Chapter Two: That Sinking Feeling
"Yes, Astro, I'm here. What's wrong?" O'Shay instantly answered.
Astro shook his head, a puzzled look settling onto his face. "I think I dozed off. Nothing feels wrong and I checked for any malfunctioning circuits but couldn't find any. I don't really feel tired, but I slept in this morning and dozed off here on the couch. Why?"
Now it was O'Shay's turn to shake his head. "I wish I knew. I don't have an answer for you, I'm afraid. Would you like me to do a scan?"
"Better be on the safe side, I guess," the robot boy replied.
"Zoran, let Nora know that Astro and I will be at the Ministry. I don't know how long we'll be, so tell her to save dinner, okay?"
Zoran nodded, about to ask if she could come with, but O'Shay had already put his jacket and hat back on and had disappeared out the front door with Astro. "Bye…" she said belatedly in a small voice.
The Ministry of Science was always busy, no matter what time of day or night it happened to be. There were always humans working on projects and robots all over the place doing odd jobs; messengers, cleaners, assistants and other assorted worker-bots. The whole place was a hive of mostly-unorganised order. Astro barely paid any attention to the familiarity of his surroundings, focusing instead on following his foster father deeper into the building to where the necessary equipment to scan his body was.
A few, who were kind enough to spare a moment, gave the pair a quick wave or short greeting as they passed. Dr. O'Shay answered most of them distractedly while Astro returned every one in a slightly subdued manner. There was no conversation between foster father and son and it made Astro more anxious and tense than he already was. After what seemed like hours, the pair arrived at their destination. Dr. O'Shay opened the door and held it for Astro, who ducked under the scientist's arm and entered.
It was a rather small room for the huge building. The room was partially divided by an electronic counter covered in buttons. Beyond the counter was a small bed-like structure that resembled a table, just large enough to comfortably accommodate Astro. It was the same room Zoran had been brought to when a microscopic bug had invaded her system.
Without a word, Astro walked over to the examination table and hopped onto the side before lying down, holding his arms by his sides with his palms facing down.
Dr. O'Shay pressed a button and two metal bars extended from the sides of the table and came to rest horizontally just above the spiky tip of Astro's 'hair'. A cyan-coloured light appeared between the bars, a paper-thin vertical strip that covered the whole surface of the table like a permanent flash of sheet lightning. The bars moved slowly down the length of the table with a barely audible hum.
A screen appeared in front of Dr. O'Shay with an outline of Astro on it. As the scanning light moved over Astro's body, the image on the screen began to fill in with Astro's main skeleton. Once the light had reached the end of the table, it reversed course and started moving back up. The skeleton was slowly overlapped by an image of Astro's internal system, every wire and tiny mechanism.
O'Shay's nose was almost touching the screen as he looked for any abnormalities within Astro's operating system. Once the second scan was complete, a small alarm-like set of beeps was heard. O'Shay took a step or two back from the screen, his eyes a little wider than normal as a blanket of concern settled upon his shoulders. Once his eyes caught sight of what had caused the alarm, a small, confused frown crossed his face.
The diagnostic image of Astro's body had a flashing spot that was at Astro's chest, located right in the same spot as his electro-heart. Examining the readouts on the screen, O'Shay relaxed a bit.
Astro could not contain his curiosity any longer. "Did you find anything?" he asked, titling his head just far enough to allow him to see the short scientist.
The man didn't answer right away, pressing another button to make the scanning bars retract back into the sides of the table first. He walked over to the table and stood beside it, watching his robotic foster son as he sat up.
Astro stared at the doctor and, seeing the man's fairly relaxed expression, felt his body release the tension that had built up. He swung his legs over the edge of the table and let them dangle.
"There is something, but it's nothing too bad," O'Shay said with a smile.
Astro gave a tiny sigh of relief. "Okay, so what is it and how do we fix it?"
"You have a build-up of energy at your heart," he answered. He was about to continue but Astro interrupted him.
"Wait, if I have a build-up of energy, then why have I been tired? If I had extra energy, wouldn't I be more active?" he asked, brows furrowed in confusion.
At this question, Dr. O'Shay got an image in his head of a hyper Astro. He had seen what copious amounts of sugar and red cordial did to children; he dreaded to think of Astro being like that. At least human children were relatively harmless; Astro was a powerhouse capable of large-scale destruction.
He quickly shook his head, sending his large nose swinging. "No, because the energy isn't being used in any way, it's simply stored there. You were not built to store energy like that, so your body is coping as best it can; by making sure you don't tax yourself and cause the stored energy to fry you from the inside out," he said, warming up to this theory as he spoke.
"Oh, okay, I get it," Astro said, nodding a bit. "How do I get rid of the stored energy?"
The ageing scientist put a hand to his chin and gazed upwards in thought. "Since even you didn't know it was there, I don't think you can access it, but it won't hurt to give it a try at least."
Astro nodded and closed his eyes so he could concentrate better. He could feel his energy flowing throughout his body, but he concentrated upon his chest. It took a few seconds, but Astro was able to feel the stored energy that was simply sitting there. He tried to access it, but could find no way to connect to the energy circling his electro-heart. He frowned.
"No go doctor, I can't find a way to connect to it," he said in a slightly disgruntled manner.
O'Shay hummed softly under his breath before speaking. "We'll have to think of another way to get rid of it, but I'm not sure how. Try not to use any of your powers in the meantime. I think the reason you were so tired the past two days is because of all the flying you've been doing."
Astro was disappointed with this temporary solution, but he knew it was for the best until the problem was fixed. He gave his word and hopped down from the table.
"Wait a sec," he said suddenly, grabbing O'Shay's nearest sleeve. "Why haven't I converted it into light like I did with the energy from Magnamite?"
"I don't know," he answered uneasily, "Your body should have converted it automatically." Dr. O'Shay looked worried once more, but hid it as best he could, determined not to upset Astro in any way.
Dr. O'Shay gave him a pat on the shoulder before both of them turned off the equipment and headed home. On the walk back through the Ministry, both of them responded to any greetings with more enthusiasm than the first time.
Standing at the very edge of a wooden pier that jutted out over a pure, clear lake, Astro looked down at his reflection. The lake was surrounded by lush fields full of wild flowers which were ringed by mountains capped with snow. The whole area was like a scene from a wilderness photo in a calendar, minus the pier which seemed out of place.
Astro's reflection stared back, his eyes perfectly mirroring his feelings for all to see. Anxiousness about the stored energy, fear of what it could do to him, and a strong flicker of hope that a permanent solution would be found very soon.
A sense of calm pervaded the area. Astro couldn't help but smile as an irresistible wave of contentment washed over him, clearing away the fear and anxiousness. His reflection smiled back.
Small, wispy clouds floated lazily overhead, happy to go wherever the wind guided them. It was a perfect spot to relax and just forget about life's troubles for a while. Astro, tired of standing, laid belly-down on the wooden pier, crossing his arms beneath his head and resting his chin upon them. His reflection appeared closer, and Astro could see through it a touch to the lakebed below. The little robot gave a happy sigh and closed his eyes, letting the sun soak into his artificial skin.
It felt like a couple of hours had passed before Astro was rudely jolted from his nap by a sudden crash of thunder. A flash of lightning tore across the sky above him, the expanse of blue having been filled in with huge black clouds that loomed threateningly overhead. Another boom echoed through the air, rebounding off the mountains and making Astro scurry to his feet as he felt the pier tremble beneath him. Knowing that it was not a good idea to be near water with lightning about, Astro turned to run off the pier, not keen on flying and making a nice lightning rod target out of himself.
He had only taken two steps before an ominous crack rang out from underneath his foot. A millisecond later, Astro felt himself start to fall as the wood broke. Quickly activating his jets, Astro flew up a couple of metres and watched as the rest of the pier crumbled into the waves that now surged over the surface of the lake. He knew he couldn't linger in the air, so he adjusted his body to send him forward and increased his jets' thrust.
The edge of the lake was right in front of him and Astro prepared to deactivate his rockets when a white-hot flash of blinding agony coursed through him, causing a scream of pure pain to rip its way out of his mouth.
Astro's senses were scrambled and he was barely aware that he was now in the lake, sinking swiftly. Darkness closed in over his eyes and Astro wasn't sure whether it was because he had sunk into the darker waters or if he was losing consciousness. Everything was black, and the last thing Astro knew was that he was still sinking.
The darkness was everywhere, surrounding him in its stifling embrace. Astro couldn't breathe - forgetting the fact that he didn't need to - and thrashed about in panic, feeling like a fly caught in an invisible spider web. As he was flailing about, he suddenly felt as though he was falling before hitting something with a thump a second later.
Trying to calm himself down, Astro took stock of his situation. A moment later he gave a short laugh. Astro had become completely entangled in his bed sheets when he had awoken and had panicked because of what he now realised was a dream. He had floundered about, further entangling himself, and had fallen off his bed. Chuckling, Astro carefully moved his body and the sheets until he was free. Holding them in one hand, Astro got up and made his bed after a quick glance at the clock told him it was a quarter to seven in the morning.
Once his bed was tidy, a frown fixed itself on Astro's face as snippets of the dream - more like a nightmare - came back to him. It made him feel unsettled, even though he knew it was no more than a silly dream. Delta, the police robot, had once told him that his imagination program was overactive. Astro wondered briefly if perhaps Delta had been right after all. He pushed the fast-fading images to the back of his mind and walked out of his room, down the stairs and stopped to top up his energy. When that was done, Astro went back upstairs to Dr. O'Shay's room.
The door slid open easily and Astro tiptoed inside until he stood in front of the slumbering scientist. Astro bent down until his face was only a few inches away the doctor's. Drawing a breath, Astro chirped, "Good morning Dr. O'Shay, time to get up!"
O'Shay was not expecting such a wakeup call. If he didn't get up in time on his own, Nora would rouse him. The man gave a surprised snort and leaned back a bit from the young male voice that sounded closer than normal. Opening his eyes, he rubbed a hand across them to dispel most of the blur from sleepiness. When he finally opened them properly, he gave a small start as he realised that Astro was right in front of him.
"Come on Dr. O'Shay, it's nearly seven," Astro said with a smile, feeling much happier for no apparent reason.
"Astro, it's good to see you up and about like usual," O'Shay said, smiling back. "Nearly seven did you say? I suppose I better get up then. Would you let Nora know that I'm awake?"
"Sure," Astro replied to the request. He left the doctor's room and practically bounded back downstairs. Reaching the kitchen, he found Nora setting out some things that she needed to make O'Shay's breakfast with.
Nora was examining the fridge and cupboards' contents, muttering to herself every now and then. "Oh dear, we're almost out of blackberry jam and honey," she said, making a mental memo to pick some up the next time she went shopping.
"Good morning Nora!" a cheerful voice said from behind her.
Nora let out an electronic gasp and whirled around, one of her swinging arms narrowly missing Astro's head. "Astro! Must you sneak up on me like that? Where are your manners?" Nora scolded.
"Right where they always are," Astro answered, blinking in confusion. "I did say 'good morning' you know."
Nora was about to reply but could think of nothing to say in response.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Astro said with an apologetic shrug. "I came to tell you that Dr. O'Shay's awake, so you don't have to worry about getting him up."
"Oh, well…thank you," Nora said slowly, trying to wrap her electronic brain around what was going on. Astro seemed much happier than he was yesterday, and even a little more cheerful than any other day. She hoped this meant he was feeling better from whatever had caused his tiredness.
Having finished his task, Astro strolled out of the kitchen and went back to his room. Once the door was shut, he went over to his window and sat on the sill, drawing his knees close to his chest and letting his arms loosely encircle his legs. The birds were busy twittering away, but Astro paid them no mind as he stared absently through the window; his eyes taking everything in, though also seeming to look beyond all of it to some unfathomable mystery that could not be seen in any spectrum.
To Astro, it felt as if a mere moment had passed before Zoran's voice broke him from his trance-like state.
"Can we go shopping today?"
Astro gave a soft sigh as his enthusiastic sister noisily bounced down the stairs, presumably headed for Nora, ready to nag the nanny-bot until they left for the shops. Astro couldn't hear Nora's reply, but the final say belonged to Dr. O'Shay. Since there was no school today, Astro could easily imagine what the good doctor would say. Hearing the doctor's footsteps pass his door, the little robot got up and followed a short distance behind.
O'Shay was sitting on the lounge, eyeing a cup of coffee that Nora was setting down on the coffee table in front of him. Zoran was standing behind the couch, eyeing the man like he was staring at his coffee, and was bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet. Nora was trying her hardest to ignore the bubbly robot girl. None of the three noticed Astro standing in the doorway.
"Dr. O'Shay, hey, Dr. O'Shay!"
The balding scientist gave a barely perceptible sigh that Astro's sensitive hearing only just picked up. His fingers stopped an inch away from his cup's handle and twitched once before traversing the last inch and curling firmly around the handle. He slowly brought the cup to his lips and took a grateful sip of the addictive hot liquid before slowly lowering the cup and placing it back on the table.
Zoran's expression easily gave away how annoyed she was at this delay, and Astro quickly ducked out of the doorway, leaning his back against the wall and clapping both hands over his mouth to stop himself from bursting out laughing.
When his silent laughing fit finally died out, Astro frowned, wondering why he had found it so funny. Shaking his head, Astro walked into the room and sat beside the doctor, tossing a greeting to Zoran as he did so.
"Good morning big brother," Zoran chirped as her annoyance instantly washed away.
"So, Zoran, what is it you wanted?" O'Shay asked after a few more sips of coffee.
Zoran immediately turned a bright smile on the doctor and struck a cute, girly pose while fluttering her eyelashes. "Oh, Dr. O'Shay, can we go shopping?"
O'Shay blinked. "Shopping?" he parroted in a slightly exasperated tone.
"Yeah, a couple of new stores just opened and I wanna check them out," she gushed, bouncing on her feet again.
"Didn't you already spend your allowance?" Astro half asked, half stated, putting his hands behind his head and sinking into the couch a bit.
Zoran sent a quick glare over the back of the couch to the top of Astro's head, but deigned to answer. "Please?" she begged, turning her gaze back to the scientist.
"I'm sorry Zoran, but I have to finish off some paperwork," he said, looking resigned. His expression brightened a moment later. "Although that foot-tall stack of papers isn't going anywhere…"
A short buzzing beep rang out from above the three and they automatically looked up to see the TV coming down from its place in the ceiling. Once it came to a stop, the screen flickered to life to show Yuko. O'Shay's secretary focused her gaze on the balding man after flashing a quick smile to the robotic children.
"Ah, Yuko, hello," O'Shay said, eyeing the screen with a tinge of apprehension. "Why are you calling so early? I haven't even had breakfast yet."
"I just wanted to make sure you were up and about so you could get a nice, early start on your paperwork, sir," Yuko said, sporting a smug grin that she was trying to hide behind a mask of innocence.
O'Shay looked upset at this. "But, Yuko, what about shopping?" he asked in a last-ditch effort to escape the mountain of paper that awaited him at his office.
"Shopping?" she repeated in bewilderment.
"Yes, I was going to take Zoran as there are some new stores she wants to see."
Yuko raised an eyebrow at the doctor. Her gaze flicked to Astro just long enough to catch the silent plea his eyes were sending her: please don't make me go shopping with my little sister!
"There's nothing stopping you from going," she said, and O'Shay perked up, "after you finish your paperwork," she finished, and O'Shay's hope died a swift but agonising death.
"I'm sorry, sir, but no 'buts'," she sternly replied. "You need to come here and get your work done. I'll take Zoran shopping."
Zoran's face split into a wide smile at the other female's announcement, while O'Shay adopted a defeated air. Astro gave Yuko a relieved and grateful smile, silently vowing to give the woman a big hug when he saw her next.
"Well, I suppose there's nothing wrong with that," O'Shay conceded. "I'd feel a lot better if Astro went along with you though, just in case."
It took all of Astro's willpower to stop his bottom jaw from dropping. Yuko had done a wonderful job of getting him out of the whole thing, and his foster father had simply tossed him right into the middle. His sudden horror was broken by Nora, who hovered opposite him and the doctor with a plate in her three-fingered hands. She set it down next to the half empty cup and floated away to wash up the things she had used to make breakfast.
O'Shay picked up his cutlery and set about eating his breakfast, oblivious to how still and silent Astro had become beside him. Yuko stared at the stunned robot, stuttering incoherently as she tried to figure out a way to excuse Astro from accompanying them. She could think of no viable reason, however, and her shoulders sagged in sympathy for Astro as she was forced to admit defeat on the matter.
"Bring them both with you to the Ministry and I'll take them from there, so I know you're there at the building. I'll meet you in your office," Yuko huffed, cutting the transmission suddenly.
O'Shay blinked, not altogether sure about what had happened. Turning his attention to more important matters, the man ate another morsel of food.
"Yay!" Zoran cheered loudly, prompting a groan from Astro.
A/N: Due to a severe prod by Butterflyaura, I worked on nothing but this chapter for over a week! Aren't you proud of my speedy update? (Seriously, this was really fast for me! I'm naturally a first-gear person!)
Just a note, but I absolutely loathe coffee. I seriously cannot stand the stuff, even the smell of it makes me queasy. O'Shay's coffee scene was rather hard for me to write. I hope you all appreciate it!
Did you like the dream? Yes, it means something, but I can't tell you what as that would be spoiling things… I'll leave you to ponder it yourselves. I'd love to hear your theories!
NOTE: If you want to know when the next chapter is coming out, head to my profile and scroll down until you find the section 'Story Updates'. I'll have my current progress posted there and I update it regularly.