by Pauline Creeden -
“Cotton,” Dr. Lee called the shepherd over from Zana’s side as she approached his house. The dog loped toward the tall, thin, old man as he kneeled. He rubbed the dog on the head and looked up at her asking, “How has he been? Any coughing?”
Zana shook her head and pulled down her kerchief as she smiled, “Nope. Not a one.”
Dr. Lee’s family worked toward producing mammals that could withstand Eclectia’s harsh climate. The typical lifespan of dogs had been two Foundings, but through selective breeding the Lees developed a shepherd hardy enough to live as much as five. The Lee’s gave Cotton to Zana at her visit last year. Now two Foundings old, Cotton was the first of the Lee Shepherds to try to live outside of their breeding facility.
Dr. Lee stood, his soft blue eyes fixing on Zana’s as he said, “How much abuse have your cybernetic parts been put through this year?”
Zana shrugged and followed the old man back to the house for her yearly check-up and adjustments with Cotton trotting in the lead. Mrs. Lee met them at the door with a smile, wiping her hands on an apron. The Lee house felt like home to Zana, and it gave her a heartwarming feeling. Mrs. Lee held out her arms for a hug and Zana slipped into them feeling a little awkward as she stood almost six inches taller than the round-faced woman.
“So what have you been up to this year? Meet any husband prospects?” Mrs. Lee asked, just like a mother with a spinster daughter.
Zana furrowed her brow and clenched her jaw. Even if a man could look past her robotic half, she just couldn’t see herself in the domestic capacity. For now her focus remained on catching the man who haunted her every nightmare. She pulled away from the cheerful woman’s grip and shook her head.
“Well, there’s a nice young man who just moved into town…”
“Lucinda, leave Zana alone. She’ll fix herself up with a man when she’s ready.” Dr. Lee’s sympathetic blue eyes apologized for his wife.
“Besides,” Zana said as she kneeled down and hugged the shepherd, “Who needs a man when I’ve got Cotton to keep me company?”
Lucinda Lee shook her head but left the subject alone, “Well dear, your room’s been made ready for you. I’m sure you’ll want a hot bath before dinner. I made bugloaf for dinner along with Summer Mint Cookies for later.”
Zana’s smile returned. She could smell the mint cookies as she entered the door. The smell of home. Zana wondered what applications Dr. Lee might have to add to her cybernetic parts this year, and how long they would take. Zana and Cotton remained the most public of Dr. Lee’s experiments.
After her bath, Zana stood almost naked in front of the full-length mirror while her long wavy dark hair dripped down her back. Her robotic arm and leg were light and as feminine as they could be, but still overpowered her human half. When she stuck her tongue over to her left cheek, she could taste the flexible titanium that covered the holes she felt in her skin. Her own green eyes stared back at her and she shook her head as she remembered princess wishes and happily-ever-after daydreams. Reality killed them all. She sat on the bed and wrangled her wet hair into a braid.
When she came into the dining area, Zana sat next to the air purifier that pulled in the warmth of home and spit out the “fresh” air that smelled faintly of ozone. Cotton settled on top of her bare feet as she sat in the upright wooden chair. Smiling, Lucinda came in and set the Bugloaf on the table.
“Be a dear and get Rob for me?”
Zana pushed the chair back and stood. She started to feel like a teenager again. Cotton looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes, but got up to follow regardless of his fatigue. When she came to the door that separated the main house from the doctor’s lab, Zana knocked and then opened the door before a response issued.
She peeked her head in and smiled as she saw the welding sparks fly into the air. She called out to Dr. Lee, “Dinner’s ready!”
The doctor pulled up his face mask and looked at Zana with a grin that she knew well. He pointed down at the large robotic wheeled contraption he’d been welding. “Know what this is?”
Zana shook her head and made a mock frown. “Nope.”
“It’s your new ride.”