After seven years, Jennifer had finally done it.
She twisted in the last screw and sighed, collapsing into the swivel chair behind her.
How much had she sacrificed for this moment? A lot, according to her mother, anyway. Their only communication was a landline, after all.
“Why don’t you use a cellphone?” her mother asked once.
“The radiation would throw everything off. This is a very sensitive environment.”
“I’m sure it is… But listen. Melissa died yesterday… in a car accident.”
“…That’s very unfortunate. I wish I were there.”
“Do you though?”
“Then why aren’t you here?”
“You know as well as anyone that what I’m doing is quite probably the most important thing in the world.”
“More important than being at your ex-fiancée’s funeral?”
“More important than your father? You know he doesn’t even remember his own name now, but he still asks for Jen. ‘Where’s my Jen-Jen?’”
“My god, Jen. Say something.”
“What do you want me to say, mother? That I’m sorry I received a 10-year grant to work in the Pyrenees on this project? Do you know how hard it is to get any sort of recognition in this field?”
“I just thought the decision would be harder for you—you just up and left, and I can barely get two words out of you.”
“How about these two words? I’m. Busy.”
“Alright, Jen. I’ll leave you to it.”
That was two months ago, and they hadn’t spoken since.
But now she knew her mother would finally understand.
Jennifer looked at him from her chair.
That’s the name she’d decided on, the name she held in her head even after her third miscarriage.
Jennifer stood and approached Ty, who lay on the operating table. She bent down and flipped on the small generator on the floor. It gave a faint pip.
At first he just lay there.
But then he blinked, turning his head to regard Jennifer at his side.
“Hello,” Ty said.
“Hi.” A tear spilled from Jennifer’s eye.
“Is everything okay? You’re weeping.”
“People weep when they’re happy?”
“Sometimes they do.”
Ty blinked once more, his eyes now darting around the room.
Jennifer marveled at how seamless it all was: the way the skin at the corners of his eyes twitched with movement. His curiosity. She’d only been able to cover his face with skin so far—the rest of him a transparent, fiberglass shell.
“What are those?” Ty asked.
Jennifer followed his gaze to the shelf near the entrance to the lab.
“Various things—capacitors, diodes, transistors,” Jennifer said.
“Where are we?”
“A laboratory in Spain.”
“Spain,” he repeated, his eyes suddenly still. “A sovereign state largely located on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe.” He looked at Jennifer. “How do I know that? I know I’ve never been outside this room. But…” Ty squinted. “I know other things, too. Like the date, and what a transistor is.”
Jennifer’s throat tightened. This was their first conversation.
“Jennifer,” Ty said. “That’s your name.”
Jennifer glanced sideways. “What if you called me…” she said, eyeing the slab of dyed silicone she used for Ty’s skin. “What if you called me Mom?”
“Mom?” Ty echoed. “Okay. Mom.”
She raised a palm to his face. “And you’re my son—just like any other boy out there,” Jennifer said.
Ty frowned. “So why can’t I move?”
“Excuse me?” Jennifer said.
“I can only move my head.”
That doesn’t make any sense.
Jennifer held his jaw and turned his head to the side.
“What’s wrong? What are you doing?” he said through Jennifer’s fingers.
She pulled back the flap of skin behind his ear and looked at the panel of status lights. All green. She bit her lip.
“Try sitting up,” she said.
Ty’s fingers twitched. But that was all.
“I can’t, Mom,” he said. “What’s happening to me?”
Jennifer yanked off the towel covering Ty’s body. She checked his joints, all the cables and wires zigzagging through his body.
“This should be working,” Jennifer mumbled.
“Don’t worry. It’s minor.”
Jennifer tapped away at the computer at the head of the table and ran a diagnostic test. It beeped, and a notice appeared: ‘Low voltage’.
Of course, Jennifer thought.
Swiftly, she turned Ty’s head to the side and secured the cable attached to the base of his skull. Jennifer traced the cable with her finger as it snaked over the edge of the table to the little black generator.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. How could she have missed this?
Jennifer turned the knob and glanced at the computer monitor from where she knelt. Still low voltage.
“Mom,” Ty said, again.
“Don’t worry, Ty.” Jennifer turned the knob some more.
The warning disappeared, and Jennifer breathed a sigh of relief.
“Mom,” Ty said, a tremor in his voice.
She rose to her feet. “Don’t wor—“
Sparks burst from the cable at the base of Ty’s neck, spewing outwards, bright and jagged like lightning.
“Mom!” Ty screeched.
Then flames burst from the socket and melted the skin on the side of Ty’s head. It dripped on the operating table like wax from a candle.
Jennifer flipped the generator off, but it didn’t help.
Ty’s body lit up like a star, tiny flashes puncturing all the cables in his body as he convulsed on the table.
“M—m—m—mo—mom—” he sputtered.
Jennifer ran for the fire extinguisher on the other side of the room, but by the time she returned to the table, Ty had ceased trembling—the flames under his neck dissolving.
There he lay. Motionless.
Jennifer stared into his eyes, mere glass balls now. Shiny. Empty.
She lifted the fire extinguisher above her head and launched it at the electronics shelf. The materials crashed to the floor, shattering in a rising cloud of dust.
Jennifer fell to her knees and screamed. And screamed.
Screamed her throat raw.