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Copper

Rated: PG Contains: Gay Theme, Sexual References.

No one who knew me before knows where I am now. Not even my father. And none of them ever will. I know that, though I've not been told so. And no, I've never seen a lawjock, either. Dad would have come to see me by now if he knew. I know that, too. My requests to see him have been ignored, probably destroyed, just like my requests to see a lawjock... or him.

But today is the day I get to see him. My repeated requests have been ignored until now. I wonder why they were letting us meet now? Most likely they were ready to observe his reactions to seeing me. Maybe they had convinced him that he needed to, in order to move onward. Maybe he wanted to see me. Maybe he had somehow convinced them.

Whatever the reason, today I get to see him.

I wish I knew what to say, now that I have the chance.

I am taken to the interview room. It is very small. There is one chair, facing a pane of glass or transparent aluminum. On the other side is another small room, also with one door and one chair. Everything in both rooms is soft white, even the chairs and the lighting. I am directed to sit. The guard leaves, closing the door behind himself. It is very quiet. I can hear my breathing and my heartbeat.

The door in the room on the other side of the clear devider opens. It's him!

A guard is with him, speaks to him shortly, then leaves. He sits. Our eyes meet. He's all I'd hoped for. More, even. Stunningly red hair, so dark it was nearly copper-colored. Face long and narrow, sharp but refined cheek bones, lips perfectly shaped, the top lighter than the bottom, both soft and lush. Complexion pale, but not sickly, and smooth and wonderful. Fine, faint freckles laced over cheeks and nose. Thin, not bony. The arms and legs were long and slender. Hips were just so. He hadn't changed one bit since that day I last saw him. He's perfect.

My insides churn and I begin to sweat.

We are both silent, only seeing each other. I can see the emotions warring on his face. That was... excruciating. Both elating and depressing. He stares at me in the same way I do him; soaking in the sight. Probably thinking the same things I am. Fascinating!

His gently lips part, and after a moment, he says, "Hello."

In that one short syllable, I hear the tone and accent so clearly. Just perfect. Stunning.

I finally manage, "I don't know what to say."

"You can tell me why."

His diction is perfect. And his accent is perfect. Everything about him is perfect.

"Why?" I ask, confused.

"Yes. Why? How did it get started?"

His stunning green eyes bore into my own. I can see the emotions there. It's incredible!

"Where do I start?"

"At the beginning."

I think for a moment, wondering when it all began, then say, "When I found... the course."

He leans forward just a bit, as if curious, on edge to hear an explanation. Just remarkable.

"Tell me," he says softly, his expression so yearning.

I inhale deeply, blow the breath out explosively.



* * *



I was sitting at the edusys comterm in my room, taking biophysics exams. I felt like I was doing pretty well. I answered the last question on the last page-I thought. I hit send and sat back, stretched over the back of the chair to pop my back. I had been leaning over the console for quite a time, and now my back was tired and sore.

Then the comterm beeped, and I opened the new message. I'd gotten a nearly perfect score. Better than I had expected. Then there was another message; it wanted me to take a placement exam for next term. My score, I guess, prompted the edusys program to test me for some class called, Physical Modeling of Human Parameters and Psychological Integration in an Engineered Bio-Clone Mock-up.

It sounded interesting. I knew all about how the bio-clone stuff had been made illegal years ago, and how research into it was still illegal. Yet here was a class on it. I'd read a lot on it, even done some playing around with ideas. That there was a class on it surprised me. There was no time limit, only that I couldn't close the exam or open another window or leave the terminal's sensor area. I started the exam. It took me hours.

The obvious questions that started the exam seemed strangely worded, but I figured out what they wanted the answers to be and what I knew they should be. I put down the desired responses concerning 'illegal research' and 'unlawful biological applications.' Then the questions started with the basic theories and means of using software to create a clone's identity and psychology. Soon they branched to dealing with the psychological methodologies, emotional sourcing, accelerated bio-development, and age inhibitors.

I began to believe that studying this I could actually create, even control the development of, an enhanced human being.

Dad come home and saw me working when he stopped in to say hi. He told me when I was finished to come down for dinner. It was after eight when I closed the exam and hit send. I stood up and worked the kinks out of my back, shoulders, and arms with some stretches and a few exercises. The report came back before I finished, and I was anxious to see how I had done, but I let myself enjoy the anticipation and finished working out.

When I sat down and opened the report, I got such a surprise! I had gotten a 72%. Not only that, but it had been the final for the class, not a placement exam for it! It said so right there in the report. I had passed the course final exam, without even taking the course!

There was another mail from the edusys program. It said I was invited to take part in the class next term, gratis. That was the first real shock. Classes are not offered for free. They just aren't. And this was an advanced class on a topic that I thought was pretty much illegal. I didn't know what to do. I liked the sound of the class, and a lot of the questions were simple, as far as I was concerned; common sense and logical. The ones I had missed dealt with things I had never heard of. Things like thought process control limits, ethical parameter integration with modal psychological responses, layering appropriate emotional responses levels to stimuli, and more deeply technical topics. Those were way beyond me, but I had tried to answer them, providing what I thought was the right ideas or answers. I had gotten partial credit for some of them.

It was interesting, this offer. But it was suspicious, too. I queried the system about it; who offered the class, why, what the cost was. All that came back 'not available.' I looked the class up in the directory and couldn't find it, or anything even slightly like it.



* * *



"Did that not make you suspicious?"

His brows are raised in curiosity, and his eyes reveal complicated thoughts and emotions in their incredibly green depths. It is simply amazing!

"Yes, of course," I manage to reply, after a difficult swallow.

"And yet you still proceeded?"

"Well, that only made the offer even more interesting and attractive."

"Of course," he replies, a small, mischievous grin appearing on those perfect lips. "I understand," he nods. "Do go on."



* * *



I was confident the class wasn't anything illegal or illegitimate, or the edusys program wouldn't have access to it, let alone offer it. It would have screened it out if it were prohibited or restricted. Certainly by the time I'd finished the exam, if the supervising AI hadn't caught on, then obviously it was all legit. Obviously.

So I accepted the offer. What the deuce? The edusys offered it, so it couldn't be trouble. I knew more about the edusys programming than about anything else. I could program it and alter it at will. I had broken the protocols and security a long time ago. I even had changed a few things about it. Not much, just shadowed the program and kept my copy resident and active, fooling the central AI into thinking it was in control. And how close it watched me when I was at the comm. I never liked how I felt, knowing it's cameras and sensors were so tightly scrutinizing me every second. I set it to mimic my parameters as I sat down at it each time, then only slightly up them as the test progressed, displaying increasing nervousness, tension, and stress. Just enough so that the central AI - and any techs going over any of the numbers later - wouldn't be alerted. It obviously worked fine, as no one ever said anything, and I never got any warnings or notices of tampering. Well, I did when I wanted to; just to make sure I was caught doing the typical inquisitive queries and attempts at doing things I wasn't supposed to do.



* * *



"Actually, your tampering had been noted and reported almost immediately. Nothing was done, as far as you knew. It was determined that you would be watched closer, and your edusys commterm was reprogrammed in such a way that you wouldn't notice unless you went back to the code you had changed. Since you knew better than to take that risk, you never knew."

His accent is just perfect! No contractions, though. I hadn't thought of that. Too late now.

"You mean, they knew that long ago?" I ask, almost shocked.

"Yes. Almost right away. You became closely watched. Right now, please do go on."



* * *



So I had accepted the offer of the free class. I wondered a lot about it, you know. Classes not in the registry were rumors, not real, but I had not only discovered one, I was enrolled in one.

As I filled in the form and hit send, I was so tremulous. I knew this was something different, or unusual to say the least, and it was more thrilling than changing the commterm's code had been. I searched more deeply into the edusys dee-bee and found some references to studies of the materials in 'discrete ways and places' was still being done. No references of course to exactly what 'ways' or what 'places.' I guessed I had found one.

Right away, a confidentiality form arrived. It said I could never mention the class, or that I was in it, or even mention to anyone that I had ever heard of it. I was to study the materials and take the exams alone, that if anyone else was present, at any time, I would be fritzed from the class immediately. There were no identifying names or organizations. I read the whole thing, slowly, curio and worried. This was totally new; I had never heard of such a thing for a class before. Not without the institution, university, or corporation providing it pasted liberally in view the entire time. I gave it my thumb and hit send.

The response came back instantly. It provided the class codes, schedule, and the first reading materials. The materials were compressed files with a pass to be provided in a separate mail. And finally, the sponsor of the class; World Wide Engineering. Seems I would also be considered an employee of World Wide Engineering, and would be compensated for any 'material advantage or useable research derived from my classwork.' And a strange little line at the bottom.

"Thank you for your interest in this course. We look forward to your progression."

World Wide Engineering. They did everything. perscomms, commterms, remlinks, seccams, egrams, even the police and emergency comms the world over are WWE.

That should have been my first clue, neh?



* * *



"Yes, it should have, especially considering your intelligence. But go on."

He is sitting forward quite a bit by now, deeply interested in the story. He is entirely handsome to me, though most might consider him urkley.



* * *



I couldn't wait, so I opened the course texts. It was interesting to say the very least. Dad commed and asked if I was going to eat or if he should just send up the houbo with an I.V. solution.

So I closed the files and moved them onto a secured stick with security so hot not even a secsysbot could open them without my protocols and presence at the commterm. I went down for dinner, and that was when Dad told me we were moving to Malaysia.

It was fine with me. The weather was better than Antarctica, that was for sure, and I might even find someone to do stuff with, like a normal kid. We'd moved to Peshin Bay from Seattle seven years ago, when I was nine. I'd really hated leaving friends and familiar things for something so strange and new, but there was no choice.

After Mom had died, Dad had no reason not to accept the transfer, not even me. Mom's job had kept us in Seattle, paid most of the bills and such. But now, Dad was having to pay them all, alone, and this job would do that and more. He had explained all that, but I was nine, I didn't give a fick about all the factors, only that I was leaving home.

Anyway, I was actually happy we were moving this time. Dad said there would be kids from all over at the new facility, not like here. We would be living on-site in company housing, and that there was public spaces as well, just for the employees and their families. And there would be a real outdoors with sun, and weather aside from cold and snow.

He smiled at me real big, then dropped the bombshell. Sandry from Seattle was there, at Malyasia. Dad would be working in a different sector than him, but his son, Eric, probably my best friend from Seattle, was there. We would be living in the same housing sector!

Suddenly, I couldn't wait to move! I commed Eric as soon as dinner was over and I was back in my room. He didn't know. He flew out of his chair and screamed around his room. I didn't expect that. He said he was so ficking glad, that there wasn't anybody there he got along with at all. His face lost a bit of his smile when he told me he was so lonely there. I never knew he was that. He was never a bubbly, outgoing, hyper kind of guy, that's why we got along so well in Seattle; we were both introverts.

We talked a long time, making plans for when I arrived. I commed down to Dad and asked if he knew our housing assignment. He laughed and asked if I was on with Eric. I said yes, he laughed again, said he'd be up in a second, that he wanted to see this.

Eric and I were worried. Dad didn't do things this way. When dad came in, he stood so he could watch us both, hit two-way record on my console, cleared his throat.

"Eric, Paul and I are assigned one-one-eight-four-four in Complex Sigma."

That meant nothing to me. Eric yelled and whooped, so I guessed it was close to him.

"I live in Sigma one-one-eight-four-seven, Paul!"

I had forgotten his housing location. You don't remember that when you just comm all the time.

I would be just down the hall! Across and one door up!

"Ficking awesome, Eric!"

We did the shuffle-dance together without even thinking about it. Then I saw dad there smiling, and I saw the red record signal. I stopped, embarrassed. Paul asked what was wrong.

"Ficking nothing, mano!" and I started dancing again.

Let dad have his vid. I rushed over and hugged him. That was the first time in years. He patted my hair and said he was glad it was going to be a good move.

I had some tears to hide, wipe away before pulling away from Dad's chest and turning back to the commterm.

"So when?" Eric asked.

"End of next month," Dad stated with a smile.

We whooped and yelled and talked about stuff I don't remember for a while. I turned off the recording and I sent the file to his commterm downstairs. Eric and I made plans and came up with ideas and talked about the neighborhood.

He said it was real nice there. Pool, vid courts, even a bit of real woods and a little river. I couldn't wait. Neither could he.

We commed off and I wanted to dance. So I turned on the old, archaic music from the twentieth century I liked and sang along to some of my favorites as I stepped around my room, just so ficking happy for a change.

I guess I should say, I wasn't happy there, in the cold, mostly-dark, barren, perpetual winter. I missed being outside, even though I had almost never went out in Seattle. I realized what that ancient phrase meant then.

'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.'

Ficking sooth, there, I thought.

The Antarctic base was small, only twenty-two on staff. I was the only one older than 12 that wasn't staff, that wasn't an adult. Christa was 12, and a bitch. She had no friends and seemed determined to keep it that way. Davy was 8, and a pain in the ass. Dumb as a dead circuit, too. But I hung around with him sometimes. Otherwise, the kid would have nobody, and I couldn't stand that thought. Now I realized he would only have Krista after I moved. I lost my good mood, knowing he was about to be so alone. But there was nothing I could do about it. We could comm, but that wasn't the same, I knew.

Eric's birthday! I realized his sixteenth birthday was less than a month after I moved! That would be so awesome! I looked through catalog after catalog, wondering what to get him. And I could give it to him in person! It had to be something special, but nothing popped to me.

I gave up when I noticed there was another egram from the edusys. It was my regular classes for next term, nothing to do with the new, secret one. I had been expecting the schedule anytime now, and I didn't feel like messing with it then, so I put it aside and kicked back and listened to music for a while, all glad and happy and feeling great.

The next day, well, things got weird.



* * *



"That would be the day you found out about Prudhoe?"

"Yes. It was. And I ficked that up so badly."

"Only human," he says with a small snicker and a tiny shrug.

Then he brushes his long, deeply red hair back over his ear. Such a ficking adorable gesture that I almost sigh aloud.



* * *



I was reading the text for the special class when Prudhoe commed. He looked bad, all bruised and sad. I asked what the hells had happened, and he said he had kissed a guy, and the guy had knuckled him. And he said he wanted me to know he was mono. I told him I was glad he knew, and I hoped he found someone better than that dud diode. He said he'd deserved it, the beating, because he hadn't said anything first. He had just become overwhelmed with the need to kiss the guy, and it had shocked them both.

Mark, the guy he had kissed, had apologized and told him he wasn't totally not interested, just surprised and didn't know what else to do. Mark had said it just wasn't for him.

Prudhoe was really down about it. I asked if he thought he loved Mark. He said he did, he knew he did, and it hurt so bad that Mark wasn't interested. I told him he would find the right guy someday. I almost told him, but it's so hard to tell someone, even a close friend. I liked Prudhoe, a lot, but not... not that way.

Then he dropped the bombshell. He told me he had met the best guy already. He had loved someone for a long time, and so badly wanted the guy. But he didn't think the guy would be interested. I begged him to tell me who when he didn't at first. He got all flus and nervy. I began to see.

"Me?" I squeaked.

He coughed and looked away from the commterm. He nodded after a bit.

I was so, I don't know, honored? Flattered? And I felt guilty. I liked him, but I didn't like his type. He was too strong and fit and athletic. I wasn't into that. I wanted to want him back, but I just didn't.

I needed to think of something to say. I had thought of being honest with him about me for some time by then, but I never had a clue he was mono too. I decided to even up the 'sharing' score.

I had to cough and clear my throat before I said it.

"Um, Pru, like, I'm really flattered. That is so cool, you feel that way, honest! And you are slickmeat, that's for sure!"

He had eyes the color of caramel, and smooth, caramel skin, and light brown hair. His body was well developed, dark hair between his nipples, and muscles bulged on his arms and chest. He was built like an athlete, and I simply wasn't attracted to that kind of guy.

"So, Pru, uh, yea. So, I've known I've liked guys more than girls for a couple years."

"No way! You're just trying to relax me!"

"Serious!"

"Then why didn't you tell me before?"

"You never told me, either. And it never seemed, appropriate?"

"Oh. And yeah, I never hinted any about it, so I guess it never was prominent."

"Sure wasn't. But I'm glad you are, and you know. Too bad we live so far apart, or I'd come over there and find out if you really are!"

"Anytime!" he said, and we laughed.

I told him I was moving to Malaysia next month, and that I had a great friend from where I lived before living there now, and would be right next to him in housing. We talked a while, and eventually decommed after passing a few sexual innuendoes back and forth.

I was glad he was monosexual. Like me. I didn't feel so different. I knew it isn't that big a deal to most, but it was still a strange feeling. You realize you don't fit the norm, aren't like 90% of the rest of the world. Sure, you're different, that's special and all, but it was still a bit of an odd feeling.

Since the Tolerance Laws of '19, it was a crime to express hatred for someone, anyone. Sure, you could have thought it, up until the subliminal psych exams in schools began back in '21. Today though, kids who thought such hateful things were taught to think differently.

I had heard of a few who refused to accept that monosexuality wasn't wrong. Even heard that some refused to accept that others' religious beliefs were their own business. There had even been a recent news story about a man who had stood on the street corner one day, proclaiming that Haftenites were evil because they refused to ban monosexuals from worshipping. He had been a Haftenite preacher, had snapped when his son had announced he had a boyfriend. He was taken away and re-educated. There was an interview with him in the article after his re-education. He had apologized for his bigotry and explained how shocked and frightened he had been after his son had made his announcement. He had been looking forward to grandchildren, and was disappointed, was all.

I had looked him up, had seen where his son was now married, but not to the boyfriend he had first coupled with. They were happy together, had an adopted daughter, and his father was preaching again.



* * *



"How did that make you feel?"

He is clearly curious, almost leaning against the transparent divider.

"What? The preacher? Or the son? Or what?"

"Actually, the re-education."

"Oh. No biggie. Don't happen often anymore. Guess, I thought he deserved it."

"You didn't worry about how he was changed?"

"He wasn't changed. Re-education doesn't change you. If you refuse to learn, you are released. Nothing to be done. Most see how they were wrong, and admit it and move on with their new knowledge."

He raises one red eyebrow ever so slightly, and asks, "You don't think that it's wrong to force ideals onto someone?"

Very interesting question, considering.

"Who's forcing ideals? It's correcting erroneous conceptions, is all."

"That's how you see it?"

That one eyebrow goes up just a bit more now. Very, very interesting. And he is so simply adorable, especially with that expression on his perfect face.

"Sure. I mean, that preacher. He just got emotionally overwrought. He was surprised by his son's announcement. If anyone was to blame, it was the son for not breaking it more respectfully."

"I see. Go on." he says, with a gentle nod at me to do so, obviously deeply embroiled in the story.

His questions reveal just how smart and insightful he is. Perfect.



* * *



So, where was I? Oh, yeah, Pru. I liked that he was mono too. It made me feel less alone about it. And if a good looking, nice, personable guy like Pru was mono, then I felt to be in good company.

Then Dollen comms. He's upset his girl dumped him. He was down and out, but I cheered him up. I told him he had it easy. I told him I was mono. He laughed, and said, "No kidding, dry-synapse." I was the only guy he knew our age who hadn't been out with girls yet, besides Derin. I asked who Derin is. He got a big, beaming smile, and said I would be finding out soon enough. I didn't like that grin at all. When I told him I was moving next month, he got down again, but said we usually only commed anyway, but he would miss the times we swam or walked together.

Then Stalley calls. She wants to go out to dinner on Saturday. Just us. I was on a trip, enjoying telling everyone, and never considered what I was saying when I told her I preferred guys. She became very sad. I apologized if I had led her on or some such. She said she didn't really like me, and just wanted to try getting to know me. I told her I was moving. She cried. I promised to come right over and she said thanks.

When I got there, she wasn't crying anymore, and told me she was silly to have done so. We talked and talked and then we did it.

It just happened. We hugged after saying how it would be after I moved, and it led to a kiss that led to another kiss and then we were touching each other all over. Then, before I even thought about it, we were in her bed and taking each others clothes off.

It was certainly enjoyable. She was warm and soft and smooth. It felt great, loosing my virginity and all, but after, I felt kind of sad. She noticed and asked why, and I told her that it felt like I had used her and she had used me.

She laughed and said that was stupid. Kissed me again. When she put her head on my chest I panicked. I shot up and out of the bed and got dressed and came home as fast as I could, thinking the whole way how I had been so bad to do that.

I wasn't surprised when I got home and the comm had three messages from her waiting for me. I listened to them, watched her face each time. The first was frantic, frightened, worried. The second was more worried but less extreme. The third was calmer, almost relaxed, and the best of them.

She said in that third one that I could wait as long as I wanted to comm her, she wouldn't comm me. She felt it was nice, what we did, and she didn't regret it. She said she would remember it always, and treasure it.

I commed her right back and explained how I just felt so suddenly wrong. But I had enjoyed it so much. And I didn't dislike her. We commed off knowing we were both okay with what had happened. Sort of.

I was, too. Well, mostly, but I also felt like I had done something wrong.



* * *



"Why do you say that?"

"That I had done something wrong?"

"Yes."

I see confusion in his eyes now, and in how he tilts his head to the side.

"Because. I felt like it had been wrong."

"Why?"

"I didn't love her? There wasn't any sexual attraction between us and we had performed sex."

"And that was wrong?"

"It felt it."

He nods a bit at me as he says, "I see." I see that he does indeed understand. His long, darkly red hair falls from behind his ears again. He brushes it back into place so gracefully with his long, slender fingers. My own expression gives away my adoration, and he blushes and grins so adorably as he snickers, then says, "Please, do go on."



* * *



Things went slowly until the move. Every day seemed like it took weeks to go by. The last few days while we were packing things were insanely slow! I couldn't wait to see Eric, and the new unit, and the neighborhood. Especially Eric. We commed every day and looked forward to spending time together like we used to. I began to really like him, a lot. In that way. He was very slick. Smaller than me, the same age, and so very intel. Bold blue eyes, gold hair, slim nose, lush lips. I began to have fantasies he was mono too, even though he'd told me about his galmates when he'd had them.

Then I told him I was mono. "I know just the bod for you!" he said, lighting up like a commterm at night. He told me he had sexed a guy once. He'd liked it, but liked girls more. And this guy was all mono. And pure slickmeat. He showed me some vid of the mano. Not my type, and I told him so. He asked what my type was. I got all nervy and said, "You." He got all flus and said, "When you get here, we'll see about synching bauds, but I link best with the wos! But I wage we can transfer some bits, for def!"

After that, when we commed, we usually didn't wear much, and vixed almost every time. He had the kind of bod I liked, all slim and petite, smooth and lean. I couldn't wait to be with him in the flesh.

The move was a nightmare. Our possessions were packed and picked up, we left the old unit with just a small bag of things for the trip. I was kinda sad to leave the unit. It was dingy, small, ugly, but it had been home for a long time.

The flight was ficked. Transferred twice, took three hours. Weather delays didn't help. But finally, we got to Kuching Airport. It was hot! Ficking so hot! And stuffy!

Eric and his dad were going to meet us there and pick us up. We looked around and around for them, but nothing. I commed him. No answer. Tried his home unit. Nothing. Dad commed Eric's dad's, and got no answer. Then he tried the home unit. It was answered right away. Dad smiled and asked where they were and what was the trick.

Dad got serious and stared at me. He asked when, and how, and how bad, and started saying he was sorry. I knew something bad happened. Dad is like an open book.

He cut the comm and hugged me and said not to be upset. Oh brother! Wrong thing to say to keep me calm! He said they had an accident on the way to get us. A heavy-hauler had a fault and veered across the highway. Eric and his dad had been hit head on by a hundred and eighty thousand pounds of carrier and cargo. They had no chance. It would have been instant.

I don't remember anything after that. Not until Dad was taking me out of the cab. He had me by the hand, telling me it was going to be alright. I was surprised at where I was. I had just been at the airport, now I'm outside some strange building in the hottest heat I'd ever felt.

We went inside the building and into the lift, and then down a corridor and to a door. Dad used a keycard to open the door and then pulled me inside. It was nice, all clean and new and fresh. But I hated it. I realized it was my new home, that I was just decameters from where Eric had lived.

I got mad and sad and all mixed up for a while. Didn't do anything to help Dad unpack. I felt bad the next morning when I got up and he was still working on it, mostly done, but I had just slept and cried the night away. I helped, did most of the rest. We were pretty settled in by dinner, and I was over how sad I felt at first.

It just wasn't ficking fair! Eric and I were supposed to be having a good time by now! Instead, Dad was telling me his funeral was tomorrow, that I didn't have to go if I didn't want to.

Oh, I wanted to! I wasn't going to miss it for anything. And we went. And it was nice. Not fun nice, but nice. His picture was over the coffin on the wall screen. I felt my heart sink when I walked in and saw that big image, smiling out at me. It was like he watched me the whole time. When I could stand to look up, that is. I spent a lot of time watching my shoes and wiping my eyes.

Leaving the funeral was hard. I got to talk to his mom a bit, but she didn't recognize me or say much, just thank you, like a machine.

I went back home and tried to start the new life. The schoolwork didn't stop just because I had moved. The edusys was world-wide, so there was no break in that. And the secret course was fascinating. I could just pick up on what I didn't already get, or understand, or know so easily. I got almost straight 'A's in it, and my other classes seemed merely repetitive.

Months went by. The usual gang commed all the time and things were nice. There were several guys and gals my age around where I lived now, and they seemed nice. Made a good friend out of one called Jayce, who had know Eric.

He was funny, always laughing. Had a great big, wide smile. Dark blond hair and eyebrows, and brown eyes. My age and height, slightly smaller build. Normal, you know? Average. But I liked him. You know... liked him. Right off. I decided I would tell him one day when he was over and said I had a nice butt. I shook it, and said, "Thanks. Yours is super-fine." I kinda paused, surprised I had said that, then said, "I'd sleep with you anytime." He laughed. Laughed real nice, like he does.

He said anytime! Looked right at me when he said it, too! I know I blushed. He did too. He said I was sexo, and he wouldn't mind at all. I kind of got all flus and all. He stood up and came over and put his arms on my shoulders and moved in real slow and kissed me. It was super-nice! And his hands went under my shirt and over my sides, and then down, and didn't stop. Dad wasn't home, so, you know. And it was super-nice! He was real gentle about it all, like he was about everything. We kind of just matched. I loved his smell and feel.

I felt so much better after that. I mean, Eric dying was hard. So not fair. But now Jayce and I had, uh, gotten close.



* * *



"Did you love Jayce?"

"Yes and no. I mean, I loved him, for him, but not like, well, not the same way."

"The same way?"

"As... others. Leave it at that."

"Did you ever tell him you loved him?"

"Yes. He told me, too. And we told each other it wasn't love, love, but a good love, and we loved having it."

"Was he your first sex with a boy?"

That question from him was excruciatingly embarrassing. I forced myself to meet those incredibly green eyes and answer him.

"Yes."

He nodded that special way, then said, "Go on, please," so softly and gently.



* * *



When we told our friends, they all said we were a slick couple, and we should make it official. They wanted a party. We had one. It was such a mistake. We had no idea. But we made the plans, and on that Friday we all got together at his house. His parents were so nice. They said I was a good thing for Jayce, and I was too tweak to let get away. And too smart. Jayce was gorgeous, but not that smart. I helped him with studies and got his average up a whole point. When we remembered to study! We mostly studied each other!

But the party, yeah. It started well. Lots of friends, and stuff to do, and good music. Jayce and I sat together the whole first half of it. When he got up to do something, he kissed me! In public the first time. At first, I didn't think about that. It was just instinct.

When he didn't come back for a while, I wondered, so I got up and went around looking for him. I found him. In his bedroom, with Teren. On the bed, mostly naked. They didn't see me they were so busy. I slammed the door and ran out, almost crying. I slammed the front door too. Ran the whole way home.

By then, someone had called home asking about me. They said I had gotten upset at the party, but obviously not what about. Dad said they called, asked me if I wanted to talk about it. And he asked what happened. I told him how I just didn't want to talk about it. Just not at all.

Jayce commed a bunch of times. I finally took one. He said he was sorry. He said it was an old boyfriend and things got carried away. He said they hadn't seen each other in a while after breaking up. They just stayed away from each other. When they saw each other at the party, they started talking. They wanted some privacy to really talk, so they went upstairs. One thing led to another, yadda, yadda, yadda.

By the time he finished I was so over him. I told him so too. No more tears for him. No pining. I told him to go stick with Teren. He could have him. He looked like he might cry, I even hoped he would. He didn't. He said if I really felt that way, he wouldn't comm me again. I told him to take my number off his comm. He gasped, looked shocked. I cut the connection and sat back and sighed.

I felt good. I knew I didn't need him. He needed me way more. Especially for his studies. I laughed when I thought how he would be down a grade point again. He deserved it.

I threw myself back into school work. Did extra studies in all the courses. Got ahead in the secret course. I had done some more research into that, by the way. I found some references to it. It was a nearly forbidden topic. Since the laws to prevent research with clones had passed, this kind of course was cut immediately. No one offered it anywhere. The stuff I was studying was well past what was done when the entire area had been deemed illegal. Why hadn't the edusys taken the proper steps to alert the authorities and block the information?

I didn't care, though. I liked the stuff. It was also a bit of a thrill to study something so taboo. And I was good at it. At the end of the course, I was informed I had qualified for advanced study. I was invited to take a hands-on course, one where I would be supplied with materials and equipment, and could tinker and work with the real things.

I worried about it a bit, not much. I mean, how could it be illegal if the edusys was providing it? The materials for the next course were just the hardware and the interface materials, and some tools to make and alter the tiny cells. There were no actual illegal biological materials.

So, I signed up.

There was no charge for the materials. They started arriving the next week. Everything but biologicals. A powerful microscope, a centrifuge, and incubation plate and box, pipettes and droppers and bottles and test tubes and beakers, even an individual computer console with connections for external devices and I/O data channels.

When I was done unpacking it all, I had everything to create an actual clone, but the organics. It was so obvious.

The class started up and I became nothing but a student. The comm would go off but I wouldn't answer. My friends left messages and I got them, but comming them back meant wasted time, so I rarely did.

I got way ahead on the class. The course went into the biological components into detail, but in 'theoretical terms,' of course. It covered how to develop the embryonic cells and how to incubate them. All in theory, of course. Right down to the chemical balances and electrolytes during the different stages of development. It even detailed the programming and layering of the personality matrix and psychological envelope. Again, all in theory.

I let the class catch up to me. I got an A. Almost all As.

A year had gone by in the new house. I turned 17 and got a bit taller. Still hadn't spent any time with any friends. I just guess I didn't want the loss again. You get sick of being the ugly one. I never knew what Jayce saw in me, why he was attracted to me. I was worthless. Less than that sometimes. Even my so-called friends proved so when they stopped comming. I didn't care. No friends means no let-downs. No embarrassment.



* * *



"You honestly believed that?"

He was clearly surprised, and sitting forward, deeply interested in the story, nearly with his nose against the barrier.

"Yes. I knew it as fact."

"How strange."

"Why, strange?"

"You went ahead even though you felt that way."

Very smart.

"I did want a friend, I wanted... something else."

"What?

"Just, something else. Not a friend."

"Interesting. Yet, that was your primary aim. Please, go on," he almost begged.



* * *



The next courses were fairly dull and un-chall, to say the least. Except for the secret class that almost got cancelled. I guess it was my own fault.

I was reading a text for it when it happened. I hadn't been paying attention. Jayce had come over, Dad had let him in. It had been almost a year since we stopped with each other. He knocked and opened the door at the same time. The comm beeped in warning. The text closed, the data I was working on vanished, the notes I had been writing were erased. The commterm went into STANDBY mode.

I screamed. I was so angry. He had no idea what he had just done! That class had become my life. It was everything to me. He saw the equipment, the chaotic mess, me. He looked scared. Or maybe worried. He started to say something, but I cut him off. I called him an ignorant emu, told him to get out and never come back, never comm me, ever again.

He backed out, not saying anything. When I turned around to open the files, they were gone! All of them. The texts, the data, the schematics, my notes, all of it. There was a new egram from the edusys. It was a copy of the agreement I had thumbed. The section on privacy and secrecy was highlighted. The part about how if anyone were to be in the room while I worked with any of it, I would be formatted from the course immediately. When I closed it, it disappeared too.

I could do nothing. The edusys and the syscomm denied there was any such course. There had been no contact information for the course at any time. I had no way to get it back! I was so mad!

Then I realized I had lost nothing. Just the notes. I had learned it all. I knew the entire class. I knew how to finish it. And I knew how to improve it.

The organics were the only thing I had to procure. And the tank. I had to build that. It would be easy. Dad thought nothing of what I was doing.

Another month, and I was ready. I knew this would mean trouble if anyone found out about it. I didn't care. If I could do what I thought could be done, I would have a friend for life. One who didn't go off kissing other guys, one who wouldn't die, one who would never live so far away. And I knew I could improve the personality matrix and psychological stack over what the 'theoretic' system entailed.

Once I had built and tested the tank, I sanitized it, prepped it for the big show. All that was left was the DNA samples, and to tweak and combine them, and then tweak the final set.

I knew what I wanted it to look like. Hair like Tarny, one of my recently estranged friends. Eyes like Eric's. Skin, like Jayce. A bod like Blayne's, another recently estranged friend. A strong nose, not a little pointy thing like my own. And lips that were just a bit bigger than mine, too. But I couldn't decide on red or peach lips. I decided on both; peach, lighter above, red, darker lower lip. Slight dimples on the cheeks. All four.

The embarrassing parts I wanted modeled after Eric's I had the vids of our comms I'd kept for modeling.

I would need DNA samples from each person. Eric would be the hardest. I was on good terms with his mom, went over one day. She let me look through the things they still had. His hair brush worked nicely. I also took a couple pictures and a toy hovercar I had given him for a birthday before I had moved away from him so long ago.

Jayce was easy to figure out how. I got into a fight with him. That was hard. When I first saw him, I almost backed out. I timed it so I was at his hai-ali game when it let out. He was still so slick. He was alone, no one walking with him. I did it. I had to, to have my dream. Managed to 'bump' into him. I pretended shock and anger. Pushed him. He pushed back. We got into it. I got his skin under several nails.

The others were even easier. A request to get together and talk, then we got physical; either a fight or sex. The sex was listless and dull, but they seemed to enjoy it. The fights were rewarding.

I used the home medicomp and pulled the needed DNA strings. Used the class equipment to assemble the right sequences in the right orders, then combined them. Got a great resultant combination. Then I tweaked the code. It was easy. Just perfect. I removed the aging cues, and locked the growth to a stage near the end of adolescence. He would grow to my age and then stop. I could later make adjustments using hormones and viral carriers to change his DNA and have him grow to any age I liked as I grew older. That wasn't part of the class, but I'd figured it out. It was almost too simple.

The next day, it was on. I smeared the biologicals on the small incuplate next to the large man-sized tank and set it up to get started. While that was going, I worked on the data banks for his mind. I transferred all of the data stored in the edusys history that I'd ever studied into the mental model in the isolated computer terminal.

That took two days to get right. Two days I didn't sleep or eat much.

I downloaded all the base files, let it boot and self-test, then compile. Then I added personal touches of things I'd figured out not in the texts and lessons. Then I added memories and ideas and questions. It compiled further, finally reaching equilibrium. It was working awesome.

I sprayed down the tank with disinfectant and sterilizers again and washed it with sterile saline. Next day the bios in the small tank had split and began multiplying nicely. I added the proper nutrients and adjusted the incuplate. By nightfall the cells had begun showing signs of differentiation and grouping. Even a bit faster than the theory had predicted. In three days the cells had increased to the size of a golf ball, and was ready to take it's place in the small rounded depression in the small disc in the incubation chamber. The varied cells would know where to migrate as they grew.

Over the next several days the biologicals that would grow into organs and muscles, nerves and skin, began separating. The cells were smart, and knew where they belonged in the body they were coded to create and maintain. They would simply grow into the proper cells and organs and take their places. Theoretically.

Three more days and the biologicals began swarming out and over the incubation plate. I started talking as I sat there, watching, waiting. I spent every spare minute in there, talking and dreaming and building. I knew I would need a name, so I came up with Eric Martin Copper. I dreamt up a past, and a story, and everything I thought he would need. He had lost both parents in a car crash, had been living with an abusive relative, had come here to hide, and was about to turn eighteen and could soon go live on his own. I added that information to the data in the isolated computer terminal.

A week later the skeleton was developing, and slightly covered with a thin layer of muscle and tendon, still pink and white. Another week and the skull was complete. Another week, and it was fully covered by skin, and hair was sprouting. I could see the budding eyeballs behind the translucent eyelids. I had installed all the connections that would transfer the data from the isolated computer to the brain when it was ready, and they had tested perfectly. Another week and internal organs were nearly completed, and it was beginning to grow smooth all over with pink and white skin. The face was nearly done, only the tip of the nose still translucent. The powerful green eyes were done and the delicate pink lids were tightly closed over them. The deeply red hair on the skull was growing out. Another week and the hair above the brows and the lashes began growing out, as well as below the arms and around the vestigial privates. Another week and it was almost done all over.

Then the brain was nearly complete, and I began the task of filling it with the data from the isolated computer terminal. The electroencephalogram showed massive activity as the data was absorbed. Once the raw data was transferred, I worked on the task of developing and testing the psyche. The mental responses to stimuli were easy, it was the responses to conversation and forming questions for things it didn't know that was difficult. So were the emotional cues and responses. I didn't want him to be a push-over, but I didn't want him to be a pushy cog either. Finding and developing that balance took days.

It was alive, the heart beating in perfect timing, the breathing soft and regular. Blood flowed through the skin, giving it a soft, rosy tint, though still pale. Stroking the soles of the feet elicited the predictable plantar reflex. Deep tendon reflexes were perfect. Neurological-tactile responses were optimal and predictable. The brain and body were working in perfect harmony. The electroencephalogram showed minimal activity, except during stimulation of the senses.

Before I could wake it, I first had to decide just what to teach it about me. I decided on everything. Absolutely everything. And then came the question of what it thought of me. There was only one answer I wanted to that, so I coded it.

I compiled the psyche and tested it over and over. I spent a few hours tweaking its accent. I had seen old vids of the last century, and the way the Brits spoke had always seemed... sexo. So I gave it a mix of Scot and Brit. Hearing it respond in that nearly perfect voice out of that voxbox was nervy.

When the psyche seemed stable and reasonable, I tried some logical traps and reasoning trips, and got great responses. It was smart and capable, and not easily tricked. And when I queried it about things it wasn't programmed with, it asked good questions and developed new knowledge perfectly!

Dad was still oblivious. He stayed out of my room, let me have that space all to myself. He worked too much, anyway. I was thankful for it; it left me the time to get this all done. And since the tank was easily disguised while I was out of the room as a large crate not yet opened, it was safe from him unless I fell asleep in the room with the door unlocked. I was careful never to.

Often as I worked with the mind/brain compilation, I stroked the warm, soft chest and arms, the smooth face, run my fingers through that wonderful, long, deeply red hair. When the work on the mind was done, I removed the hair-fine electrodes that penetrated the scalp and connected the brain to the isolated computer terminal. It was on its own now. It wasn't awake yet. That wasn't included in the classwork, but I suspected that I knew exactly what was required to 'wake' it.

My creation... my friend... my... lover... was ready. And perfect.

I knew how to wake it. For now it was in a nearly coma-like state. The body was barely functioning, and only on the most basic levels. Though the reflexes were working, and the mind was connected to the body through the nervous system, there was no conscious motor activity. There were no caloric reserves. The body was running on the nutrients and fluid provided by the tank, which were barely minimal to preserve life. Until it received real calories through food and drink, it would remain paralyzed and stationary, unconscious.

The class materials had never dealt with the implications or even the question of 'waking' the experiment. I had no doubts of doing so. I had put all the information I wanted into it. The personality would certainly be as I intended. The long talks with the programming had shown no emotional variations out of the norm unless I intentionally triggered them. The clone would have its own personality, its own thoughts, its own memories of its past.

The incubator beeped and scared the hell out of me. It detected that there was no further cellular growth: It was finished.

Stunningly red hair, so dark it was nearly copper-colored. Face long and narrow, sharp but refined cheek bones, lips perfectly shaped, the top lighter than the bottom, both soft and lush. Complexion pale, but not sickly, and smooth and wonderful. Fine, faint freckles laced over cheeks and nose. Hips were just so. All the naughty bits were perfect. Fine red hair filled in nicely where it belonged under his arms and around his privates. Thin body, but not bony. The arms and legs were long and slender.

You were ficking perfect.

That was the last I saw of you. I heard the door to the room open, and I heard someone tell me to hold stationary. I woke up later in the cell.



* * *



He was still that boy I had built. He was unchanged. Perfect. But maybe a bit smarter now.

As I had told him of his genesis, he had listened patiently, nodding from time to time, just asking the occasional question. I had stared into those deeply green eyes from my first words, and continued to do so now. He is perfect.

This meeting is my only chance to ever see him, I know that. The authorities and WWE had agreed to this one meeting, and this one only. And I had to be very good to earn even this one.

And now our time is nearly up, the guard already entering the room on my side.

"I wanted a friend... and a lover. Someone I could trust, and love. Who would never cheat on me, or leave me, or lie to me. Someone who would be more than a friend, forever."

"I would have been all of that for you," he says, his beautiful green eyes reddening, glistening with tears.

"I know. I programmed that into you. And it was wrong to do that. What I did was wrong. I know that now. And I'm glad they taught me that."

"I miss you."

"You can't. You never met me."

"Yes, I can. I know all about you. I only want to be with you, and they won't let me. That hurts!"

We both cried, but couldn't touch or comfort each other. He was real. He had real needs and real desires, and I had made me the sum of them all.

"Time's over, let's go," the damned guard insists, pulling me from my chair.

"But you never saw me! I never woke you!"

"I was aware!" he cries. "I heard you speaking to me! I felt you touching me!"

Resistance is useless, there is no possibility of it. The guard is dragging me away. We are being separated and there is no way to prevent it.

"That's not possible! You're lying!" I yell.

"I can't ever lie to you!" he cries, standing and placing his perfect hand against the transparent barrier, tears rolling down both of his perfect cheeks. "You programmed me never to do so!" He slams his other hand onto the barrier, as if reaching out to take me from the guard who is inexorably dragging me away. "I love you!"

And then the door is between us, and I'm in the hallway, being taken back to my small room in the penitentiary.

I doubt they will ever allow us to see each other again. He will exist somewhere, in some room, being watched, prodded, never changing, never aging, only wanting to be free, and with me. And he would never have that. And neither would I. I will spend the rest of my life in here, alone, because I know what WWE knows, and what they've done, and what I've done.

So I guess we're both alone, forever.





Glossary






houbo: House bot. (pronounced 'hobo') A device common in most homes and domiciles which is capable of performing menial housekeeping tasks. Usually non-anthropomorphic with two manipulator arms and a rounded capsule-shaped body about four feet tall and two feet wide. Similar devices in the workplace are termed workbots.



CenSec: Central Security. Worldwide police force, operated and maintained by WWE.



commterm: Communication Terminal. Video screen with audio pickup as well as physical parameter sensors capable of detecting body temperature, perspiration, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and body position. They are often used for social communication, to view news and entertainment, and for personal communication as well as for learning and education. More capable models can also discern eye movement cues, facial muscle movements, eye dilation, and skin conductivity indicative of dishonesty or obfuscation. They are always in contact with a central AI for the building or locality, which in turn is in constant communication with the authorities.



dee-bee: Verbal term for DB or database.



edusys: Education System. The programming used at CommTerms to provide and education and the needed materials. The program usually runs from a central location within the residential building or block.



egrams: Electronic telegrams. Once termed email, egram includes letters, notes, and any messages in test, voice, or video format.



flus and nervy: Slang for 'flustered and nervous'. Often includes blushing.



fritzed: Removed, dropped, kicked out.



perscomms: Personal communications devices. Small devices worn on the wrist, in the ear, or on the eye that provide a constant link to the WWENet (pronouned: we-net) operated and maintained by World Wide Engineering.


remlinks: Remote Links. The network of devices that maintain the WWENet and all communications. Owned and operated by World Wide Engineering.



seccams: Security cameras operated by WWE located nearly everywhere, obstnsibly used for security and police/fire purposes. Most are located on city streets and transit, but nearly all homes and businesses also have at least one at each point of egress and financial transactions. Can also include commterm cameras.



slickmeat: Slang for handsome, good looking, cute.



secsysbot: Security Systems Bot. Not an actual device or robot, but a system of programs that are used for security purposes by law enforcement and the courts. They have the ability and legal right to enter private commterms in homes and businesses and examine even the most private documents for any illegal activity. Capable of breaking the toughest protocols and encryptions and reporting any possible illegal content or activity to CenSec.



urkley: Nerdy, dorky, not normative, handsome, or particularly good-looking.



vixed: Also, vix. Video virtual sexual activity over a commterm.



wos: slang for women, girls, females.



World Wide Engineering: Corporation which provides nearly all electronic devices and services. It maintains and operates the WWENet (we-net) and nearly all the databases on it.


Shorts - Copper