A Second Chance
Dr. Tenma sagged into the rear seat of his personal car. His body ached as if he had not slept in days, though that exhaustion did not come from any physical exertion.
"Well, sir," said Orrin brightly from the driver's seat, "did you have a good day at work today?"
It seemed to take seconds for the words to register with Tenma, if they registered at all. "Take me home, Orrin," he said finally.
Orrin paused, appearing a little confused. "Wont Master Toby be coming with us, sir?"
Tenma squeezed his eyes shut briefly. The mention of his son's name had brought a pang of grief and guilt. "Toby isn't coming. He's…" Tenma paused. Saying it couldn't possibly bring him anymore pain. "He's dead."
"What!" Orrin exclaimed. "But, but how could this happen? Master Toby was fine when…"
The robot's fluster was in sharp contrast to his master's apparent disinterest. In truth, Tenma felt numb. He didn't have the strength to offer any explanations at the moment, far less to a robot.
"I asked you," he said, his voice raised ever so slightly, "to take me home. Is that too much to ask?"
"No… no, sir," Orrin trembled. He turned reluctantly back to his driving task.
Tenma slumped back against his seat, staring blankly out the window as Metro City's lights sped past in a blur. They served to distract him from the empty seat beside him. That seat had too often been empty due to Tenma's busy schedule and late nights. Now, even had he wanted, it would not be filled again.
When he got home, Tenma shut himself in his office. He intended to work, despite being sent home by the Ministry of Science. He didn't need leave; he needed something to distract him.
And despite those thoughts, nearly an hour later, Tenma found himself still staring at the warm blue, blank screen of his computer. With a defeated sigh, he stood up, and made his way over to a bottle of scotch he had sitting on a side table. It was barely touched; he always found he was far too busy to indulge himself.
Tenma filled his glass, and stared at the liquid. He had no delusions that it would solve his problems. But what else were you supposed to do when you lost your only son?
That thought brought a shudder to Tenma's shoulders and he quickly downed nearly half the glass. He could feel the alcohol ever so slightly dull his senses, but he knew it would not be enough. He turned back to the computer screen. What the hell was he supposed to work on? None of his current projects seemed as if they were worth putting his effort into at the moment. Not now.
He sat back down in front of the enormous computer screen. He had to concentrate on something. He took another drink from the glass and then re-activated the screen.
Tenma looked at his work files for a moment, but then, had another thought. He delved deeper into the computers file system. Somewhere… he finally pulled up a folder with family photos, from somewhere far too deep within the computers hard drive that it made him feel guilty.
Here, Tenma paused, his finger hovering over the image of the file on the computers screen. His finger shook, but then he frowned and pressed against the flat surface. The screen filled with images of his dead son, and Tenma immediately regretted his decision. That didn't stop him from staring intently at the screen. He scrolled through the pictures. There were far too few.
He paused upon an image of Toby, showing the boy at a science museum. It had been taken over a year ago. Tenma stood from his chair, and reached for the screen, his finger tips brushing lightly against it. "Oh Toby… I'm… I'm so sorry. I…" Tenma began to shake. He touched the screen with both hands. "Toby…" He slid back down to his chair, sobbing.
"I didn't mean to let you down, son. I meant to… spend more time with you…" He slumped down, burying his face in his folded arms. What good did it do to apologise to a still image? It would not bring Toby back. Tenma forced himself to look back up at the picture. How he wished that photograph was real. All he needed was a second chance.
Tenma continued to stare at the image. An idea had started to form in his mind. He stood up again, and swiped the photograph to the side of the screen. He pulled up his work files. He selected one of the more recent projects and stared at the schematics. It was for one of the most human-like robots he had yet worked on. Still, it was just a robot. Unless…
They certainly had the technology to make it appear more human. Simply add that skin-like material they had recently developed. And this robot appeared too old. Tenma dragged a scale on corner of the screen down. The electronic representation of the robot appeared to shrink. Now he was the size of a boy. Tenma's heart was pounding faster. He pulled the image of Toby closer, now comparing the robot's schematic and the photograph of his son side by side. He paused, and then dragged the two images together.
The robot boy appeared exactly as his son Toby. Tenma pressed both hands against the screen. It was still just an image. But what it represented, once he could build it, would be so much more. "I could hold you again, I could be sure I didn't make the same mistakes again…" he trailed off, and his shoulders sagged. This would be no better than apologising to the photograph. The robot might look exactly like Toby; he could probably program it to act like Toby, but it would still not be Toby.
Then, Tenma's eyes fell upon Toby's hat. He'd left it sitting on the very edge of his desk. He lifted it up gently, and then turned it over. Inside were a few strands of Toby's hair that had not been incinerated by the blast.
"Yes!" Tenma exclaimed. "DNA, that's the answer!" He was so excited he slammed a fist into the desk. His near empty glass bounced, toppled, and rolled off onto the floor. Tenma didn't even notice.
He took the hat carefully, located a portable containment field, and activated it around the precious item. He looked again at the image of the robot boy on the screen. After all, DNA was what made a man, not the shell he walked around in. Toby would live again!
"Sir…" Orrin said, sticking his head into the office. "Are you alright? I thought I heard something break…"
"Orrin!" Tenma exclaimed. He turned to the robot with a grin plastered across his face. "Get the car ready. I need to get back to the Ministry of Science."
"Sir…" said the robot. "It's nearly midnight, and you just got back, and… you know…" he paused, uncomfortable.
"Orrin! Go! There's no time to waste!"
Orrin fumbled out the door, eyes wide with confusion.
Tenma turned his attention back to the screen. He gazed at the robot schematics, smiling, and a single tear rolled down his cheek. "Toby…"