The author wishes to thank the great and fearless leader of the fort, Jeff, for all of his invaluable insights into android technology of 1939.
Mrs. Amee reclined on the fainting couch in her room after lunch, thinking about everything that had happened over the last few days in her life. She had never expected to see Little D again, yet at that moment he was walking around the rose garden outside, holding hands with his sweet young man. She smiled as she watched them from her bedroom window, but her smile faded as she thought back to another couple she had once seen.
Amee heard a noise outside and looked out the window of her bedroom to see her brother and Doug running in the yard. She was so happy that Josiah liked his birthday present. It had cost her all of her owned saved birthday money, but the look of joy on Josey's face when he saw Doug had made it all worth while. She and mother had both agreed that it was the perfect gift for him, but the girl hadn't realized until much later that they both had the same reason for getting it. Amee thought that she was the only one in the family that knew that Josiah was a little different than the other boys in the community.
Sarah Whatley knew her son was more interested in boys than girls. She was his mother, how could she not see it? She also knew what that interest could cost a boy in rural South Carolina, even if his father owned half the county, literally. Those new android boys presented the perfect solution. Josiah would be free to explore himself without fear of his secrets getting out of his own bedroom. An android would self destruct before bringing harm to his master.
Sarah had not discussed her ideas with her husband, however. She hadn't had to do it. Sarah knew the opinions that Zebulon Whatley would have about his son being that way. She hoped that once the gift was revealed, she would be able to convince her stubborn husband to see the wisdom of her choice. After all, there was always the chance that this was just a phase for Josiah. She knew deep inside her heart somehow that this was not the case, but she could use that phrase on her husband hopefully.
"I just don't like it, Horace," Zeb Whatley growled to the man standing next to him outside the barn. "Boy his age shouldn't be playing with some overgrown doll like a little girl." He had not been thrilled when his son insisted on naming the thing after his favorite movie actor, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
"But, Master Zeb, you's ought to be proud of that thing," the man suggested nervously. "Ain't nobody else in the whole county got the kind of money to buy one of them robot boys. Folks from here to Charleston gonna sit up and take notice of a man gots enough green in his wallet to buy his young'un a toy like that."
"Horace, you just said a mouthful of good sense," Zeb said with a smile. "I admit I hadn't even thought of it that way."
"Yes, sir, folks is gonna know that Master Zebulon Whatley is a man to respect and admire now," Horace added. He looked over toward the house and saw his wife Bessie smiling and nodding as she stepped back into the kitchen. Horace breathed a sigh of relief. His wife would tell Mrs. Sarah that he was helping out with getting Master Zeb to accept that robot boy. He could maybe get a minute's peace in his house tonight.
The struggle to get Master Zeb to warm up to Doug was an uphill battle though. The boys certainly didn't make it any easier themselves, either. Zeb and Horace were going into the barn one afternoon to get some rope to tie down the bull they were about to castrate. From the hayloft came sounds of boys talking.
"What you boys doing up in that hayloft?" Zeb called out. "I don't remember giving you no chores to do today that makes you climb up there."
"We done the chores, Papa," Josiah called down. "We was just talking up here."
"There's better places for talking than a hayloft, son," Zeb barked. "You come on down from there. If you ain't got no more work to do, then you can come watch the castrating."
"The what?" Josiah asked with a gasp.
"We's fixin' to clip yo' Papa's bull, boy," Horace answered. "He ain't fit for breeding the way he is," the man added.
"Horace, there ain't no need to get into that with the young'uns," Zeb warned.
"Yes, sir Master Zeb sir," Horace said meekly.
Zeb ordered the boys to come down again, and then walked out of the barn. Horace was still standing at the bottom of the ladder when the boys reached the ground. He immediately started picking the straw out of the boys hair and off their overalls.
"You two best watch your step around Master Zeb," Horace warned them. "He ain't gonna take it good if he finds out what you two up to in this here barn." The two boys blushed profusely and started to protest, but he cut them off. "Don't start fibbing to me, Master Josiah. I knows the ways of boys yo' age. I was a young'un oncet mysef. Me and yo' Papa used to play in that same hayloft when we was no bigger than you. He outgrowed them kind of games, and best you do the same pretty quick now, you hear?"
"Yes, sir Uncle Horace," the boys responded in unison.
"Uncle Horace, what'd you mean that the bull can't be used for breeding the way he is?" Doug asked the man.
"Master Josiah you nigh onto a man now, so it's time you learned some of the facts of life around here," Horace told his employer's son. "Don't you go talking about none of this here I'm gonna tell you around the lady folks up to the house, you hear? Best you don't let yo' Papa know I done told you bout it, neither," he whispered conspiratorially. "That bull done let another bull take him. He showed his self to be a sweet one. Yo' Papa figure if he gonna act like he's a cow, he might jest as well be one."
"I don't understand," Doug said slowly. "Do you mean because he let another male mount him, Master Zeb is going to have him castrated?"
"That sho the truth, boy," Horace confirmed. "Farms like this one here needs good strong workers what keeps the farm going with more good strong workers. If a bull can't learn his place and be a bull, then he gonna find his self in line for a clipping. If'n he still don't work it out what he sposed to be a doing, the next cutting he gonna get is on yo' supper plate."
The man walked off, leaving the boys to think over what he had said. Zeb called them out of the barn and had them walk down to the pen where the bull in question was being kept. A few of the other farm hands were standing around the animal which was pacing the small area. The bull's eyes were wide as he stared at the group of humans gathering around him.
"Reckon he knows something's gonna happen to him," Josiah mused as he and Doug walked up.
"Looks that way, don't it?" Doug agreed.
They watched as the men entered the pen and threw ropes around the mighty animals legs, toppling him to the ground. The bull's back legs were spread and Zeb stepped in with his enormous knife. The bellowing echoed across the farmyard. When Zeb stood up he handed a bloody mass to his son.
"Take them up to Bessie in the kitchen, son," he ordered. "She'll cook them up for dinner tonight. Mountain oysters tonight boys!" he called out with a laugh. Josiah looked at what was in his hands and promptly passed out cold. "Tarnation!" Zeb exploded. He looked harshly at Doug and growled, "Don't just stand there. Get him to the house. Take him out of my sight."
"Yes sir, Master Zeb," the android answered quickly. He gathered Josiah into his arms and started back to the house. He blanched a little himself when Zeb picked up the bull's former attachments and dropped them on his unconscious son's stomach with the order that the android was not to forget them.
"Lawdamussy, what's done happened here?" Aunt Bessie yelled as she came running out of the house. She got closer and saw the blood on Josiah's chest and stomach and screamed.
"It's from the bull, Aunt Bessie," Doug told her quickly. He saw Amee and Mrs. Sarah come running out of the house at Bessie's scream so he waited until they could hear him and proceeded to tell about the events in the bull pen.
"Zebulon Whatley, you ornery old cuss," Sarah hissed angrily. "He knows the boy's delicate."
"Yes'm he knowed it sho nuff, that seems to be the trouble," Bessie told her. "He's trying to make a man outta this boy afore the boy's ready."
"Well, he's going to hear it from me tonight," Sarah stated coldly.
"Mother, please don't make things worse for poor Josey," Amee begged.
"What?" the woman asked her daughter.
"You know Father thinks you spoil Josey already," the girl continued nervously. She hated to contradict her parent, but she had to protect her brother. "Father will just lose his temper and be that much harder on Josey if you take his part in this."
"When did my daughter get so grown up?" Sarah asked with a smile. "You're right of course. Well, I can't stand by and say nothing, but I can remind your father that the first time he saw an animal get clipped, he threw up on himself for two hours."
"He did that?" a weak voice asked. The women and Doug all looked down into Josiah's still pasty white face.
"Yes sir he sho nuff did." This voice belonged to Horace. "I thought Master Zeb weren't never gonna stop messing his self that day."
"You are so much like your father, Josiah," Sarah told her son. "I believe that's the heart of your troubles with him. He sees too much of himself in you."
This did nothing to make Josiah feel better about his father. He did try as hard as he could to behave himself and not play those particular games with Doug again. The problem was that he couldn't stop thinking of them and how much fun they had together when they did those things. He spent a few days being miserable and making Doug miserable with him. They both wanted to be together so badly, but they knew it was wrong after that day.
Finally Sarah had enough. She realized that she had to talk with Josiah. Before she got the chance she got sick however. Influenza was going around the county and she often helped tend the sick humans since the closest thing they had to a doctor within 100 miles was a veterinarian. She took to the bed and Bessie and Amee did the best they could to care for her. The next thing they all knew Bessie was sick and so was most of her family. Within another two days everyone at the farm was sick except Doug. While he was an android in brain and skeletal construction, the rest of him was just as human as Josiah or anyone else. Yet, he apparently couldn't get the influenza due to the manipulation of his human DNA.
He did the best he could to take care of everyone, but it was too much for him. Although he had been programmed to give first aid if he needed to , he could only work with the resources available to him. Horace was the first one to pass on. This angered Zeb but as sick as he was himself there was nothing he could do about it then. The fact that people in other areas were dying even with proper medical care didn't seem to faze Zeb at all. Horace and Bessie's daughter Bonnie Faye died next. This hurt Amee deeply as Bonnie and her twin sister Annie Mae were her best friends. Then came a much harsher blow. Sarah lost her fight. Zeb flew into rages or as near as he could while still so feeble himself. Amee wept for days. Next to go were two of Bessie's older children, a girl first and then a boy. The boy had been one of the best field hands on the farm. The girl had been two years older than Amee and was engaged to be married to the preacher at the A.M.E. Church.
Doug was barely moving at this point, but he refused to slow down. He had stayed awake night and day taking care of his sick family and he wouldn't rest until they were well. Of course he did spend the majority of his time with Josiah. Bessie started feeling better about then and she insisted on trying to get up and help. Doug told her she was still too weak, but she tried it anyway and the woman had a stroke. Her speech was affected and she lost the use of her right arm. As Doug was tending to her with as much help as the poor veterinarian could give to humans, he was distracted from Josiah.
The morning came and Bessie was resting well, so Doug made his way back upstairs to check on his other charges. He was relieved to see Amee sitting up in the bed. She was beginning to recover. Likewise, Master Zeb was fit enough to throw things at Doug and scream at him for the loss of his friend and his wife. Doug hurried from that room to the one he shared with Josiah. Josiah was not sitting up in the bed. Doug walked over to feel his forehead for the fever. Tears began to stream from his young face as he felt the coldness of his best friend's brow.
"Doug, you made it back," Josiah whispered weakly. "I'm so glad. I wanted to see you one more time."
"No Josey, don't talk like that," Doug pleaded. He knew what was happening though. He had already experienced it too many times in the last few days.
"I don't care what Papa says about it, Doug," Josiah told the android beside his bed. "You are the best friend I could have ever had and more. I love you, Douglas Fairbanks Whatley," he gasped out.
"I love you too," Doug told him as he continued to weep.
"I mean it Doug," Josiah said as he grabbed Doug's hand in his own. "I love you."
"Then don't leave me, Josey," Doug begged. It was already too late, though. Josiah Whatley was gone.
Amee knew something was wrong when Doug walked into her room. He looked at her with tears streaming down his face and then collapsed onto the floor. Amee got out of bed and rushed to his side. She was still weak, but she knew he needed her help.
"He said he loved me, but he left me," Doug whispered as she rocked him in her lap.
"Who left Doug?" she questioned, but at his sobs, she knew.
A week later, Amee and her father were both up and about, as was Annie Mae. The two girls were now the women of the house since it would be some time before Bessie could return to work, if ever. They had fixed breakfast that morning and were surprised to see Zeb walking in from the fields near the woods rather than coming down the stairs.
"Where have you been this early, Father?" Amee asked him when he sat down at the table. "You know that damp air this morning isn't good for you yet."
"Amee, my wife is dead," the man said harshly. "Don't think to start nagging me the way she did."
"Master Zeb, has you seen Doug this morning?" Annie Mae asked. "I was going to send him down to the chicken coop the gather them eggs."
"Best you get the eggs yourself, girl," Zeb answered. "You won't be seeing that thing in this house again. That nasty little overpriced doll did nothing but bring ruination and death to this farm. I ever catch either one of you mentioning IT again and I will tan your hides something fierce, y'all understand me?"
"Yes sir," the girls replied quickly.
"That thing won't ever hurt another living soul, that's for sure," Zeb mumbled as he ate his meal.
Amee couldn't help but worry about Doug. She knew he was an android, but just in the few months that he had been a part of her brother's life, she had come to regard him as more than a machine. He was a friend. She knew he had been much more even than that to Josiah. Her fears only got worse when she saw what looked like blood on her father's boots.
This chapter is in response to a couple of reader's emails I have gotten about this story. Some noticed the mention of Josiah and Doug several chapters back and asked about them. More recently however, I have been accused of creating new and more sinister types of cliffhangers. I hasten to point out that I am not the first or only author to have a three chapter long cliffhanger, nor am I the first or only author to have a new cliffhanger develop in that third chapter. The person I am thinking of confessed this to me one night on Skype. That same person assures me that I will be able to get back to present time and solve my triple chapter cliffhanger soon. To the CHP: I am the victim here as much as my characters. We are all being stalled by events out of our control within the Clan Universe. I'm innocent I tell you. *Taps the on switch for the Acme Battery Powered Halo I picked up last time I was in the Short Compound.* I knew this thing would come in handy.
Laissez les bon temps roullez!