Orphaned (Commission) – Ch 16 – lostandwhatever
The next day, Ms. Peach parked her car in front of a house that looked very much like every other house on the street.
“Is this it?” she asked Eddie.
Eddie nodded. “That’s my home,” he said, sounding as though he was fighting back tears.
Charlie said, “Let’s go knock on the door.”
They got out of the car together and walked up the concrete path to the door, but Eddie stopped halfway there. “I dunno,” he said. “What if she doesn’t want me back? What if she hates me?”
“You’re her son,” Ms. Peach said. “She loves you. Even if you were a bad person, she still loves you.”
Eddie took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go.” He walked up to the door and rang the bell.
A woman with grey hair opened the door. “Hello?” she said. “Who is it?”
Eddie said, “Hi, Mama.”
She looked down at him and said, “Eddie? What? I thought… they said… look at you…”
“I’m home,” Eddie said. “I’m here. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m so sorry.”
The two of them burst into tears and embraced each other. “My baby,” she said. “How is this possible? I thought I’d lost you forever.”
“I’m back,” he said. “I’m going to be a good boy now too. I promise. I love you. I missed you so much.”
Eddie’s mother looked up at Ms. Peach and said, “Thank you, whoever you are. You’ve done some kind of miracle here for me.”
“It’s not a miracle,” Charlie said. “Can we come in to explain?”
The conversation went about the same as it had gone when they had brought Jack and Davion back to their nearest relatives. They explained about the drugs, what they had done to the boys, and where the boys had been. They said that new identification documents would be arriving from the government soon, including updated birth certificates for each of them, all thanks to some orders made from Dr. Wolff’s computer.
Dr. Wolff herself, now just little Linda, had been left outside of her sister’s home with no explanation, since they had no good way to explain what had happened to her without admitting to some things that they would rather not share. Her documents were in the mail as well, though.
Jack’s wife had agreed to take him in as her adopted son. He would now be living as a brother to his own children with his true identity kept a secret from his new siblings.
Davion’s grandmother had taken him in after some reluctance, having watched the boy develop into someone dangerous the first time around. Davion had promised her that he would become a surgeon this time around to put his cutting skills to good use. He had solemnly sworn to never take a life again. His grandmother had said she would make damn sure that he didn’t.
Eddie’s mother was overjoyed to have her boy back, and Eddie was excited to have a home again. “Nothing will ever lead me to go down the wrong path again,” he promised them all. “Now that I have this back again, I don’t ever want to lose it. I’ll be good. I’ll be a great person, a real leader. You’ll see.”
Charlie and Eddie hugged at the door as Charlie and Ms. Peach were leaving.
“Am I ever going to see you again?” Eddie asked Charlie.
“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now.”
“You don’t have family to take you in?”
Charlie shook his head. “No brothers and sisters. No aunts and uncles. My parents are dead and so are my grandparents,” he explained. “Not even any close cousins to go to.”
“What about Ms. Peach?”
Charlie and Ms. Peach shared an uncertain look with each other.
“It’s complicated,” Charlie said. “Besides, how would she explain that an escaped orphan from where she works had suddenly moved into her house.”
“Right,” Eddie said. “Well, wherever you end up. Don’t be a stranger. I want to hear from you again. Okay?”
“Okay,” Charlie said.
They said their goodbyes and Charlie and Ms. Peach got into her car. As they drove off, Charlie glanced back at Eddie’s house one last time, doubting that he would ever see it again.
“You could come back to the orphanage,” Ms. Peach suggested as they sat in her car. She had parked just outside of the bus station to avoid being seen with Charlie when he boarded his bus.
“I don’t think Sister Francine is my biggest fan. I bet she’s glad to have me gone, to be honest,” Charlie said from the backseat. “I’m not going back.”
“You shouldn’t take the bus alone,” she said. “I should go with you.”
“They’ll fire you if you stay out too long, and you’d get arrested if they catch you with me.” He shook his head. “No way I’m going to let that happen to you. I’m going alone. I’ll shadow some family, pretend to be with them when people are watching.”
“What are you going to do when you get where you’re going?”
“Probably find another orphanage or foster home. I don’t know. Might get in contact with distant relatives.”
“Right,” she said.
They shared a look together in the rearview mirror. There was a kind of ache in his chest when he thought about his feelings for her, knowing that they had no future together.
He checked the time on the burner phone he had bought. “I need to get going. The bus is leaving soon.”
“Did we forget anything?”
Charlie thought through everything they had done. “We took care of the other kids. We cleared out my bank account. I’ve got all the mementos of my old life in my bag.”
“How about Arvaxis?”
“We erased Dr. Wolff’s research, and I think we got most of the back ups. There might be more, but there’s nothing we can do about them. Maybe they’ll keep the project going, or maybe they won’t. It’s caused a lot of problems and cost the company a lot of money and personnel. I guess we just have to hope they give it up.”
“As for the people there, Linda is taken care of. We dropped Bud off at a firehouse. Let’s hope he doesn’t end up at your orphanage. He’s going to be a problem child. Kingsley should have been taken care of as well if everything went to plan and they follow the orders we sent for him.”
“I guess that’s it, then,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
There was an awkward moment of silence, during which Charlie was acutely aware of all the years that separated them. Childhood felt like a deep canyon he had been dropped into with her standing, looking down, far above him. He had a sense that he had only just begun to crawl out.
“Goodbye,” he said at last, knowing he needed to get out of the car soon before he began to cry. “Thank you for helping me, for helping us all.” He opened the door and started to drag his bag out with him.
“Wait,” she said.
He paused. “What?”
She leaned over the front seat and pulled him to her. He was too small to resist. She planted a kiss on his cheek. Then, she released him.
He rubbed his cheek and tired to think of something to say, but no words came. Instead he just grabbed his bag and left.
On the bus, Charlie sat watching the trees pass by outside the window as he rode out of the state and into a new life. His legs swung by the knees with his feet not even brushing the floor.
Since the kiss, he had struggled to think much about what he would do next, but as he put some distance between him and his old life, everything started to come into focus.
He had been thinking of himself as an orphan since his parents had died. Kingsley had been somewhat right about that. He had felt lost, adrift in the world, looking for some purpose, a promotion maybe. Going to an actual orphanage had almost felt natural to him when it happened. Now, he realized that he was not an orphan. He had created a family with the friends he had made. Even if they were separated now, they would always have that bond. He would never be truly alone, wherever he ended up.
Sure, it was true that he had lost a lot, but he had also gained a lot in the process as well. Besides his new family, he had the benefit of added years ahead of him. Adulthood had been taken from him, but he would grow back up again. In fact, he would live a lot longer than most people because of it. He had drunk from the fountain of youth—one of the few to have that privilege. He had time now—time to think, time to grow, time to grow his family, time to make new choices about who he would become. He was truly starting over, and for the first time, the idea excited him.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the thumb drive he had taken from Dr. Wolff’s office. He wondered what he might do with the information on it. He held all the records of Project Tabula Rasa in his little hand. Maybe he should share the files with the world. Maybe it would be better if no one ever knew about it. He put it back in his pocket, and decided that it could wait for now. Once he was settled down somewhere, he would figure out what to do with it. For now, he was content to leave it to the future.
After passing out in the lab, Kingsley woke up strapped to a gurney.
He looked around as his eyes refocused and saw that he was in a small, dimly lit room. There were bars in front of him. He wondered how he had ended up in a jail cell. Had those kids really sent him here after knocking him out? He could barely believe it, but it was the only explanation he could come up with.
He tried to call for help, but only muffled sounds came out of his mouth. Some kind of gag had been wrapped around his face, preventing him from speaking. He wanted to pull it off, but he was firmly strapped down to his gurney. He struggled, but he could not get any of his limbs loose.
He screamed again through his gag.
A short while later, a guard appeared and unlocked the door to his cell. He tried to talk to the guard, but the gag made him unintelligible.
“Calm down,” the guard said as he unlocked the wheels on Kingsley’s gurney. “You’ll be done with your treatment in a little while. Just sit still for now.”
Kingsley did not calm down or quiet down as the guard wheeled him along a corridor to a locked door. The guard unlocked the door and pushed him into a room with sterile brick tiles on the walls. Kingsley squealed in horror when he realized where he was. It was a room he had seen often on video recordings. He knew all too well what happened in here.
“He’s a feisty one,” said one of the nurses, a blonde. “What’s with the gag?”
“It was in the order that we got from where he was held last. He is to be restrained and gagged at all times. Apparently, he’s been a danger to others. Be careful with him.”
“Will do,” said the other nurse, a brunette. “When we’re done, he’ll be as peaceful as a kitten.”
The guard left and locked the door behind himself.
Kingsley tried to plead to the nurses to help him, but all he managed to do was moan pitifully.
“I think he’s crying,” the blonde nurse said.
“Poor baby,” the other replied, sardonically.
Kingsley looked at the two-way mirror on the wall and wondered if anyone was in there watching. Maybe someone would recognize him and free him, he hoped. But, then he noticed his own reflection. His head had been shaved bald, and under the gag, he could see that his beard had been shaved off as well. Even with the gag removed, he doubted that anyone would recognize his face now, including himself.
“What’s on the chart?”
“Let’s see,” the blonde said as she read through his information. “Test subject 16. John Smith. 46. Six-seven. 240 pounds. Big fella.”
The brunette said, “Mr. Smith, do you understand the procedure and do you willingly give consent to go through with it?”
Kingsley shook his head and squealed.
“Hmm,” the blonde said and looked at the brunette. “How are we supposed to deal with this kind of response? If he can’t talk, then we can’t get consent, can we?”
“We could call it in?” the brunette suggested.
Kingsley nodded and whimpered.
“Eh,” the blonde said. “It’s almost lunch time. Let’s get this over with.”
Kingsley bucked and struggled with all of his considerable might, but the gurney solidly held up to his frantic writhing.
The brunette held up a syringe and said, “First injection, 11:43 a.m.”
“Wow,” the other nurse said. “The whole syringe is full. We might need to get the diapers this time.”
Kingsley felt the needle poke into his vein, and he moaned like a wounded bull. Then, he felt fire fill his veins. His blood boiled. He knew exactly what was happening. He knew everything that was to come. It did not matter what he knew, though. None of it could save him. There was no turning back now.
His body sweated and steamed, burning away his weight, drop by drop. He felt himself melting—his years, his life, pouring out of his skin. He tried to struggle again, but the nurses were keeping track with his thinning body by continuously tightening his restraints to hold him down as he shrank. He gave up struggling as the heat became too intense to even think anymore. He felt the gurney grow larger beneath him. Seeing his docile acceptance, the nurses released his restraints just as he became too small to fit them anymore. His damp prison clothes seemed to swallow him up. The gag slipped off of his face, but he said nothing then aside from moaning. His voice had become childish and weak.
“He’s still going,” the blonde nurse said. “I’ve never seen it take this long.”
“He had a lot of weight to get rid of.”
“I think he might be our youngest when he’s done.”
“He’s a toddler now.”
“You weren’t kidding about the diapers.”
Crying came more naturally now, Kingsley found. His body felt designed to wail and moan and drip tears in a flood. He balled his little fists and cried like a baby—helpless, hopeless, powerless. The heat died down, and his body began to feel solid again, while feeling weak and utterly helpless.
“Aw,” the blonde said. “Isn’t he adorable?”
“How old would you place him now?”
“Under 6 months. Maybe only four months.”
There was a pause and Kingsley felt a gentle touch on his head. “I want to hold him,” the brunette said.
“We’ve got to do the other shot.”
“Just for a minute.”
The blonde sighed. “Fine,” she said. “Go ahead. I’ll start cleaning up a bit as you do.”
A pair of large, powerful hands wrapped their fingers around Kingsley and lifted him naked into the air. Then, he felt himself hugged by a pair of enormous arms, pressed against cloth covering the soft flesh of breasts.
Kingsley felt an odd mix of comfort and terror. This woman was a giant to him now. She cared for him gently, but he felt her power. Her relative strength was irresistible. He had no way to escape his fate, unless he could plead with them to stop somehow.
“Listen!” he said, or tried to say. His baby mouth slurred the word into “Wissen!”
“Did he just talk?” the blonde asked.
He tried to say, “I am Roger Kingsley. Don’t give me the next shot.” What he actually said was “Iyum Wodda Keenee. Doan geh meenesha.”
“And a ‘gah gah goo goo’ back to you,” the brunette said. “Oh, you are so adorable now. I could just eat you up.”
“Nooo!” he wailed.
“It’s okay,” the brunette said and began to rock him to calm him down. “It’ll all be over in a moment.”
The rocking was surprisingly soothing, so much so, that he gave up fighting to save himself at last. He knew it was over. It was easy to surrender and relax into her comforting embrace. As he felt the needle enter his arm, he had a moment to reflect on his failure. He had lost, he realized, because he had succeeded. He had done what no one else had done. He had discovered the fountain of youth. That he drowned in it was sad, but it was a fate that few others would ever know. Enamored with his own specialness, his memories faded away.
“I want to keep him,” the brunette said as the baby fell asleep in her arms.
“No you don’t,” the blonde said. “Besides, he’s off to an orphanage just like the other ones.”
“A new life,” the brunette said. “A fresh start.”
“Yes,” the blonde said as she dispassionately filled out the baby’s paperwork. “What lovely miracle workers we are.”