“Well, boy. Do you understand what we require of you?” Flint leaned forward on his throne. The silver robot stood on his left and Jim’s father on his right.
Jim glared at him. “It’s pretty obvious. You want me to operate the key so you can use your ship to rob and kill wherever you want.”
“A delightful boy. A marvelous boy. An intelligent boy. But that’s not all we require of you is it?” Flint took a long worm from a bowl of wiggling red hairy worms and sucked it down like a piece of spaghetti. He gestured to the robot. “Put up the shield, Mister Bexley. There is no need to share all this with the others.” As he belched the robot nodded and pressed a button on the throne.
Jim frowned. “I don’t know what you mean about requiring more. When I used it last time, it acted as a guide to the spot where we activated the wormhole door and the door opened wherever I touched in the map.”
“Stupid boy. Ignorant boy. It’s much more than that. It’s the key for unlocking all the store houses of weapons the like of which no one has ever seen before in rooms all over this Treasure Planet. We’ve seen through the windows. There are ships there and weapons that if the tags on the doors are to be believed can crack a planet in two. With those in our grasp what is a little planet with its horde of coins that seem to fascinate my ignorant crew when we can rule the galaxy as kings.”
“The writing in a thousand languages says. “Use the key to gain your heart’s desire.” He stood and raised his fist in triumph. “Emperor Flint the First. That’s my heart’s desire.” He sank back in the chair. “Well, go ahead, boy. Open the key. Show us what it can do.”
Jim jutted his jaw forward. “No.”
“No? Did I hear right? Did he say no to his emperor?” Flint gestured to the robot. “Bexley, correct his error.”
The robot raised his arm and a white beam shot from his pointed forefinger and slammed into Jim’s shoulder. Jim gasped from the pain and went to his knees.
Flint growled. “That is a more appropriate position when facing your emperor. Now, use the key.” When Jim glared at him, Flint smiled. “We can do this all night and I can have you beaten within an inch of dying and when we throw you back in the healing room, you’ll be restored, so I can do it again and again and again.” A fervid light shown in his eye.
Jim knew in that moment that Flint was insane and would do what he said. He began twisting and poking the ball. He found his motions were hampered by the pain in his shoulder but he finally got it right. Nothing happened. He tried again with the same result. “Come on, why won’t it work? It should work.” He complained desperately.
“Bexley, again.” Flint said.
“No!” Cried Jim. “It’s not working.” The silver beam knocked him unconscious to the floor and the key rolled over by the robot’s feet. His father yawned.
The robot knelt and picked up the key. He examined it closely before turning to Flint. “Captain, the boy appears to be correct. The readings I’m getting suggest that the key needs more time to reprogram itself.”
Flint sighed. “What a waste of my valuable time. Very well, throw him back in the healing room. We’ll continue tomorrow. In the meantime let’s celebrate.” He gestured to the robot who punched the button on the throne. Flint rose to his feet and held up his cup, filled to the brim with bubbling red liquor. “The key will soon activate, my loyal crew, and when it does you’ll all be rich beyond your wildest fantasies with the treasures at the heart of this planet.” The pirates roared their approval.
Jim awoke in the same room with his whole body throbbing. This time Diane was kneeling by the foot of his bed looking worried and apparently more substantial as he could feel her holding his hand. “Is that what it’s like to be human? She asked. “I’m not sure I like it. You didn’t mention anger, hate, rejection, despair, betrayal and.” She shuddered. “The pain. I do not think I like the pain.”
“No one does.” He replied. “That’s why we try to avoid it. Pain is to tell you what to avoid so you don’t stick something like your hand in a fire and destroy the hand.”
She frowned. “Or that you should give Flint what he wants to avoid the pain?”
“That’s where being brave comes in.” He replied. “Refusing to give in to someone like Flint when it’s important not to can be one of the noblest actions a person can do.”
“But you gave in.” She said.
He sat up in the bed and groaned before he continued. “It was futile to not show him what I could do with the key as he already knew. I was playing for time.”
“Oh.” She said. “Even with pain you were executing a strategy but it went wrong.”
“Boy, did it ever. I did not count on the key not working.”
She took his hand and patted it. “That was one of the random variables that the Master Computer decided to insert to make the game more interesting. It was nothing that I wanted.” She looked up as if listening. She nodded and turned back to him. “The Master Computer says that this state for the key will continue for a while longer. Also, it will allow me to begin healing you shortly.”
Jim frowned. “I thought you were in charge.”
“I am and I am not.” She replied. “Think of me as the manager who runs this part of the park and the Master Computer as the overseer. I have to do what it says, but what it does not forbid, I can and will do.”
Jim looked at her and it seemed there was something different about her. “I think this experience has changed you. Am I right?”
She looked worried. “I did not take this into account. By melding with you, I experienced everything. Not just what was happening now but everything you remember and some you do not consciously recall. I remember your mother and all the arguments you two had, but I also remember all the joys and happiness you two shared. I recall your first kiss from a girl and your joy at finding a true father in Long John Silver. I recall it all but there is still something missing and I need to find it.”
He frowned. “Maybe you’re missing what it really is like to be one of us. Riding inside me is like virtual reality or playing a game where you pretend to be human. It may seem exciting but you know it’s not real and you can quit playing anytime you want. For it to be real to you the stakes for you would have to be real”. He tried to get some comfort from the bed for his injuries and then looked over at her. “I’m sorry, Diane. To really know what you’re missing you’d have to be really human and for a computer or its program I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.”
Her eyes became intense and she started to say something, but broke off and looked up. “The Master says it’s time to heal you.”
“About darn time.” Jim replied.
She touched his forehead. “Now sleep.” Her face looking at him with concern was the last thing he remembered.