“You’re not my doctor,” said the old woman. Quivering hands clutched at her blankets. “I won’t have any robot doctors.”

“I’m not a doctor.” The metal figure wore military uniform. Its face was blank metal save for a pair of video receptors and a small speaker grille placed where a man’s mouth would be. “And I am not a robot.”

“I know what you are. You’re that thing that claims to be my son. I told you to stay away from me.”

Soft yellow lights glittered in the video lenses. “I thought — Mother, they told me you were — that there wasn’t much time left.”

The old woman shook her head. “Don’t call me that. I’m not mother to a — a thing.” She turned her head away. “Go on. Get out.”

“I have to talk to you. We have to — ” A woman entered the room and touched his arm.

“Mother,” she said, “Mother, stop it!”

“Monster,” whispered the old woman. She reached out. “Beth. For God’s sake, Beth. Keep that thing away from me.”

“David is not a monster.” Beth walked to the bed and took her mother’s hand. “You know how an android is made. David was wounded — burned — nearly to death.”

“He’s dead. My son is dead. He died in that tank or whatever it was. Years ago.”

“No, Mother. Marine medics scanned his brain. Recorded the patterns.” Beth shook her head and sat down next to the bed. “You know all this. We’ve been over it and over it. They used those patterns to construct a pseudo-brain. That’s what makes a robot into an android. That’s what makes the android our David.”

The old woman clutched her daughter’s hand. “Look at that thing! Where is the face of the boy I knew? Where are the gentle hands? Remember when he was seven, how he cradled that sick bird? Remember?” She pointed at the android’s hands, steel and plastic coated with gray qua-skin. “Those are not his hands.”

“David is inside, Mother. The hands don’t make a man.”

“They would have replicated my organic face.” David touched the blank metal above his speaker grille. “The labs can make skin that looks real, semi-organic eyes, everything.” His voice took on a harsh tone. “Everything to make me into a caricature of myself.”

The woman clutched at Beth. “When I die, I’ll find my son — waiting.”

David turned and left. Beth remained until her mother relaxed and fell asleep. Then she sat for a little while, stroking one withered and wrinkled hand.

She found David in the waiting area. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, making a stiff shrug.

She sat down beside him. “Don’t pull that iron man routine on me.”

He laughed quietly and hugged her. “Not iron. I keep telling you. Plastic, steel, several exotic metals, and a kilometer of hydraulic tubing.”

“I wasn’t talking about what you’re made of.”

“I know.”

They sat together, silent, waiting. An hour went by. A nurse told them their mother was awake again. Beth went back into the room. She returned, shaking her head. “You’re dead, she says. Keeps repeating it over and over.”

“I was dead, Beth. Really dead. My body died in that assault vehicle. The old David and the new metal David are related only by the patterns of our mind.”

“You’re David. I ought to know my own brother. I miss the flesh and blood person, but I’m thankful for what I have.”

He stood up and took her arm. “Come on. I’ll take you to dinner. I hear the food isn’t bad in this place. You can eat and I’ll try not to be gloomy.”

“When we come back, I’ll try to talk sense to her again.”

Later, as they walked back to the hospital room, Beth glanced at the tall metal man walking beside her. “Mom will get to whatever the afterlife holds — and David won’t be there.”

He shrugged again. His posture suggested deep sadness. “I don’t know. He might be.”

She stopped. “David isn’t dead. You aren’t the boy who left home so many years ago, but I’m not the girl I was then either. We’ve all grown and changed. You’re the David who endured all that goes with becoming an android.”

“Why can’t Mom see that?”

“When have you tried to convince her?”

“I was around. When I was recovering — making the transition. I tried to talk to her.”

“Once? Twice? I remember you coming home once.”

Hands clenched, the android turned away. “More than once.”

“And then what? You just gave up, David. You went away and never came back.”

“Until now.”

“Until now. Why now?”

He walked into the waiting area and sat down. “It seemed like I should.”

“It’s too late,” said Beth, taking a chair across from her brother. “I’ll try again, but it’s really too late.” She hesitated a moment, then went on. “She’s dying.”

“I know that. I thought — I don’t know what I thought.”

“When will you die, David?”

The question stunned him. “I — androids die in accidents — and in combat.”

Beth smoothed her skirt. “So — equipped with this practical immortality, you planned on making your peace with a dying woman?”

David focused on his sister’s face. “I didn’t think of it that way.” He stared at the door leading to his mother’s room. “It really is too late.”

“I’ll try again,” she said, standing up. “Time is running out.”

“No.” He rose and touched her arm. “No. She’s had enough.”

“Let me try once more, David. She’s a stubborn old woman. Stubborn like her son.”

“She’s also our mother. Let her go in peace.”

Beth nodded. Tears streaked her face. She hugged her brother, then walked slowly toward her mother’s room.

JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.

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Every Day Fiction