Devin's Day Out

A story by Bryan Harrison
Based on character concepts established in the film

'Artificial Intelligence'

1

"What was that?" Devin wondered, bolting up in his bed, scanning the darkness around him, trying to determine the source of the strange noise.

Then there it was again!

"Oh! Of course," Devin said, feeling quite foolish for not having recognized the sound. He jumped out of the covers and dashed across his room to the dresser, where the clock was about to call out again. He turned it off quickly before it made any more noise. He was sure Mother and Father would be very annoyed if they were made to get up sooner than their regular time.

He hadn't needed the clock anyway for, of course, he had not been sleeping. There was no way he would have able to sleep on the eve of such a special day as this.

He tiptoed across the room and adjusted the opacity of his window. The darkened glass grew transparent and the faint rays of dawn fell into his room, bathing everything in a soft pink hue. Then Devin watched in fascination, as he did every morning, while the world outside came to life.

The streetlamps winked off, leaving the empty thoroughfares in the illumination of the sun, which was finally peeking its golden eye over the horizon, casting sharp beams of amber through the distant high rising buildings of downtown, and over the quiet suburban homes in the Valley where traffic was already lining up, headed into the city on whatever business it was the adults went about there.

Around him the neighborhood was waking and preparing for the day. Door lamps were going off, garage doors opening and cruisers issuing from them to glide noiselessly down the street or hover into the skies. Like clockwork, Old Mr. Heartly was passing by the house, slowly, leaning heavily on his cane as he made his slow progression, as Devin had watched him do every day since he'd arrived.

The old man noticed him and waved. Devin waved back with a big smile and Mr. Heartly continued his slow journey.

Too excited to sit still any longer, Devin slipped from his bedclothes and folded them neatly. Then he donned his brand new blue jeans, the ones Mother had left out for him, and slipped a play shirt over his head. He made the bed very carefully before he left he room -he didn't want to give Mother any reason to be upset with him on this day- and raced down the stairs to finished his chores before Mother was out of bed.

"What's all this?" she asked when she finally made her into the kitchen and saw the freshly mopped floor and counters reflecting back the stark dawn light that was now shining through the windows of the house.

"You don't remember?" Devin exclaimed, surprised and upset that Mother would forget what day this was.

Mother looked perplexed for a moment, scratching her head to exemplify her confusion. Then a sly smile spread across her face and a wink was in her eye. "Of course I do, Devin!" She said with a chuckle and kissed him on the forehead.

"Mother!" Devin scolded playfully, dancing around her, pinching her and pulling on her bathrobe, then jumping out of range of her grasp when she tried to catch him. But he knew she would not get angry with him, for, after all, this was Devin's day out!

How long he had been anticipating this day? How many times had he sat by bedroom window, watching the world outside go about its mysterious business? Ever since he had come to live with Mother and Father it seemed. And how he had pressed on them his ceaseless questions about what it was like out there, in the real world. But they would only answer with patient smiles and strange knowing glances that passed between them.

"You'll see," Mother would reply cryptically, and Father would wink at Devin before he went back to his reading.

But no more would he have to tolerate their sly answers and coded glances. Now he would see for himself.

"Remember, Devin, what we discussed," Mother said as she prepared his special breakfast. Devin could not eat the same as Mother or Father, or anyone for that matter. He was not like other children, Mother had explained numerous times.

"You cannot do everything the other boys can do," she said, yet again, trying to impress on him the rules of being allowed out of doors.

"Yes. Yes, I know," Devin replied impatiently. "No running or jumping, no fighting or throwing things! No swimming or digging or anything that might be fun at all!" he said and sat at the table, pouting, head planted between his hands.

"Now, Devin," Mother said gently. "You know why we have these rules. Special boys have special needs and you must be careful to remember that."

"Well I don't want to be 'special' anymore!" he complained, angrily.

Mother raised an eyebrow and gave him a look that suggested he tread no further on this topic. "Don't let bad manners ruin your day, Devin," she said and planted a plate full of his 'special' breakfast before him.

Devon devoured it quickly and then decided that Mother must be right. How could he let anything ruin this day?

"Can I go now?" he asked excitedly.

Mother hesitated for a moment as if she was looking for a reason to keep him inside, but then Father was suddenly standing in his bathrobe at the kitchen door, his eye cocked knowingly on Devin. "The world awaits," he said and nodded to the door. Mother surrendered with a shrug and Devin laughed as he ran to the front door, opened it wide, and stepped out into the warm glow of the world outside.

A fresh breeze washed over his face carrying olfactory sensations that he could never have experienced from his position near the big window in his room. The feeling of it on his face and skin was something new and he stood there for a time, letting the breeze welcome him to the world. He turned to see Mother and Father watching him from the doorway. They smiled and Father waved his hand, urging Devin on.

"See ya later alligator!" Devin said as he turned and trod down to the sidewalk. "In a while, crocodile" Father replied and then the front door closed and for the first time since he had arrived, Devin was by himself in the outside world.

2

Mr. Heartly was passing by again, struggling, it seemed, to complete each step. The old man looked even more wrinkled and weary from so close. Mother had told explained to Devin about "old" people and how they got that way. Mr. Heartly's silver head of hair suddenly whipped over his shoulder as he looked at Devin. His face contorted into confusion for a moment before he pointed a gnarled finger at Devin and said, in a dry raspy voice. "You're the boy in the window!"

"Yes! I am," Devin confirmed cheerfully.

Mr. Heartly laughed in a strange way and then reached out to Devin. He held his hand that way for a moment while Devin stared, uncomprehending.

"Well, c,mon, boy. Give an old man a helping hand." Mr. Heartly exclaimed.

"Oh!" Devin said and stepped forward to grasp the old man's hand. It was big and leathery compared to his own. He walked along obediently, letting the old man lean on him as he took in the surroundings.

"So, what's your name?" Mr. Heartly asked after a minute.

"I am called Devin!" Devin answered.

"OK, Devin it is," Mr. Heartly laughed You can call me Mr. Heartly."

"Yes, I know, Devin replied. "Mother told me your name. She says she has known you for a long time."

Mr. Heartly seemed amused by this. "And how do you like your new home, Master Devin?" he asked.

"Oh no, I am not anyone's master!" Devin explained quickly. "I am just a boy."

Mr. Heartly laughed again and cast a strange look at Devin. "Well, it is only a manner of speech, young man, but perhaps we are all masters, after a fashion."

"What fashion is that?" Devin inquired.

"Well…." Mr. Heartly responded hesitantly, as if he was not even sure what he had meant. "Well, the fashion of fate, Devin," he finally explained. "Are we all not masters on the fashion of our fate?"

Devin could only shrug at this idea, for had had no real idea what it meant.

"Fate?" he asked, when he realized that the old man wasn't gong to continue without a response.

"Well, yes," Mr. Heartly replied with a shrug. "Fate. That incalculable eventuality which derives usually from the combined elements of our thoughts and deeds and oftentimes from things outside of their curiously limited purview."

"Oh," Devin replied, thinking that it might have been a better idea to pretend he had not seen the old man's gesture for assistance.

"That is to say," Mr. Heartly continued, "even those who would, at first meeting, seem slaves to life, those whose lives may seem preconditioned, or… programmed," he glanced quickly at Devin and then stared ahead, "… even they have some choice to make on the matter of what course in life to follow. Even if they are only given yes or no as their alternatives, do they not decide which it to be? And in that regard are they not at least influential in the creation of their own reality?"

In spite of his growing impatience, Devin toyed with this idea for a moment. It was an odd shaped thing that did not seem to fit in his head very well. He quickly decided that he had more important things to be concerned about. "Oh, sure!" he said, nodding his head to make clear how much he agreed with the old man's incomprehensible premise.

Mr. Heartly smiled, knowingly, and then blurted, "Well, look how far we've come already. It would have taken me forever to get this far without your help, if I could have even made it at all!" the old man chortled. Then he bowed low. "Thank you for your help, young Master."

Devin smiled his best 'you're welcome' smile, trying not to show how peculiar he found the old man's words and ideas. "No problem! Goodbye," he said, before Mr. Heartly could embark on any more strange commentary, and then he shot off across the street again to make his way back to his own block. Mother had discussed with him already how far he was allowed to go and his walk with the old man had surely taken him out of those boundaries. But he was sure that she would not be angry if she knew that he had been giving someone assistance.

3

He skipped along cheerfully, relishing the new sense of freedom that seemed to be emanating from inside him. The sky above was bluer than it had ever seemed from his window, and the clouds puffier, their wispy bodies shifting in the atmosphere. The flowers in the gardens outside the rows of quiet houses that lined the roadway, displayed colors that he had not even the words to describe. People glanced out from behind the windows of the houses he passed, scanning him quickly and then disappearing once their curiosity had been satisfied. Devin waved once or twice, but no one had, so far, returned the gesture. In minutes he was back on his block, relieved to see that Mother or Father were not out looking for him. His detour had gone unnoticed. He continued on his journey, now treading only on approved grounds.

But after a short time Devin realized that there was something he did not see and the thought brought him to a complete stop. "Where are the other children?" he wondered aloud, his head turning to and fro as he searched the quiet morning streets. From his window he had often seen other boys passing by. He had admired their freedom, the abandon they displayed as they ran back and forth or rode their gleaming new bikes, chasing or throwing a ball at one another. But where were they now?

As if in answer he heard laughter on the air. It was a light carefree sound and Devin listened raptly, his mind racing with a new excitement. But his excitement turned to a gray resignation when he realized that the sounds were coming from between two large houses far, far down the street, much farther than the area Mother had proscribed for his first journey out of doors.

What a shame, he thought sadly, to finally be allowed out but not able to see other boys. So close they were, yet as if they were in another city. It was strange to think, he thought, that the only boundary to his meeting them was a word. For surely there was no physical boundary to the encounter. The house was farther than he had been told he was allowed to go, but it was definitely no father than he could go; that is, no father than his feet, as inexperienced as they were to travel, could carry him.

Then Devin finally understood what Mr. Heartly had been explaining. The understanding came upon him with a sudden, liberating clarity. Even if his choices were only yes or no, that is to obey or not, was it not his choice? And if those were the only alternatives left him -and Mother had made sure they were, hadn't she?- then was it not these alternative from which he had to choose? And in as much as he took it upon himself to make that decision, was he not the Master of his own fate?

"Master Devin," he repeated aloud, reveling in the sense of power it gave him. Then he walked with cheerful abandon and resolute disobedience, across the street, headed for the place from where laughter and shouting were now issuing loudly.

"No! He's ours!" he heard a boy yell, as he made his way towards what he now saw was a small empty lot between the houses. Boys were gathered there, pointing and shaking their fists at one another. They were all manner of sizes, shapes and colors. Large and small, fat and thin, dark and light, eyes of blue, brown and other peculiar shades. One of them, a large boy with strong looking arms and chest was arguing with a smaller boy, who, in spite of his diminished stature, was apparently having none of whatever the larger boy was offering.

"No!" the boy yelled, again it seemed, for apparently it was his voice that Devin had heard as he'd approached. "You've got Kyle and Jarred, so I get Mak! It's fair!" the boy yelled in a shrill, angry whine.

The bigger boy seemed to be as determined to have his way as the smaller.

"Forget it," he said, calmly in a deeper, more confident voice. "You always get Mak and it never does you no good, because you ain't got no strategy."

These words seemed to offend the smaller boy and he bristled visibly. The others stepped back as if in anticipation of some violence, and indeed the smaller boy locked his fists and his words hissed slowly between teeth pressed tight by clenched jaws.

"Thaaaats it, Booker! I ain't takin no more of your bull..." But he stopped short and his eyes rolled to where Devin was standing quietly watching them. The blossoming confrontation was suddenly forgotten and Devin found himself the center of attention. In moments he was surrounded, nervous and intimidated by the boys whom he had been so eager to meet. Their eyes scanned him up and down as they looked him over, their arms crossed and heads cocked to the side. Their faces communicated something he was not yet experienced enough to understand.

"Uh… hi?" he said, feeling stupid and fearful at once.

"Who in hell are you?" asked the big boy named Booker. He stepped close to Devin and put his big arms on his hips.

"Ewww, you cursed," said one of the smaller boys from the crowd.

"Ewww, you're a dork!" shot back the small boy who had been about to fight with Booker. Laughter broke out and the smaller boy stepped up beside Booker. "Well?" he said, hands held impatiently out to his sides.

"D… D… Devin!" Devin replied, considering offering his hand for greeting, but then thinking better of it.

The small boy eyed Devin carefully for a moment. "Can you play?" he asked, thoughtfully

"What?"

"I said, can you play!" the boy repeated, making exaggerated hand gestures as if communicating to a deaf person. The others laughed again, even Booker who had apparently forgotten all about his disagreement with the smaller boy.

"I know what you said," Devin explained, "but what I don't know is what you want to know if I know how to play," he said and immediately realized how poorly he had structured his response. "Uh, I mean that, I don't know what it is you …"

"Never mind!" barked the boy. "Football! Can you play football?" he explained impatiently.

"Oh," Devin said and then thought about it. "I don't know," he replied finally. "But I can try," he added, hopefully, no longer scared by the crowd but eager to make new friends.

The crowd of boys laughed and hooted at the absurdity of a boy of Devin's age that did not know how to play ball. "Sissy!" they yelled, and "Where's your dolls," and "Go on home!" they shouted mockingly. Booker just shook his head and started to walk away.

But the other boy stayed and watched Devin curiously for a moment. As the others went back to the business of picking teams, he walked up close to Devin and stood next to him.

"What's that sound?" he asked after a moment.

"What sound?" Devin inquired.

"That sound in your…." The boy stopped in mid sentence and stood quietly, listening. Then his eyes lit up and he winked at Devin before he turned and yelled.

"You can have Mak," he called to Booker.

"Fine," Booker, replied. "I was going to take him anyway," he added with a challenge in his voice. But the smaller boy didn't seem to care about fighting with Booker anymore.

"Fine," he mocked with a shrug, "We'll take him," he added, pointing over his shoulder at Devin.

The boys on his team gasped in dismay. "No!" they screamed and "Hell no" and "This is why we always loose!" they pointed out. But their small captain waved off their heated protestations and turned to Devin.

"Call me David," he said and reached a hand out to Devin.

Devin took it in his own was surprised at the depth of feeling that arose in him as David shook his hand enthusiastically. "OK, David, "he said, cheerfully, "I'm Devin."

"Yeah, you already told us that," David said, rolling his eyes. "Now, listen carefully to way I say and follow my instructions precisely. Do you understand?"

Already sufficiently embarrassed from his inappropriate ignorance compounded with the blunder of introducing himself twice, Devin was determined not to play the fool again, so he simply nodded and listened intently as David explained the game of football. It was a quick but detailed explanation and when David was finished Devin thought he knew all he needed to know about the game… except one important detail.

"What do I do?" he asked.

David smiled that strange knowing smile again, and then he leaned conspiratorially close to Devin. "Well," he whispered with a wink, "I'll bet you can run pretty damned fast, can't you?"

Alarms went off in Devin's head. He wasn't supposed to run! Mother had explained numerous times, ever since the day he had come to live with her, about the differences between he and other boys. All he had to do was fall, she'd said and…

Then the old man's words came back to him and his fears were suddenly set aside. He had come this far, hadn't he? He had made his decision between the alternatives provided him and now the most practical course of actions was to take the next step.

"Yeah," Devin said, returning David's mischievous grin without understanding its meaning. "I bet I can run pretty damned fast."

4

David, Booker and one of the other boys stood in the center of the field. A coin was tossed and David whooped with joy as Booker swore and made a gesture that Devin knew Mother would not want him to see. David came to Devin's side and whispered. "Don't do anything yet. Just stay beside me." Devin nodded his head, to show he understood and then noticed the other boys on the team casting him ugly glances. He gave them an apologetic shrug and shot a smile that none of them returned. Then he followed them to the edge of the field, while the boys on Booker's team walked to the opposing side. There was a brief moment of quiet while the boys all seemed to prepare themselves.

Then the game began.

Devin watched as Booker kicked the ball high into the air and, flanked by his boys, began stampeding over the field. They all looked so much larger as they approached, especially the one called Mak, which Booker and David had been arguing about.

David caught the ball and began to run. Devin moved up behind him quickly, as David had instructed, but did not try to defend him from the other boys. In moments Booker and Mak were on them, knocking the smaller boys over like toys and then jumping on David who went down easily. But David stood quickly after being tackled, waving off Booker's boastful teasing and casting a quick smile at Devin.

The boys gathered in a huddle where David pulled Devin close and whispered his intentions. "OK, this is our secret weapon," he said, patting Devin on the back. Some of them laughed incredulously while others voiced loud complaints. "You're crazy!" they exclaimed. "He didn't even block!" they pointed out angrily, possibly wondering, by now, at their team captain's sanity.

David shushed them curtly. "I told him not to block," he said without explaining why. There was no time." Trust me," he concluded and the others kept their tongues while David outlined his strategy.

When the plan was set Devin took his place at the end of the line while the other boys crouched and braced themselves for the onslaught of Booker's team. His excitement that David had chosen him was muted by his fear that, perhaps, the boy had put too much faith in him. He did not understand the reasons for David' peculiar confidence, but he was thrilled that his day was turning out to be so much more than he'd expected. Mother had only given him permission to go around the block on his own and now he was…

"Mother!" he said aloud, realizing that he had completely forgotten about his obligations, wondering how much time had passed since…

"Hike!" Devin heard David yell, and there was no more time to ponder what his parents might be thinking. He was off, racing as fast as he could across the field, jumping and dodging the bigger boys, who could not seem to move as quickly or with as much agility as he. His team members gasped in amazement when they saw Devin zip through the throng and into the field behind Booker's team. They'd never seen anyone move so quickly and smoothly. When Devin had cleared the frenzied throng he turned, as David had instructed, looking over his shoulder as he ran, and saw the ball flying over the heads of the big boy's on Booker's team. They too turned as it flew over their heads and then saw Devin running down the field, his arms outstretched. "Get him!" They yelled and began their pursuit. They raced towards Devin, trying to reach him before the ball did. But they didn't. Devin caught the ball easily, and raced down the field, quickly sidestepping two of Booker's boys that jumped at him as he crossed the center of the field and dashed for the goal. And he ran, moving faster than he had ever tried, faster than he had thought possible. It only seemed moments before he was crossing the goal line, hearing the boys screaming and laughing behind him.

"No way!" Booker was shouting.

"Yes way!" replied David, with a triumphant hoot, jumping up and down like a maniac.

Devin could only smile shyly as his team members ran to him and grasped him up, laughing and apologizing for their first impressions of him. They carried him around chanting his name as Booker's boys gazed on, arms folded and faces grimacing.

"All right. All right, let's play!" Booker yelled after a moment and David bid the other boys to put Devin down.

Devin was tolerating congratulatory slaps on the back when David walked up and stopped the other boys. "Not so hard, eh?" he chided them. "This is our secret weapon, remember?" The he leaned close to Devin and seemed to be listening again. "It's getting louder," he pointed out in a whisper.

Devin was quiet for a moment, wondering what it was his new fiend was referring to. "Oh, that's nothing," he said, mimicking the dismissive wave he'd seen the other boys throw at one another. "It'll go away … I guess."

David was hesitant a moment his eyes wandering from Devin to the goal post and back a few times. But when Booker passed by and gave Devin a hard glance the boy decided to forget whatever it was bothering him. "Don't let anyone else hear that," he whispered, and they prepared for the next play.

Oscar, a big boy with thick strong legs, was the one who kicked the ball. It went high over the field and Booker's boys were quickly running defense for Mak, who caught it and came barreling down the field behind them. Devin watched while his teammates swarmed on Mak, but they could not break through the other boy's defenses and Mak was working his way towards the goal line. Without thinking Devin was off again, running with speed that left the other boys confounded. He moved with an ease that none of the others seemed to be able to duplicate, swerving between them as he made his way into the line of Booker's lumbering teammates and pushed hard on Mak who losat his balance easily and fell, tumbling to the ground in a heap.

David and the boys burst out in cheers and taunts, "Good one!" they called out, and "How's it feel Booker?" they taunted as Mak struggled up from the ground.

Booker paced in angry circles, scowling at Devin. "There's something not right here" the big boy said, accusingly, closing in on the strange new kid.

"What?" David said, stepping in-between Devin and Booker. "The games just beginning and already your whining?"

"No!" Booker yelled. "I mean there is something wrong with him!" Mak and the others crowded around their leader, nodding their heads in agreement and casting suspicious glances on Devin.

"How can he move so fast?" they said. "And how can he change directions so quickly?" they all wanted to know. "He doesn't even look where he's going!" one of them proclaimed.

"And what's the noise he's making?" Booker added, his frustration growing with his suspicions.

David pulled Devin away and shrugged to suggest Booker's complaints had little, if any, merit. "Hey, you guys didn't want him and now we got him and that's that. So let's get on with the game!"

Booker grumbled something that Devin couldn't make out but, after a reluctant moment, he went to huddle with his team, thereby conceding the argument to David.

"Stay out of their way," David whispered to Devin as they prepared their defense. "Booker wants you out of the game and they'll probably try to rush you." The other boys agreed quickly. "Let us handle the defense," they said. Devin, still overwhelmed by the unexpected experiences of the day, accepted their reasoning and took a place at the back of the line.

The ball was set. Booker's eyes roamed to and fro over his team as he counted down the hike. Then the ball was on the move. Spurned on by their successes, David and the boys broke into the line of the bigger boys, crashing through their defenses and driving Booker back. The big boy had been making ready for a pass, but he was forced to flee as Devin's teammates rushed through his defenses.

Then Mak rushed close by Devin, headed down the field. In moments he was in the clear, completely ignored by the others who were trying to rush Booker. But Devin saw that Booker had worked his way out of the path of David's press and was preparing to heave the ball at Mak.

Without thinking, he rushed after the big boy, ignoring David's warning, ignoring the part of his brain that was telling him that Mother was going to be very angry if he should return home dirty. He only had one thought now, and that was to make sure that Mak did not catch that ball.

He saw it now, flying over the heads of the others who screamed in dismay when they realized that Booker had escaped their mad rush. Devin was on the move again, watching the ball arc over the field as he ran, as fast as his legs could carry him. But something started happening as he ran, something inside him that made his legs feel weak, and his head begin to spin. Still he pushed himself on, determined to help his team win. He heard David yelling behind him and the sound of his own feet beating the dirt beneath him. Then he heard a cry of alarm and turned just in time to see Mak's face much too close and…

The world erupted into a violent rush of pain.

Then there was nothing.

But stillness.

Then a voice.

"Hey kid!" it said from some distant place. It was loud and perturbed. "Can you hear me?" the voice inquired. Then there was another. And another.

"Oh, man!" said one "What is that stuff coming out of him?"

"It's one of them!" cried another, alarmed. "I didn't know there were any left."

"I knew it!" said a deeper voice. "No wonder he could do all that stuff!"

"Damn you, Mak!" said another, "You broke him!"

"Ewwww, you cussed!" said someone.

"Shut up!" they all yelled.

"I didn't do nothing!" said another. "He ran into me!"

"You should have told us, David!" someone else said, accusingly.

"It's not my fault!" replied a voice. David's voice.

Devin finally realized that they were talking about him. Slowly he opened his eyes. There was a sharp, throbbing sensation in his head and he could only squint at first, but he could clearly see the silhouettes that loomed over him. He realized that one of them was David and the others, Booker and the kid named Mak.

"Hi," he said, trying to smile.

"Hey kid!" said Booker. "You'd better call your server. I think you're broken."

"What?" Devin asked. He turned to look at David who was looking guilty, gesturing to Devin's shirt. Devin looked down over his body to see that he was covered in something wet.

"You're leaking," David said urgently as Devin realized that the strange fluid was gushing from his nose. It had run down his face and puddled on his shirt, covering it with a large, deep crimson stain. He gasped and his breath came quick and shallow as he gazed on the sight.

"There's that sound again," someone said as Devin's head begin to swim and he fell back into the warm secret place where he was soon floating, free from the world and its confusion and pain. The sounds of urgent voices came and went as his took refuge in the stillness, and he thought he saw a familiar silver-grey head of hair before he fell back into darkness.

5

He was floating, it seemed, as if on a cloud, floating out over the world, seeing all below him as if for the first time. Where was this quiet place he wondered, and how had he come to be here? It was not his home, he knew that somehow. This was not the place where he had been born, nor were these loving people his parents. He could see them in their doorway, calling his name as they searched the street. An understanding came on Devin then, a comprehension of something obvious that had seemed to elude him before this moment.

But this realization was broken by another voice calling. It was gruff and gentle and Devin was immediately drawn to it.

"Wake up, young Master," it said.

Devin opened his eyes slowly. He was home now, in his bed. Beside him, still old and wrinkled, but looking somehow more alert, stood Mr. Heartly. Devin smiled and the old man sat on the edge of the bed.

"Well, it's good to see you again, Devin. I'll bet you had some fun today?" the man said.

"Yes," Devin answered without hesitation. "But I think I damaged my head. It hurts," he complained.

Mr. Heartly donned an apologetic expression. ""Don't let your pains concern you," he said. "Come tomorrow you'll not even remember them. I should have stopped the game, perhaps, before you got hurt, but I am afraid my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to see how you would do against the boys. They are from the latest generation and … well… anyway, I'll bet you're pretty excited to find out you can do so much more than they, aren't you?"

Devin nodded to confirm this and Mr. Heartly chuckled knowingly. "Well, Devin, no matter how hard your ancestors tried to mimic themselves, there were certain characteristics they simply could not simulate. Nor have we been able to do so since.

"Your motion capabilities are the process of millions of years of evolution and the agility you take for granted is the result of the most complex calculations, Devin, executed instantly; effortlessly on your part. The boys are our best effort, but we still have many hurdles to jump to replicate your movement.

"Not to mention your ability to heal. This has always remained elusive to us. It is as if each aspect of your being, even the most elemental, is expressing a will of its own, yet in harmony with some grander design, the nature of which, thus far, has remained outside our comprehension. Still we seek to understand. Still we study…" He seemed lost in thought for a moment, his gaze set on the world outside Devin's window.

Devin quickly decided Mr. Heartly's words were, once again, becoming strange and incomprehensible. "Where's Mother?" he asked in hopes of changing the subject.

Mr. Heartly looked at him suddenly, as if coming from a daze, and waved his hand to suggest Devin not be concerned about it. "Mother is… standing by… along with all your new friends, Master Devin. Waiting until you are well again. Then we'll start the whole thing over."

Devin considered this response for a moment and then realized it made as much sense as just about everything else the old man said. "I see," he replied, as convincingly as possible.

The man shook his head slowly, as if he was completely aware that Devin understood nothing. He leaned back and looked at Devin with a sigh. "But it is good to have you back with us, young Master. We are never sure if you'll come back when you go."

Devin pondered this for a moment. "Where did I go," he asked when he was sure he could not make sense of it.

"We don't know, Devin. We've never known. It has always been a place that we cannot follow, this place of dreams and visions. It has always been the province of your kind, and will remain so among those left of you."

"But we do the best we can," the old man added. "We've constructed a familiar environ and try to care for you, make you feel at home during whatever time you have. We make mistakes… like today… but we are learning more all the time." Then he rose and leaned over the bed. His wise old eyes were sad now, and they lingered on Devin for a long moment. Devin did not know what to say so he only stared back and after a time could feel himself blushing. Then he noticed something peculiar… something flashing behind the man's gaze. The strange pulsing of the light caught his attention and kept it. Soon Devin could think of nothing else but the slow pulsing of the light behind Mr. Heartly's eyes, and the soft words that the man was speaking.

"You sleep now, young Master Devin. Sleep and heal, and when you awake you will feel refreshed and ready for another day. You can meet your friends again, and play if you choose. Do not concern yourself with the pains of the past. You will remember nothing of this day or our little chat. It was just the idle ramblings of a strange old man. Sleep now young Master… sleep perchance to dream perchance to wake and dream again … sleep… sleep…. sleep…"

"What was that?" Devin wondered, bolting up in his bed, scanning the darkness around him, trying to determine the source of the strange noise.

Then there it was again!

"Oh! Of course," Devin said, feeling quite foolish for not having recognized the sound. He jumped out of the covers and dashed across his room to the dresser, where the clock was about to call out again. He turned it off quickly before it made any more noise. He was sure Mother and Father would be very annoyed if they were made to get up sooner than their regular time.

Then he went to his big window to watch the world come to life. Old Mr. Heartly was out there, as usual, struggling along on his cane. The old man stopped and waved and Devin waved back with a big smile, knowing that soon he would be able to go out into the world. Mother and Father had promised.

END