|"Do Winchesters Dream Of Electric Impalas?"
||[Sep. 30th, 2008|09:15 pm]
Title: Do Winchesters Dream Of Electric Impalas? (Part 1/3)|
Rating: PG (Language)
Disclaimer: Written for entertainment purposes only. No money, no sue.
Summary: Dean was made to be a Big Brother.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three
The opening salvo was subtle, as was always the way with Mary.
Pamphlets started showing up all over the house. His usual bathroom magazines mysteriously disappeared and John was left with nothing but the brightly coloured So real even we can’t tell the difference booklets which were leafed through in sheer desperation. Friends started mentioning their own positive experiences in social situations and finally John had had enough.
He was a straight shooter.
“We’re not getting an Imitant,” John announced, standing in the doorway of the nursery he’d spent all last weekend putting together as a surprise. Mary was painting the crib a dark forest green that they’d both agreed on. She was sitting with her legs straight out and her belly resting on her thighs. John couldn’t believe it but sometimes he actually forgot, startling for a moment when he saw that rounded belly where once there’d been a stomach as flat as a pancake.
Five and a half months down and he still wasn’t quite sure he had truly accepted the fact that there was a tiny life inside the woman he loved that was going to be a pink and squalling dependant. He’d wandered into a baby store in a whim only three days before and had burst into tears at the site of a tiny baseball glove.
He was never ever going to let anyone find that out.
John was sure this was just another in a long list of luxury items Mary had decided she just needed to get that she would lose interest in almost immediately.
At least, he hoped so.
Mary paused in her painting and set the brush aside, digging fists into the small of her back for a second and grimacing. John resisted the urge to agree to absolutely anything she wanted at the sight of that. It was her body that had been hijacked after all.
“We don’t have to talk about it yet,” Mary dismissed, picking the paintbrush back up again. “We don’t have to order one until thirty days before the birth.”
“We’re not ordering one at all,” John insisted.
Mary made a small noise that John had come to recognise as her, we’ll just see about that huff.
Yeah, he was screwed.
John was only marginally surprised, therefore, to find himself in the neat offices of JMR Robotics when Mary was seven months gone. She was starting to have real trouble getting around with any measure of comfort so wanted to get the ball rolling.
He’d tried to dissuade her, he honestly had. "I just... I don't want to trust a toaster to look after our kid," John had tried to object.
"Honestly! You're just such an antique aren't you? I can see why the Impala appealed to you so much. People think it's odd we have a car without autodrive for freeways."
"I like actual driving," John had snapped, ever defensive when the car was mentioned. "Not whatever it is you do with that strange little jelly bean you get around in!"
"What about the Farrells?" Mary had argued. "Felix would have died, John. No one was watching when he went into their pool. No one but the damn toaster you seem to have such a problem with. We always see those news stories with those tearful parents who have just lost a child. It's always the same. Some mother wringing her hands and saying, I only looked away for a moment."
John had clenched his hands into fists. "Mary," he had said but he’d already known that he’d not only lost the battle, he’d lost the war.
"Imitants don't look away. They don't get distracted. They never get tired or sleepy or cranky. They don't hit or yell. The child always, always comes first."
And there it was, because the unspoken mutual fear they both had was that this precious life entrusted to them would be taken away, not by chance or misfortune but by a failing of theirs. They would prove unworthy as parents. Mary really knew where to dig the thumbs in.
So, JMR robotics and John had a large photo album across his lap with eerily realistic-looking children while a slick looking consultant sitting on his desk tried to appear affable. Mary was wearing a frown and shaking her head as John turned the pages without really paying attention. Every now and again Mary would poke him in the arm and narrow her eyes, a silent promise that he was going to get it as soon as they were away from polite company if he didn’t start contributing.
“Listen, I don’t usually do this,” the salesman began and John rolled his eyes, receiving another vicious arm-poke for his trouble. “But there is the option to get an Imitant tailored to you. We can take an imprint of your features and use elements to make him appear more like… one of the family,” the salesman finished explaining.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” John snorted and now got an elbow the ribs meaning he’d really pissed Mary off.
“Why not?” Mary demanded.
“Because it’s… creepy enough without him having your eyes,” John said, flailing his hands and then smacking the photo album off his lap so it hit the floor with a thump.
“A lot of people find the personalised Imitant to be less creepy,” the salesman sniffed and John looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s a little Children of the Corn, isn’t it?”
“I would think if you ran into a family with exactly the same model then it would be more so.”
Mary looked askance at John and he could tell she was just dying to say, “Ha!”. Instead though her face softened and she patted his knee. Right before she spoke though, her lip tilted in that wicked way that drove John crazy and made him get down on one knee almost four years before.
“He can have your eyes,” she said and John shuddered.
John wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but a small boy standing on the doorstep with a metal briefcase and a black van idling at the curb was strangely anti-climatic. Mary was asleep upstairs, baby Sammy curled against her stomach so she was a half-moon around him.
John reached out a hand but pulled it back at the last minute. He’d seen Imitants before but it still managed to throw him. The small mess of organics and wires standing on their stoop looked so much like a kid that it was a little startling. A man in a suit appeared behind the Imitant, smiling a too-white grin. “Mr Winchester,” he greeted, holding out a hand. “Let me introduce you to D-19, a JMR Robotics quality product.”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks,” John said warily. As the man stared at him, grin fixed in place, he realised he was unconsciously blocking the door. “Oh, um, sorry,” John apologised and shifted sideways, motioning the representative and the Imitant inside. The Imitant took a moment to look up at him and then passed through, wiping his feet on the welcome mat Mary had laid when they first bought the house before he stepped over the threshold. John noticed the representative wasn’t so courteous.
John offered coffee and the representative declined, managing to give off the air of busyness while basically standing in his living room doing nothing. The Imitant set his briefcase down by his feet and took up a position near the stairs, looking between John and the representative.
“Have you read through the instruction packet you were sent?” the representative asked, holding out a hand and snapping his fingers at the Imitant. It stepped forward and opened the briefcase, pulling a slick red folder free, the same as what they had indeed received in the mail. John had meant to read it, like he always meant to read the instruction manual on the digital player and the home’s security system. He ended up muddling through and cursing a lot as a consequence, Mary all the while asking why he thought he was above skimming a three page pamphlet to save getting electrocuted or not recording her favourite show, two similarly horrid transgressions.
“Yep,” John said and then frowned when the representative glanced at the Imitant who shook his head, almost imperceptibly.
“Right, well, let’s just run through the basics shall we, as a refresher?” Smooth as anything, not out and out calling John a liar but the implication was there. John eyed the Imitant, wondering if the thing was a walking lie detector, which was conceivable and probably listed as one of its features in the instruction packet he’d failed to peruse.
“The D-19 is custom built so you will not see another one like yours. It’s unique as a fingerprint, tailored to the specifics you supplied.” The representative began and John tried not to tune out but he really wished Mary were the one receiving the thing. She’s been excited about the purchase while John was just wary.
They’d invested in a Real Dog only two years before because Mary had proved allergic to dog hair and John hadn’t wanted to go without. The thing had keeled over after three days, never to bark again and John had refused to get another one. Looking at the sandy-haired tot with green eyes and a smattering of freckles, John felt something turn over in his stomach. If he found this lying at the foot of the stairs, prone and eyes fixed like the Real Dog he was pretty sure he would scream like a girl.
It looked like a child.
No, scratch that, John thought. Not exactly like a child because most kids would fidget if forced to stand still for an extended period of time. The Imitant looked relaxed but still, hands by its sides, not a smudge of dirt on its neatly pressed jeans or a scuff on the tiny sneakers. The hair was short and neat and John just wanted to muss it up because the longer he looked at it, the more unsettling it was.
John tuned back in right when the representative was talking about the Imitant eating. “He what?” John interrupted.
“Can eat everything you can. He needs sustenance much like a human to carry out repairs and assist in his growth as it were. Although people have been very pleased with this latest model. Nothing goes to waste so he doesn’t need to…” The man waves an airy hand in the direction of the downstairs bathroom with a little smirk. "He may also sometimes need some elements that are a little odd. We’ve had some trouble with children copying their Imitant playmates who are able to literally eat dirt for nourishment.” The man chuckled in a what can you do kind of way that rankled John.
“Does he bleed?” John didn’t know why he asked, probably again thinking about the Real Dog.
“Well, kind of. Not red like a person. They have a sol gel that transmits information around the body. It’s basically very small particles or sol held in suspension. The sol gel is milky with a slightly bluish tinge. Would you like to see?” The representative looked to the Imitant who immediately rolled back a sleeve and John put a hand out.
“No!” he barked and both the Imitant and the representative looked at him. “I’ll take your word for it.” John said with a shaky little laugh because he was having visions of the old movie Terminator Two, Arnold Schwarzenegger stripping off his forearm and revealing a skeletal metal limb underneath to prove to people he was from the future.
“As you like,” the representative sniffed and the Imitant rolled his sleeve back down obediently.
“What do I call it?” John asked.
The representative smiled. “The designation is D-19. You can either call it that or name it if you like. Some people do. Then, some people name their cars, don’t they?”
He was supposed to chuckle at the representative’s little joke, and failing to fulfil his duty, the representative’s smile froze in place. “Well, shall we get to the imprinting?”
The Imitant turned back towards the stairs, looking expectant. John frowned at it, feeling an urge to move between the robot and his sleeping wife and child. He’d been expecting to feel pretty much nothing, as blasé about the thing as he would an appliance coming into the house but instead he was wary. “What do you mean imprint?” John asked, giving up any pretence that he had read any of the material he’d been sent.
“The D-19 is a Big Brother,” the representative explained, John hearing the capital letters in his tone. “It needs to imprint on the chosen sibling to serve as protector and playmate. Its primary directive will be to the child.” The representative’s expression clouded a fraction. “That is what you ordered isn’t it?” he prompted, his hand straying to his coat pocket and probably a cell phone. Ready to bawl out an incompetent technician or two John assumed because he was obviously not playing the part of an excited purchaser the way he was supposed to.
“Yeah, it is,” John agreed. When the representative nodded, moving towards the stairs, an arm coming out to herd the D-19 ahead of him, John lunged before he could think about it, snagging the representative’s sleeve and halting his progress. “I, uh…” he started, looking at the ceiling as if it would give him answers. “I mean, do we have to do it right now? Sammy’s been grumpy all day and we’ve only just gotten him to sleep, Mary too.”
“Certainly,” the representative said, his face clearing and a smile breaking out like the sun over the land. John had seen that expression quite a few times over the last five and a half months. Right, you’re crazy because you’re a sleep deprived parent. “All you need to do is have the D-19 hold the infant for about twenty seconds.”
“Yes, that simple,” the representative nodded, now accepting John steering him towards the door. “If you have any questions or concerns, our helpdesk is twenty-four hours. The number’s on your welcome packet,” the man said. When he was back on the threshold, he pulled a data tablet from his inside jacket pocket and held it out to John. “Just need your confirmation and we’re all done.”
John hesitated a second before pressing his thumb to the tablet. The representative smiled and tucked it back where it had come from with a satisfied nod. “Please feel free to let your friends and neighbours know of your positive experience with JMR Robotics,” he said with a final friendly nod and was gone, the black van peeling out from their curb not even a minute later.
John turned back to the living room with a sigh and then nearly jumped ten feet when his eyes came to rest on the Imitant, who grinned and said, “Hi.”
To say Mary wasn’t exactly impressed to only find out that the Imitant had been delivered when she went down into the basement to do a load of washing was an understatement. She appeared at the top of the stairs, tugging the Imitant behind her by the hand with her expression thunderous.
“John Winchester!” she called, finally finding him hiding out in the garage, Sammy in a sling across his back and kicking his feet to the tinny sound of music emanating from inside the Impala. John was leaning under the hood, wrench in hand and only narrowly avoided bashing his skull on the underside. Sammy gurgled and waved tiny fists in the direction of his mother.
“I wasn’t going to leave him down there forever,” John grumbled, wiping his hands off on a rag tucked into his belt.
“I nearly had a heart attack,” Mary scolded, passing a hand over the Imitant’s head, fluffing his hair the way John had wanted to do. “I thought one of the neighbour’s kids had been stuck down there all night or something.”
“Sorry,” John apologised, leaning forward for a kiss that Mary neatly ducked, freeing Sammy and stepping away again all in one smooth motion.
“We have to imprint him,” Mary said, leaning down to the D-19’s level who automatically put his arms out.
“No!” John snapped and Mary looked back at him, standing and drawing Sammy close again. The Imitant’s arms stayed up but his head swivelled to look at John, expression curious. “Can we just not… do that?” John implored.
“John, what’s this all about?” Mary asked, frowning. “We have to have him imprint or he won’t look after Sam.”
“Just… can we give it a couple of weeks?” Mary’s expression softened as soon as he said it and John grimaced.
“Are you worried he’s going to malfunction like the dog?” she asked, eyes sparking with understanding that John didn’t want to see. He didn’t see why it was such a big deal to wait, make sure the thing wasn’t going to short-circuit and go homicidal or just go belly-up like a fish in a bowl.
“Yeah,” John said, because he knew it was the easiest way to get what he wanted.
Mary patted him on the arm, her face fond. “Poor old guy, scared of the shiny new toy,” she said, leaving the garage and motioning for the D-19 to follow.
John didn’t like the way it paused in the doorway and looked back at him for a moment before disappearing.
John woke up in the living room, his back already protesting at having fallen asleep in his armchair. John looked sideways and saw he’d woken because the D-19 was tugging insistently on his shirt. “What?” he grunted, nudging the D-19 away from him with a foot. Since it hadn’t been allowed yet to imprint, the D-19 had been moving around their house like a ghost, mostly keeping out of the way, reading and eating and silently observing their family rituals.
John really wanted to stick it back in the basement like the motorbike he’d blown four months wages on back in high school and then had never ridden a day in his life.
The D-19 darted back towards him though, grabbing a fistful of his t-shirt and resuming the tugging. “Mary-mom,” it said simply, other hand pointing at the stairs.
“What?” John barked, not waiting for the Imitant to clarify before running for the stairs, hearing the sound of footsteps behind him. Heart in throat, he took the stairs two at a time. He automatically started for the bedroom he and Mary shared but a small hand gripped his elbow and swung him when he drew level with Sammy’s bedroom. He halted for a second, breath rushing in ragged pants and frowned. The room was quiet, Sammy waving hands at the mobile above his crib.
“Mary-Mom!” the D-19 insisted and pointed up.
John had a split second to see his wife, pinned to the ceiling before flames erupted. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as John lurched into the room, completely torn. Mary’s eyes were on Sammy though and that’s where John headed first, grabbing the infant up and then freezing. John cast about for a second before he spotted the Imitant standing in the doorway, arms held out like he had the day in the garage.
John pressed his baby into the robot’s arms.
“Get Sammy outside as fast as you can. Now D-19, go!”
There were lights and sirens and the smell of smoke in his nostrils. John sat on the hood of the Impala that he’d put out on the street only that morning because he was going to clear out the garage. It was a lucky thing too, because the car would’ve gone up with the rest of the house if he hadn’t.
John pressed Sammy against his chest, who’d been crying right up until he’d passed out like he’d known something was wrong. John looked down at the D-19 standing by his leg and noticed a smudge of dirt on its cheek. He licked his thumb and made to clean it off but paused right before he did, the D-19 turning its face up to him, firelight catching in its eyes and reflecting back flat like two coins. John instead curled his arm closer around Sammy who whimpered and struggled a little in the tight swaddle of his bed sheets.
John hadn’t wrapped him so tight and he realised with a grimace that D-19 must have done it while he was talking to the cops.
“You got someplace to stay?” one of the cops he had talked to asked from the curb. He had that expression on his face like he didn’t exactly know what to say. He was young. He’d have plenty of time to harden like the other officers milling about them.
Sorry ‘bout your wife, sir.
“You and your kids can-”
“One kid,” John barked, sounding angrier than he meant to. He didn’t know where his fury was coming from, maybe because he’d seen something he didn’t know how to reconcile in his own head let alone talk to anyone about. His wife, on the ceiling.
“I got one kid,” John repeated, gentling his tone so the fresh-faced cop didn’t feel compelled to pry Sammy out of his arms. He put a foot to D-19’s shoulder and shoved a little, causing the robot to stumble a step forward. “That’s an Imitant.”
The officer’s eyes got wide and curious for a second before he was able to clamp down on it. An Imitant was still enough of a novelty that people would stare if they knew, ask questions. He could see it now in the young man’s face. In amongst this tragedy the guy still couldn’t help himself.
“You want it?”
John didn’t know why he offered, he only knew that D-19 turned wide eyes on him and held up his arms, as if in supplication. “I have to look after Sammy,” it said. Its voice wasn’t pleading or whiny, just stating a simple fact. “I’m his Big Brother.”
John grimaced wanting to kick the thing further away from him and his only remaining family but he knew he couldn’t. Artificial it might be, but in some small way it represented what Mary wanted and with their house nearly levelled, he would hang onto every single precious thing that was touched by his wife.
“Yeah, okay,” John said, sliding down from the hood of the car. “Get in.” He flicked his head at the backseat where the baby carriage was now fastened and he didn’t remember doing that either. The baby carriage had been in Mary’s car last he knew.
D-19 held its arms out when it had gotten into the car and John silently handed Sammy over. He watched as the small robot expertly buckled and fastened his son into his seat and the way Sammy reached for its hands as they worked and giggled. D-19 grinned and tickled Sammy under the chin before turning back to John.
“Ready,” it said.
Sam stopped crying after the fire.
It wasn’t a gradual thing, like he slowly learned that he wasn’t getting the attention he used to when he kicked up fuss. He just… stopped crying altogether. Which wasn’t to say that he didn’t know how to communicate his displeasure. He had a certain frown that he now used instead.
Sammy had been a blobby pile of skin up until about four months old. At that age, as if overnight, he figured out his face could make expressions and he started up with the smiling. It wasn’t so much a smile as a grin that lifted and scrunched up his whole face and it was a sight to see. There was… John swallowed hard. There had been thousands of photos of that grin.
John missed that grin. He hadn’t seen it in a while.
“He want something?” Missouri asked from her table. She had a mortar and pestle and was working something that smelled of mint and coriander. John would’ve liked to have thought it was dinner with his stomach gnawing on itself and all but you could never tell in Missouri’s place.
John’s love for antiques had well and truly been slaked in the confines of her lopsided house.
“I dunno,” John said. He’d been offering a series of things to Sammy, none of which was making that frown go. John had done the sniff check and his son wasn’t loaded, wasn’t interested in milk or the small collection of thrift-store toys he’d managed to accumulate.
“He keeps asking for someone,” Missouri said, still not looking up and John turned to her, fetching a hip against the high chair that Missouri had on standby for the gaggle of nieces and nephews that could turn up with no notice.
“He keeps asking for someone?” John asked incredulously and then blinked when Missouri turned her head just enough to look over her glasses at him. That look reminded him so much of his third grade teacher that it gave him the willies.
“After all I’ve told you, you’re still going to give me attitude?” Missouri scolded and John held his hands up in apology.
“I’m still catching up here, remember?”
“I don’t have time to hold your hand, John Winchester,” Missouri said, waving a hand at him in dismissal. “There’s things out there won’t care if you’re caught up so you better get used to just going with it, believing people who have been doing this longer than you without asking a lot of damn fool questions.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” John said, trying to keep the laugh out of his voice because he still didn’t know everything about the woman who had taken him in but most certainly could kick his ass if she really put a mind to it. “You were saying?”
Missouri looked like she was ready to hold onto her ire but at the last moment sighed and set aside her bowl. “It isn’t exactly easy to make out but I think he’s asking for someone named… Dean maybe? That mean anything to you?”
“Dean? No, we don’t…” John paused, bringing a hand up to his chin and rubbing thoughtfully. He looked at his son and the concentrated scowl he was wearing. How he had his arms up, waving in the direction of the corner. The corner John had set the D-19 in with a quick bark of stay.
He looked across at the D-19 and again noticed the unnatural stillness of the thing, how unlike a kid it was when it wasn’t moving. “Dean?”
The Imitant looked to John and its eyebrows raised just slightly. John, for lack of something better, had been calling it its designation because the whole idea of actually naming it had just seemed a little out there for him. It wasn’t like you named a blender or a toaster, even if they did talk to you these days cheerfully, asking how your day was.
Sammy on the other hand…
“Dean,” John said, tone one of command now and the little robot came forward immediately. Sammy’s arm waving got a little more insistent and the frown dimmed a touch as the Imitant approached and stopped just short of John. It was John’s turn to frown but he supposed the baby just didn’t know any better.
John knew over the last couple of weeks he’d been tempted on numerous occasions to just open the car door and push the Imitant out, probably without even stopping. The way it hovered, ever accommodating and there was just unnerving the hell out of him. It didn’t help that when he looked at it there were freckles and a cowlick at the back of its head and his own goddamn eyes.
“Go on then,” John sighed and the Imitant immediately darted towards Sammy, scooping him out of the high chair. Sammy made a high-pitched squeal of delight and immediately latched onto any part of the D-19 he could reach.
“Dean,” John sighed, tone one now of resignation. The blender got a name and John got to hope fervently that Sammy would grow out of needing D-… Dean nearby.
Missouri clucked her tongue and shook her head. Then John was treated to the mother of all stern glares because even though he hadn’t said anything, he’d been thinking something fairly uncharitable.