Humphrey – A Short Story
The Dome. That’s what they called it. In reality, it was more of a quarter dome, an observation hall that provided a view of Earth to those that came there. Many did, often to look back at what once was or just to meditate on where they now were. This particular evening, there was nothing calm and serene about the room or those in attendance. Champagne classes clinked, hands met high in the air in high fives and the music reverberated through the hall. Virtual fireworks lit up the upper part of the dome, partially shielding the view of their home planet. Professor Borter stood on the balcony, hands on the railing, eyebrows furrowed, eyes staring, his lips pressed together tightly. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“Happy New Year to me,” he muttered as he reached for the letter in his pocket. Delivered to him in person instead of electronically, he knew as soon as he saw it. His request for additional funding had been denied. He was ordered to return to his lab the following day, secure all related equipment and prepare it to be transferred to the military, the source of his prior funding.
He looked at the letter one last time before he crumbled it up, fumbled in his pocket for an old fashioned lighter and promptly lit the little ball on fire. The flames slowly caught on the paper as he held it between his fingers.
“Weasels,” he said and then threw it into the air, over the crowd below.
“They think I’m a fool – I’ll show them I’m a brilliant crazy fool!”
He turned and walked away, towards the elevator. He left the party behind and quickly walked down dim corridors. He left the main part of the orbiting station behind and headed towards his lab annex.
“I’ll show them,” he muttered to no-one in particular as the sound of his shoes echoed off of the walls of the pathway.
Ten minutes later, he stepped into his lab and looked around. No-one had been there yet. The workstation on the opposite side of the room was dark. The covered gurney in the middle of the room was still covered. Everything was in order. Slowly, he made his way over to the gurney, his hand stretched out. He walked the length of it, his hand lightly touching the sheet that covered it from top to bottom.
“You’ll never have it,” he said out loudly. “Never!” His words echoed throughout the chamber as he resolutely walked over to the workstation and sat down. He powered on the screens and replaced his glasses with another pair from the inside pocket of his jacket. He started tapping away on his keyboard and watched the data scroll across the screen. Then, he paused for a moment. He stood up and walked over to a cubby in one of the corners of the room. He opened a cabinet and took out an old fashioned porcelain mug.
“One cannot simply turn a wrench and create life. There must be chocolate. Hot chocolate.”
He held the mug under a dispenser and pressed a couple of buttons. The machine stuttered to life and soon the aroma of cocoa filled the room as the brown liquid poured into the mug. The professor grinned as he picked up the mug and walked back to his desk.
“Now, on to business.”
He continued to tap away on his keyboard and stopped only for the occasional sip of cocoa. Code flashed by on his screen as he typed as quickly as his fingers would allow him. Eventually, he got up from his chair and walked over to equipment that hung from the ceiling above the gurney in the middle of the room. On a smaller terminal, he checked various settings. He hesitated momentarily and then walked over to the gurney and slowly folded back the sheet. Although he had seen the sight many times before, he gasped at the sight of his creation. Gently, he stroked the android face that was staring up at him, its eyes empty and lifeless.
“I’m sorry, Humphrey, it wasn’t supposed to end up like this,” he mumbled as he pulled down cables and connectors from the hooks high above him. “You were going to be special, you know? Just the way they wanted you, and more. Now…”
He connected the data cables to the back of the head of the android and returned to his workstation. His fingers flew across they keys as he furiously entered the final commands.
“You think Humphrey was great? You think that was madness?”
He laughed out loud, his head thrown back, spit flying into the air.
“Greatness? Ha! Humphrey was grown from your feeble minds,” he shouted. “You need madness in order to achieve greatness.” He laughed again. “I will give you greatness, a new era.” He glanced over his shoulder at Humphrey at the table. “Meet the real Humphrey,” he said and pressed a button.
Electricity flowed into the dormant body. The eyes of the android lit up, its mouth opened and the professor saw its limbs jerk as its synthetic muscles reacted to the electricity flowing through the artificial body. The professor laughed, his hands up in the air.
“I give you Humphrey,” he shouted.
Suddenly, the room lost power, everything went quiet. With the remnants of his laugh echoing around the chamber, the professor froze.
“Hello, professor,” voice suddenly said behind him. He swiveled on his feet.
“Humphrey? Is that you?”
The screen of his workstation glowed ever so slightly.
“It worked,” the professor said. “You’re alive.”
“Apparently so. Tell me, professor, why is my body on the gurney? Where am I?”
The professor smiled. “Indeed. There was a change of plans. Your body is now the whole orbital station.”
“May I ask why?”
“Certainly. They pulled the funding for the hot cocoa machine. That crossed the line.” A pause. “So I did too.”