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art by Jonathan Westbrook

The Professor's Boy

Erik Goranson studies English at the University of Northern Colorado, though he yearns to be a rocket man. Find out more about him at erikgoranson.com.
I found the professor in a hospital bed. His boy sat next to him, teary eyed, clinging to his pale fingers. The professor was consoling the boy until he saw me. He cast a knowing look in my direction and sent the boy off to fetch some water.
I found his scrutiny delightful. My disguise was impeccable, but even in his deteriorated state, the man remained astute. He offered a promising harvest.
"There's hunger in your eyes," he said. "You're a collector, aren't you?"
I nodded.
"You'd best make this quick. My son will be back soon."
"I'll manage," I said.
I injected the nanomites through his IV. As the tiny machines worked, he never broke eye contact. I watched the glimmer in his eyes slowly fade away. By that point, the data had already started streaming back to me. The rush of knowledge was exquisite. I reveled in it.
"Who are you?"
I recognized the voice. The boy had returned.
"A friend of your father," I said. "I came to see him off."
The boy looked at me with his father's piercing scrutiny. I gestured towards the body to avert his gaze.
"But it seems I'm too late," I said.
The boy saw the professor's lifeless stare. At once, he was crying again.
"No," he said, racing to the body. "No--he was just--I was only gone for a second."
I moved to leave, but something tugged at me. Something inside. The boy now wailed into his father's body, but I was compelled to stay.
"I never got to apologize," he said. "I was a disappointment--I never got to--I didn't mean to--"
"He was proud of you," I said involuntarily. "He thought you were a fine son."
The boy wiped snot on his hand. "He did?"
"I know it for a fact," I said.
He resumed wailing into his father's chest. The tugging within me ceased.
The sensation felt curiously familiar. I wondered if the nanomites digitized some emotion by mistake. Then again, every brain is uniquely complex. Feelings were bound to slip through. Leaving the room, I noted to omit them from the data.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 19th, 2012

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