and you're standing there as a human teenage girl – with blue eyes, and blue hair, and you're … you're beautiful.  And you look …" – he gulped nervously – "… and you look just like you do right now, in front of me.  I think the game must have gotten it from my mind somehow."

Jenny was too stunned to speak.  She felt a rapid pounding in her chest as Brad raised his hand to her face, and carefully plucked a strand of hair away from her mouth.  "That's why I've been acting a little spaced out – seeing you like this is sort of … a dream come to life.  So stop running yourself down all the time.  Because, Jenny, this is what you really look like – to me – all the time."

Brad wiped a tear away from her cheek, and his hand lingered, cradling her face.  With a final summoning of courage, he plunged forward, and brought his lips to hers.

Mmmphhfff … she recoiled a bit in surprise, but his lips were soft, and his touch was gentle, and suddenly his other hand brushed her hair back against her neck, caressing it.  Her inhibitions shattered, she melted into his hands, and kissed him back.  Her mind spun frantically out of control as a flood of emotions washed over her, overwhelming her with wondrous mix of joy and fear, anxiety and comfort, awkwardness and pleasure.  It was everything that she expected it to be, and yet nothing like she expected it to be.

It might have lasted for five seconds or five minutes; she had no idea.  She moaned softly and drank in the smell of his cheek, and the texture of his mouth.  Then he pulled away, softly sucking her lower lip for a split second, and sat upright, taking a deep, terrified breath.  It took Jenny every ounce of strength in her body to open her eyelids, and stare back at his stupid grin.

"Uh … see, I figured," he stammered, "if you wanted to remember a kiss, that first one was pretty lame.  So I … uh … thought … er …"

Jenny tried to remember how to talk.  "Umm … yeah … that one was … definitely … better."  She could feel her face blushing as brightly as the flames leaping from the logs in the fireplace.

They exchanged dumb stares for a few seconds, then she leaned towards Brad, slid her arms around his neck, and laid her cheek against his chest.  His vest scratched a bit, but it was warm and comfortable, and she could feel his heart thundering away, just like hers.  She pulled herself closer to him on the couch.  Everything about this instant in time felt good.  It felt … right.  Curled up by the fire, the air scented with chocolate and pine, the taste of his lips still lingering on hers, the feel of his fingers lightly stroking her hair.

"Brad," she said through a dreamy haze, "remember back in the game, when I said I didn't even know what I wanted to feel?"

Brad glanced down into her icy blue eyes.  "Yeah, Jen?"

"I think I figured it out."  She kissed him softly on the lips.  "Merry Christmas, Brad."  She buried her face into his neck, tickling him with the tip of her nose.

"Merry Christmas, Jen," he laughed, wriggling in discomfort.  He slid his hand down to her waist, and wondered about the possibilities … then he smiled, closed his eyes, and simply enjoyed the smell of her hair.  It was a perfect moment just as it was.  Well, if this is the last thing I ever remember, he thought, then that's not too bad, is it?

Curled up together on the old couch, the only sound he could hear was the odd crack from the logs in the fire, and the odd gust of wind outside the cabin … and something else.

A new sound, but a familiar one.  A hissing, growling sound.

Jenny heard it now too, and they exchanged a worried look.  It didn't seem to be coming from anywhere – rather, it seemed to be coming from all around them.  It could only mean one thing.  Wherever they were, it was coming apart too, just like the video game world.

"Well, like you said, Brad," she sighed, "it was fun while it lasted."

Brad tried to sound optimistic.  "Okay … so I wind up in a coma.  People wake up from comas all the time, Jenny.  Just last week, I read about this guy who woke up from a coma … er, after twenty years."

Jenny shook her head.  "I'll make a log entry to visit you when you're thirty-five.  Actually I'll probably be sitting in the spare parts box in Mom's basement.  I'll get XJ-22 to say 'hi' for me."

The hissing and growling grew louder, and now the walls of the log cabin started to shake.  Dust started to drift from the ceiling, and small items fell from shelves onto the floor.   The chair and the couch started to vibrate.  Jenny and Brad clung to each other, determined to enjoy their last few seconds of consciousness before they disintegrated into ones and zeroes.  The vibration and the noise, which seemed to come from everywhere, now seemed to come from the wall of the cabin – and the noise was getting rougher, with a high-pitched whine tossed in.

Suddenly a blast of sawdust sprang from the wall, and the noise exploded into a shriek that sounded like a gasoline motor.  Brad recognized it instantly as the unmistakable sound of a chainsaw.  And sure enough, a chainsaw blade was carving a hole in one of the walls of the log cabin.  Brad began to wonder if a guy in a hockey mask was going to barge through the wall.

But as the chunk of wall fell to the floor, two familiar figures stepped into the log cabin.  Two copies of Drew; one wearing a carpenter's overalls, the other, a ball cap and a plumber's work clothes.  The "plumber" slung a plunger over his shoulder and spoke in a Bronx accent.  "So, somebody here lookin' for an exit portal?"

Jenny jumped over the couch in pure joy, and wrapped Ozzie in a huge bear hug.  "I don't believe it!  We thought we'd never see you again!  I thought you'd been destroyed in the game!"

Ozzie actually laughed.  "Ahhh, no piss-ant game program is gonna do anything to the ol' Android OS 2000!  It just took us a while to get all da new connections all copasetic-like."

The carpenter cut another hole in the wall with his chainsaw, so there were now two makeshift doors, each glowing with a faint, green glow, seeming to stretch off to an infinitely distant point.  "Okay, that's it.  The living room is just on the other side of those doors."

Brad danced around the cabin.  "Yes!  See Jen, what did I tell you?  Nothing to worry about."

"Nothing to worry about?!?  Why you …"  She stopped herself.  A million questions still raced through her mind.  "Ozzie, how did you do this?  Where are we?  Are we still in the game?"

"Oh, da game world is toast.  Kaput.  Fuggetaboudit.  The software got all corrupted, and I figured we was just gonna have to reboot and lose youse two."  Ozzie glanced over at the carpenter, who gave him a nasty look.  "Uh, of course, dat wasn't an option.  So we built this place for youse two – da cabin, da woods, da whole shootin' match.  Outside the game world.  Think of it as … as an emergency shelter."

"But a cabin in the woods?  Why in the world did you build this?!?"

"A-hem."  The carpenter interrupted her.  "It might not be a bad idea for you two to get out of here before something else happens, don't you think?"

Jenny still had questions, but the carpenter was right.  She chuckled at Brad.  "Back to boring old reality, I guess."

They stood in front of the two glowing doors, and the carpenter directed traffic.  "Brad, you take this one.  Jenny, this one's yours.  Just remember to keep your arms and hands inside the car at all times.  Now get going!"

They jumped into their respective doors, and vanished with a flash.

The carpenter heaved a huge sigh of relief, and wiped his forehead.  "Well, they're safe and sound back in the living room by now.  Man, we almost screwed up.  We almost screwed up big time."

Ozzie seemed very nervous, and rubbed his hands fretfully.  "You're – ah – you're not gonna delete anyone, are ya, boss?  I mean, none of us expected to see you down here."

The carpenter laughed.  "Like I'm going to delete my own operating system.  It's not your fault I got them into this mess in the first place.  I'm just glad that I could get in here and help set this place up as a shelter."

Ozzie scratched his head.  "Yeah, about that … I really don't understand, boss.  Why did you get us to build a shack in the middle of nowhere?"

The carpenter sighed deeply, and walked around the log cabin.  "This is … this was my grandfather's old winter cottage.  It looks just like I remember it.  The family used to spend Christmas here every single year.  It was cold, and damp, and uncomfortable, and I loved every single second of it.  Grandpa used to take me fishing in the mornings.  Then I'd spend all afternoon playing in the snow, freezing my butt off, and come inside to a warm fire and a hot mug of cocoa …"

The carpenter reached for the steel pot, but it was empty.  "Jenny wanted to feel Christmas, and this was the first thing that came to my mind.  I couldn't expect you to understand, Ozzie.  File it under human sentimentality."

He walked over and put a hand on Ozzie's shoulder.  "We should probably get out of here.  You have to finish cleaning the system software, and I need to go wake myself up."  They dissolved into translucent green photons, disappeared into the floor, and then the cabin, and the world, faded into digital nothingness.

The first thing Brad felt was the dizziness.  Then came the headache.  "Oh, momma," he moaned, "it feels like there's a steak knife buried in the back of my head."  His arms felt like wet noodles, and he struggled to raise them up to take off the virtual reality helmet.  Re-connecting to his physical body felt like climbing into a bathtub full of needles.

So it really hurt when Tuck jumped into his lap and grabbed him by the collar, shaking his head back and forth.  "You're alive!  You're alive!  You're not a vegetable!"

It felt like his head was in a blender.  "T-T-Tuck!  Make – the hurting – stop!"

Tuck heard the sound of motors whirring back to life, as Jenny's pigtails pulled out of their connector and revolved back to normal.  The test pattern in her eyes was replaced by a pair of tired, black pupils.  She didn't feel so hot either – error messages popped up in her vision, as her own Jenny OS re-connected to her electronic brain.  She felt dizzy, and shut her eyes.  "Oh, great.  Everything's upside-down!  I need to recalibrate my vision sensors."

Tuck jumped from Brad's lap to Jenny's, and shook her by the shoulders.  "Jenny!  You did it!  You saved Brad's life!"

"Sure, Tuck, whatever," she moaned.  "Just give me a second here, okay?"  Let's see – I'll just reset to factory defaults for now.  Whirr.  Click.  Yep, back in the same old metal body.

"No problem guys – you two just rest as long as you want," Tuck grinned.  "I'll just entertain myself by trying out this wicked cool virtual reality helmet!!!  Finally!!!"

But it was snatched out of his hands by a silver-green tentacle that shot out from a lump on the floor.  It quickly flowed upwards into a pillar, and oozed and stretched until Drew was standing once more in the living room, holding the helmet.  "For crying out loud, have you even been paying attention for the past two hours?"

"Yes, yes I have," he protested.  "Brad had his turn, then Jenny had hers, and now it's mine."

"Tuck, just look at them."  Drew clenched his teeth, still worried.  "Brad?  Jenny?  How do you feel?  You guys alright?"

Brad's managed to get his eyes half-opened.  "Oh, I feel just fine.  And by 'fine', I mean 'I feel like a gorilla is playing my skull like a bongo drum'."

Jenny had the top of her head unhinged, fiddling with some settings in her vision modules.  "I'm getting there.  Just give me a few secs."

"That's not fair!" Tuck whined.  "I mean, I had to sit here and watch you guys have all the fun!  And boy," he laughed, "did you guys ever have fun!"

Jenny giggled to herself.  You could say that … uh-oh.

Jenny's eyelids sprang open with a horrified expression.  And she saw that Brad was having the exact same thought.  We forgot that Tuck was sitting here watching us on the television the whole time.  "Uh … what do you mean by that, Tuck?"

"Well, with the robots and the commandos and the fighting and stuff!  I wanted to be a mech commander for real!  You got to, Jenny, and you don't even like video games!"

"Uh … just what did you guys see after we went into the mountain pass?" asked Brad.

"Nothing!" Tuck pouted angrily.

"The picture disappeared when the game software crashed," explained Drew, "and I … uh … entered 'sleep mode' to give my operating system more CPU power.  And it looks like it worked."

"So you don't remember any of what happened afterwards?" Jenny asked nervously.

"Er … nope," Drew answered quickly.  "I'm not even sure how long I was asleep."

"You guys stayed in there for, like, twenty minutes.  Probably having all kinds of cool fun."  He folded his arms and plopped down by the GameStation, sulking.

Brad and Jenny exchanged a quick look, fighting back snorts of laughter.

"That settles it," said Drew.  "Johnny Zoom here wants to turn his brain into a fried egg with this thing.  I'm taking the helmet back to Dr. Wakeman's lab before I give anybody else a lobotomy for Christmas.  Brad, Jenny … I'm really sorry.  The next time I get a bright idea, I'll be sure not to get any bright ideas."

Drew quickly slipped out the front door with the VR helmet, looking uncomfortable.  Brad and Jenny didn't even get a chance to say goodbye.

"Okay, short stuff," mumbled Brad, "run upstairs and get me some of Dad's headache medicine.  You know, the bottle he grabs every time you bring a report card home."

"Ha, ha."  Tuck stomped his little feet upstairs, still upset about missing out on his helmet time.

That just left Brad and Jenny to exchange awkward looks on the living room sofa.

"Ah … heh-heh."  A trickle of sweat rolled down Brad's forehead.

"Yeah … right."  Jenny's cheeks started blushing again.  Blue, this time.

Brad took a deep breath.  "Jen, I hope I didn't weird you out back there.  It was just … well, it seemed like we were going to … you know … not make it.  And you're always so hard on yourself, and I just wanted you to know … I just wanted you to know that you're not a freak.  You're just a normal teenage girl."  He chuckled.  "Well, actually … robot or human, there's nothing 'just normal' about you, Jen."

"Thanks, Brad," she smiled.  "Look, it was all just a computer simulation, so nothing really happened, I guess.  But … it all felt real.  It all felt so real.  And I still have all the feelings, or at least the memories of them …"  She giggled softly, reliving the moment in her mind.  "Brad, I'll never forget our Christmas at the log cabin, as long as I live."

"Yeah," he grinned.  "It was pretty awesome."

A wicked smile grew on Jenny's face.  "So, do you have any other dreams about me?"

Brad coughed, and nearly spit his teeth out onto the floor.  "Jeez, Jenny!"  He clutched his temples from a new stab of headache pain, as Jenny rocked onto her back, laughing her circuits off.

Drew trudged out of the Wakeman house and back into the cold, snowy evening.  He looked over towards Brad's living room window, and saw them laughing and hitting each other with sofa pillows.  They deserve to be alone right now.  He'd already invaded their privacy enough this afternoon.

Of course he'd seen everything in the log cabin – after all, it had all happened inside of his own mind.  He would never mention it to them, ever.  They didn't know that he had been "The Carpenter", and he would never tell them.

Drew tilted his head back, and let a few snowflakes hit his metal tongue.  Sensors measured the atomic composition, temperature, molecular structure … but there was no taste.  No sensation, no chill running down his spine.  That was gone forever.  But at least he had memories of taste, and smell, and feeling.  That was more than Jenny had ever known …

So he had found a way to share some of them with her.  His very fondest Christmas memories.  And now, she knew a bit of how Christmas felt, and tasted, and smelled, and – how it felt to share it with someone special.  It was the best present she could have ever gotten, and she'd never know where it came from.  She'd think it was an accident.

A warm glow came from Brad's living room, a warmth Drew knew was not meant for him.  Jenny was still laughing,  Good.  She deserved to be happy at Christmas.  I used to love Grandpa's homemade cocoa.  I hope you liked it too.  Merry Christmas, Jenny.

Drew turned around, and started the long walk back to his house through the winter storm.  The chill was nasty, but he didn't feel cold.  He didn't feel anything.  His metal footsteps crunched into the distance, and with a strong gust of wind, he disappeared into the snow.