Joel took a deep breath and touched the wall of the Satellite Of Love. He was back here. He’d fixed it up. And now it was time to go. He’d lied to the bots. He’d lied to Mike. He’d lied to his employees. He’d been lying to himself. He may have raided the Gizmonic Institute and scavenged some parts to build his spacecraft, but there was no guarantee that it would have got him up here. It had. But it probably wouldn’t bring him back down. At least not in one piece. He knew that. That’s why he had to lie to Kyle, to Chris, to April, to Mike, to Crow, to Gypsum, to Cambot and to Servo. Because he knew that if he got into that spacecraft, there was a strong chance that he wouldn’t make it back down to Earth safely. Or at all.
Joel took his hand off the wall. He bit his lip and reached into his pocket. The only two things that had survived the first crash down to Earth were a part of a future invention and the family photo that Cambot had taken. Joel had that photo framed when he was kicking around Australia. It came with him to Minnesota, still in its frame. He had it copied and that that copy was at the Hot Fish Shop, probably being watched over by Kyle. This was the original. Joel looked at it as he walked down the hall, hoping to gain strength from it or something. He didn’t want to die.
Joel climbed into his spaceship, sealed it and strapped himself in. He did all the preparations, but his breaths were shakier than ever. The longer he prolonged it, the longer he knew he was alive. But was it really worth it to be as scared as this? He was on the verge of a panic attack, he knew it. He could feel the tears coming and so he wiped them away, continuing with his preparation. He took the photo from his pocket again and put it on the console in front of him. That was when he fully broke down into tears. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye. He’d just turned thirty-nine-he wasn’t ready to die.
Joel wiped his eyes with his jumpsuit sleeve and looked at his photo. He didn’t want to leave behind his bots. He didn’t want to leave Mike. But he had to do it. He bit his lip and undocked from the Satellite Of Love. This was it. He was going to die. As he began his journey away from the SOL, Joel realised that what he said to Mike and the bots was true. The days he spent on the SOL were the best of his life. Well, the ones where Dr Forrester, Dr Erhardt and Frank weren’t torturing him with terrible movies, that was. The bots were his family. He may have made them, but they were his family. And he knew that Mike loved the bots too. As long as they had someone to look after them. He would hate to think Servo, Crow, Cambot and Gypsum were on their own.
As the Earth grew closer, Joel knew just how little time he had left. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and took a shaky breath, looking at the photo again. The bots were okay. They had Mike. Someone else would manage his Hot Fish Shop. People he knew would move on. Life on Earth would go on. Despite telling himself that it would be okay, all Joel could feel was fear and sadness. The one comfort he had was that he was going out after saving his family’s lives.
Joel put his head down and tried to steady his breathing. Instead the opposite happened and he began sobbing loudly. Screaming. Crying. The bots would never see him again. He would never see them again. He didn’t want to die, not when he had so much to live for. He picked up the photo and pressed it to his chest, only sobbing harder. His beloved bots. His kids. He cried until he couldn’t breathe properly anymore. And he looked up. The Earth was only getting closer and closer. He was going to reenter earth’s atmosphere at any moment. He had to stop crying. He had to focus if he was going to stand any chance of survival. The reentry window was small and he had to try and make it. He didn’t know if he would-despite all the time he’d spent in space, he was no astronaut, after all. So he pocketed the photo once again and took over the controls.
Joel tried his best to control the spacecraft, but he couldn’t. He was in Earth’s atmosphere and he’d missed the reentry window. He was travelling too fast. His spacecraft was breaking up. All the sad he’d felt melted away, just like some parts of his spacecraft. Joel had never been so scared in his life. When Gypsum forcibly ejected him wasn’t as scary as this. There was literally nothing he could do now, except sit back and wait to die.
Joel grabbed onto the harness over his shoulders with such force. He knew he would die anyway, but he couldn’t let go. His life flashed before him-all those stupid invention exchanges that he loved so much, those awful movies-Manos, Monster A Go-Go, The Castle Of Fu Manchu-the bullying he got at school for being ‘weird’, getting shot into space by Dr Forrester, all the tinkering, the inventions, everything he’d made, creating Gypsum, Crow, Cambot, Beeper-and turning him into Tom Servo...
Joel looked up and saw he was approaching Earth at an alarming rate. This was it. He was going to die any second now. Suddenly, a piece of his spacecraft broke off and entered the spacecraft. That was the last thing Joel saw before his world went black.
Joel opened his eyes. Was he dead? No, he couldn’t be, he was awake. A smell of smoke filled the air and he became distinctly aware that no, he wasn’t dead. Then came the ringing in his ears. He blinked repeatedly and the world came into a better focus. He was definitely alive. And there was definitely two men standing over him. He tried to push himself up off the grass.
“I wouldn’t get up if I were you.” A female voice said. “You were in a pretty nasty car wreck. It’s amazing you survived at all.”
“She’s right.” The man on the left said. “Stay where you are. We’re going to get you to the hospital. Get you checked out.”
Joel screwed up his eyes as he attempted to think. He couldn’t. His brain was just too cloudy. He became acutely aware of pain in his head-he must have hit it during reentry. Or more likely, during the crash back to Earth. Once he noticed the pain in his head, he noticed the pain in his... well, his everywhere. His shoulder, his arm, his chest, his back, his leg, his neck-everything was throbbing.
The man on the right noticed Joel’s pained expression. “Sue, he needs painkillers.”
“I’ll set up an IV now.” The female voice said. It hit Joel that she must have been behind him and thus out of view.
The man on the left crouched down. “Sir, can you tell us your name?”
Joel thought hard about it, but all he could think about was the pain. “No.” He whispered.
The other man stepped in. “What about your age? Where you’re from? Are you allergic to any painkillers?”
“Don’t know.” Joel croaked out. His mind was so full of the pain to even think about anything else. And he was desperately trying not to throw up over the paramedics.
“Well, I hope you’re not allergic to morphine.” Sue came into Joel’s view. She was carrying an IV bag in one hand and a needle and tourniquet in the other. She handed the paramedic on the left the needle and IV bag and knelt down by Joel. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to cut your arm off. I’m just trying to find a vein.” She said as she clipped the tourniquet onto Joel’s arm and tightened it.
Joel groaned in pain and that was when he figured his arm was probably broken. “Ow.” He mumbled.
“Yeah, it’s not nice for me either.” Sue the paramedic said. She gestured to the other paramedic to hand her the needle.
Joel closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the needle going into his hand.
“You’re going to feel a short, sharp scratch.” She said. “Ready? One. Two. Three.”
On three Joel felt the pain of the needle piercing into his skin and winced, keeping his eyes still firmly closed.
“Alright, it’s okay now.” The male paramedic said.
Sue took off the tourniquet and almost immediately Joel felt better. Though the pain wasn’t gone fully, it had eased considerably. Joel opened his eyes to see the IV bag was resting on his chest and attached to his hand.
Joel opened his eyes again to mostly white but also a blur of colours and sounds. He tried to move, but realised that he couldn’t. He’d been strapped down to something, somehow. His first thought was that Dr Forrester had turned to physically torturing him.
“No!” He shouted.
Someone heard him and held his hand. “Sir, you’re in the emergency room. We’re going to help you.”
Joel grunted and tried to move yet again.
“Don’t do that.” Someone else said. “You’re very badly hurt. Moving could make it worse.”
“Can you please tell me your name, sir?” Someone else asked.
Joel thought, but couldn’t say. “No.” He said.
“Okay.” The woman holding his hand let go. “We know he’s from Gizmonic Institute, he was found wearing a red Gizmonic Institute jumpsuit.”
“Plenty of people work there, it doesn’t give us any clues as to his identity.” Another person said.
“Alright, can we all just forget about his name for a minute and focus more on why he’s here?” Another person said, sounding authoritative. “You know, the critical injuries that you’re paid to treat.”
“He’s awake, you know.” The woman said.
The person stood over Joel. “Alright, I’m Dr Nguyen. I’m the senior doctor assigned to you and I team will be looking after you this evening. Can you tell me your name?”
“Uh...” Joel blinked.
“Can you tell me anything about yourself?”
“Everything.” Joel mumbled.
“You have suffered some really serious injuries.” Dr Nguyen said. “We’re still working to establish and treat them all but-“
Joel opened his eyes again and tried to move yet again, but failed, not because he was strapped down, but this time something was immobilising him. The world around him came more into focus. His brain was still extremely foggy, but he knew he was in a hospital. And he knew that he was still in an immense amount of pain. Too much to notice that he could only see out of one eye-the other was swollen shut.
He tried to speak but found he was unable to. That was when he noticed the tube running down his throat. He lifted his arm to try and pull the tube out, but the IV in his elbow prevented that.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay.” A man said. Joel figured that he was a nurse. “Don’t move too much. Or at all. You’ll pull out your IVs.”
Joel haphazardly pointed to the tube coming from his mouth, ignoring the splint on his arm.
“Your chest took quite a hit.” The nurse said. “As did the rest of you. But you’re in safe hands here. As soon as we can figure out who you are.”
Joel opened his mouth to try and speak, but the tube prevented him.
“It’s okay. The ventilator won’t hurt you. Everything’s to help you recover.” The nurse looked over at one of the machines that were surrounding Joel. “I’m going to call the doctor.” He said and walked away.
Joel worried about what that could mean. Was he going to die? Is that why the nurse was going to call the doctor over? Was there something else wrong?
Before he could wonder any more, the doctor made his way over. “Well hello there, John Doe. My name is Dr. Hampton.” He said. “And you look like you’re in some discomfort. That’s to be expected. You’ve got some pretty bad injuries, which we’re all doing our best to fix up.”
Joel looked up at the doctor quizzically.
“We’re going to give your body-and your brain-a chance to heal and hopefully find out who you are.” He said. “And I’m sorry, but I’m gonna need to sedate you.”
Joel’s eye opened wide in fear. The other eye remained swollen shut.
“Yes, you might notice that you can only see out of your right eye, that’s due to a skull fracture around the site of your left eye. Injuries like that need to heal.”
Dr Hampton patted Joel gently on his non-injured shoulder. He picked something up and did something to Joel’s IV.
“Don’t worry. We’re all just going to do our best to help you. Just relax and take it-“
Joel felt a burning pain in his arm and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, in his chest. Then everything just went out of focus again-including the voices of the doctor and the nurse.
Joel felt groggy and tired as he opened his eyes. He took a breath and instantly regretted it as pain radiated through his chest. He put his hand on his chest, or at least tried to. There was something blocking him from doing that; a cast on his left arm. And another on his right. He looked around and saw a nurse standing by his bedside, looking at some monitor or something.
“Hey.” He said. “Welcome back.”
“Welcome back?” Joel croaked out. His throat burned, it felt really dry.
“Can you tell me your name?” The nurse asked. “We’ve been trying to get it out of you for just over a week now-
“Joel Robinson.” He said. “My name. It’s Joel Robinson.”
“Like the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guy!”
“I am him.” Joel said weakly. “It’s me.” He felt like going back to sleep again, being in so much pain was tiring him out. “Where am I? Wisconsin?” He asked, trying to place the accent.
“You’re in a hospital in Green Bay.”
“Doesn’t matter right now. But you’ve spent the last eight days in the ICU. We’re still there, actually.”
“Hurts.” Joel said. “So much.”
“Where hurts?” The nurse asked.
“Chest.” Joel replied. “Shoulder.”
The nurse nodded as if he’d been expecting that answer. “Yeah, your shoulder was really messed up. Fractures in your humerus, your clavicle and your scapula-that’s your shoulder blade-and your shoulder itself was badly dislocated. It’s healing now, of course. But there will be pain.” He said. “I’ll up your morphine now, see if that’ll make you more comfortable.”
“You were in a car accident, Joel.” The nurse said as he began to examine Joel’s arm, where the IV was in his elbow. It had to be at the elbow as a cast covered the rest of the arm. “You were hurt pretty badly, but you’re doing better now.”
“How bad?” Joel asked.
The nurse inhaled sharply. “I think it’s best you ask your doctor about that.”
The scratchy feeling at the back of his throat sent Joel into a full on coughing fit. The pain from that was enough to have him seeing stars.
The nurse put an oxygen mask over Joel’s face. “Try and breathe normally.” He said calmly. “This will help.”
The steady flow of oxygen did help. Joel was soon breathing again, but the pain was still too bad for him to want to take a deep breath. He cried out in pain, which was partially muffled by the oxygen mask and soon settled down back onto the bed with his expression being something of a grimace. Everything still hurt and it hurt badly.
The doctor saw this and came running over. “Sir, are you okay?”
“‘M Joel.” He muttered.
“His name is Joel Robinson.” The nurse said. “He says he’s the guy from that Mystery Science Theater 3000 show.”
“Joel, are you okay?” The doctor corrected himself without missing a beat.
“Hurts. Everything.” Joel said.
“Well, having a near death experience is rarely painless.” The doctor said. “We’ve met before, but you may not remember me. My name is Dr Hampton and I’m one of the doctors here. You were in a car crash and you’ve spent the last week under sedation.”
Joel looked blankly at the doctor. He’d lost a week of his life. He’d lost a week of his life. “Mike!”
“Who’s Mike?” Dr Hampton asked.
“Mike’s the other guy on the show.” The nurse supplied. “A new season started yesterday, you can watch it when you’re feeling better.”
Dr Hampton nodded. “It’s best you rest for now. You’ve suffered some serious injuries to your chest, back, shoulder, leg and head.”
“How bad?” Joel asked.
“It’s best you don’t know right now, just focus on rest.”
Joel nodded, but knew they were holding something back. Something in his mind told him not to trust them. Despite the fact that he was still on heavy painkillers and may not remember this conversation anyway, so the doctor was waiting until he wasn’t in such a serious condition. That thought actually didn’t occur to him.
“Your family need to know where you are though, do you have any next of kin we could contact?”
Joel thought back to the Satellite Of Love. His parents were dead. His brother had his own life. His only family left were Cambot, Crow, Gypsy and Tom Servo. He shook his head. “No family.” He said. He could probably call his brother and he’d come out to him. He didn’t want to. But he had to. “Just my brother.”
A few months later, Joel was back at work at his Hot Fish Shop. He was still on painkillers, using a crutch and had physical therapy on his shoulder three times a week. But mostly, his customers were just happy to see him up and about again.
A month after that, he wasn’t expecting his life to change yet again. But it did. He’d gone into work that morning as normal, this time without his crutch. Served his customers. Rolled his eyes at invasive statements regarding his health. Smiled. Waved. And at the end of the day, turned to one of his employees.
“Kyle, can you lock up tonight?” He asked.
“Sure, Joel.” Kyle said. “But are you okay?”
“I will be after I have a nap.” Joel replied.
“If you’re sure.” Kyle said.
“I am.” Joel reached for his jacket and put it on.
It was September in Minnesota and the weather was starting to change. Soon it would be 2000. A weird concept, but no weirder than seemingly everyone panicking that as soon as the clock struck midnight, operating systems would cease to work, planes would fall out of the sky, nuclear weapons would blow up and the world would end. But in what time zone would that happen? Eastern Standard Time? Australian Western Standard Time? Greenwich Mean Time? As soon as it struck midnight in Kiribati, which would be the first country to celebrate the New Year? That’s why panicking about it made no sense to Joel. He simply got into his car.
As he prepared to turn the ignition on, there was a knock on his driver side window.
Joel rolled the window down, recognising the man as his neighbour’s son, Andrew.
Andrew was around Joel’s age, maybe a bit older. He was living in Minneapolis with his own wife and kids, but was constantly visiting his parents, who were Joel’s seventy-something next door neighbours.
“Good evening, Andy.” Joel greeted.
“Some man from Wisconsin turned up on my dad’s doorstep earlier, looking for you.”
“Oh?” Joel cocked his head. That had him interested. “What did he want? Demanding I pay my medical bills?”
“He was accompanied by a-a... well, I don’t know quite how to say it, but a... a talking red gumball machine.” Andy said.
The light turned on in Joel’s head. His eyes opened wide and he felt his heart skip a beat. “Servo!” His bots had found him! Mike had found him! Wait-Mike escaped! They’d all escaped! Of course they had, it made the news, but they’d survived! “Oh my god, I must be dreaming.”
“I invited them inside until you returned, but-“
“Did he also have a lanky gold robot with a bowling pin beak, a snakelike robot with a purple head and a floating orb with a camera lens with him?” Joel asked. “Please, it’s important.”
Andy shook his head. “No, just the talking red gumball machine.”
Joel’s heart sank. Maybe they hadn’t all survived. Even so, he still had Tom Servo. But he didn’t want just Tom Servo. He wanted Gypsum and Crow and Cambot as well. “A-alright, Andy. Thank you.” He said with a nod.
“You’re welcome, Joel. And it’s good to see you doing better.” Andy pointed at the crutch on Joel’s backseat.
Joel shuddered as he rolled the window back up. He didn’t like it when people brought up the ‘accident’. It brought back memories that he would rather bury. Deep, deep, deep down inside. Deeper than Deep 13. So he put his key in the ignition and drove himself home to that stupid former number one song, Genie in a Bottle. Not that he actually liked Christina Aguilera. It was just what was on.
He parked his car in his street and rested his head on the steering wheel. How was he going to talk to Servo and Mike, if the others weren’t... Maybe he was being too hasty. Maybe they were alive and just not with Mike.
He looked in the rear mirror at the crutch in the back and thought about how much his hip was aching. He’d probably pushed it too hard at work that day when he was still recovering. But he didn’t want Servo to see him hurt-he would only ask questions. Questions that Joel was not ready to answer. Ignoring the pain he felt in his... everywhere, Joel got out of his car, locked up and stood out by the path to his neighbours’, the Coopers’, house.
He walked down the path and with each step, he felt his knees about to give way beneath him. His heart was pounding in his throat. He was nervous, of what, he didn’t know. But he just knew that he was nervous. He stood at the door awkwardly for a few minutes, before pressing the doorbell.
Mrs Cooper came and answered the door. “Joel dear! It’s lovely to see you.” She opened her arms and attempted to hug Joel.
“I-I can’t, Mona.” Joel said. “Sorry.”
“Oh, are your ribs still bothering you?” Mrs Cooper asked.
Joel nodded. “And everywhere else.” He said. “So uh, I bumped into Andrew on my way home. He... He said that a guy and a robot are here for me.”
“Oh.” Mrs Cooper nodded. “Yes, yes. You’d better come in.” She stepped aside and helped Joel over her welcome mat after noticing the way he was carrying himself. “Joel dear, are you pushing yourself too hard at work?”
“No.” Joel said. He was tired of people prodding where their advice wasn’t needed. As far as he was concerned, the only people who could pry in his medical history and give advice were his doctors.
“If you’re sure. They’re just in the living room, Joel dear.” Mrs Cooper said.
Joel used the wall for balance and ran his hand along it as he walked in, turning into the living room.
In the living room, Mike was sitting down in a chair, reading the paper, while Servo and Crow were on the sofa bickering and Cambot was indeed floating around, looking at things.
Joel cleared his throat. “Hey, guys.”
“It’s Joel!” Crow shouted.
Cambot turned around and chirped excitedly.
Servo launched himself at Joel. “Oh, Joel, I missed you!” He said.
Tears of pain prickled at Joel’s eyes as Servo collided with his aching body, but he patted Servo’s gumball machine head all the same.
Crow and Cambot were next to rush to Joel, Crow throwing his arms around him and Cambot simply nudging up to him.
Mike stood up. “Joel. You... you don’t look so good.”
“I-I’m fine.” Joel said. “I just missed you guys so much.” He looked around, expecting someone else. “Hey. Where’s Gypsum?” He asked.
“She left us.” Crow said. “Started her own company.”
“Let me guess-ConGypsCo, right?” Joel said.
“That’s the one.” Servo said. “She got that business set up so quickly.”
“She’s the smartest out of all of us, Tom.” Joel said.
Mrs Cooper was watching through the doorway.
“Oh. Mona, these are my... bots.” Joel said. “This is Crow. And Cambot. And this is Tom Servo.” He pointed to each of them in turn. “I... built them.” He’d never introduced his family to anyone else before. But he would be doing a lot more of that now.
“It’s true. He did.” Crow said.
Joel turned to Mrs Cooper. “Thanks for taking them in while I was at work. But I think I’d better take them back to my own house.”
“Of course, Joel dear, I think I understand.” Mrs Cooper had a raised eyebrow. She did not understand and thought it was more than a bit strange how a manager of a Hot Fish Shop built three robots with human tendencies.
“Come on, Mike.” Joel said. He tried to walk out of the room, but Crow was dragging on his leg, his bad leg, and causing him a lot of pain.
Mike noticed this and attempted to pull Crow off Joel’s leg. “Crow. Walk normally. Come on.”
“I want to cling onto Joel so that he never leaves me again.” Crow said.
Joel stopped right in his tracks. He had just left the bots. He’d left them twice. The first time may not have been his fault. But the second time was his fault. He’d just left them all up in space. Abandoned them. Left them to rot.
“Joel? Are you okay?” Servo asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” Joel said. “Come on. My house is just next door.”
Mrs Cooper walked to the front door and opened it for Joel, Mike and the bots.
“Thanks again, Mona.” Joel said.
“Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs Cooper.” Mike said.
“Yeah, thanks.” Crow said.
Joel walked down the garden path and opened the gate. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you guys.” He said.
“It’s great to see you too, Joel.” Mike said. “I can’t wait to hear what you’ve been up to at your Hot Fish Shop for the last half a year.”
Joel groaned. He didn’t want to say that he’d spent two of those months laid up in a hospital bed and another two in a wheelchair being cared for by his brother fussed over by his sister-in-law. But that was going to be an inevitability. As long as Mike didn’t ask painfully intrusive questions about it and especially as long as the bots didn’t overhear.
“I’ll tell you.” He said, opening the gate to his own garden path. “Don’t worry.”
Joel tried his best to walk as normally as he could, but he knew he was still walking with a limp-that was what the physical therapy and the crutches were supposed to correct. But still, he hoped that he was walking as normally as possible so that Mike and the bots didn’t notice. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a key and opened the door.
“Well, this is my house-“
Before Joel could finish his sentence, all three of the bots had rushed inside.
Joel turned to go into his house, but Mike grabbed his arm.
“You okay?” He asked.
“I’m fine, Mike.” Joel said.
“You sure? Only you’re limping.” Mike said.
Joel sighed. “Remember when I went up to the SOL?” He said in a hushed voice.
Mike nodded. “When we met? Yeah.”
“I left you and the bots up there for a reason.” Joel said.
“Yeah, because you said it’d make a man out of me-“
“Because I didn’t expect to make it down alive.”
Mike frowned and then his eyes widened. “Oh my god.”
“Don’t tell the bots.” Joel said. “Please don’t tell them.”
“Jesus Christ, Joel, you tried to kill yourself.” Mike said. “I can’t not tell them!”
“No! I didn’t try and commit suicide.” Joel whispered loudly. “Come in. I’ll tell you about it.” He walked inside.
Mike nodded and cautiously stepped inside and closed Joel’s door behind him.
Inside Joel’s own living room, Crow and Servo had managed to turn his TV on MTV and were jumping on Joel’s couch to Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha.
“Boys!” Joel shouted over the music. He took the remote control from his coffee table and turned the music down. “Why don’t you go outside and play baseball or something?” He said. “I have a backyard-“
“Oh wow!” Crow exclaimed. “Mike doesn’t have a backyard!”
“I have an apartment.” Mike pointed out.
“Where’s your backyard, Joel?” Servo asked as the song changed to Spin Doctors’ Two Princes.
“Just out of this room, down the hall and past the kitchen.” Joel said.
“Awesome!” Crow said, bolting out of the room.
“Yeah, thanks, Joel!” Servo said, following Crow.
Cambot chirped as he zipped out of the room, following Crow and Servo.
Joel sighed and put the TV off. “Hate that song.” He muttered. He sat down in his armchair and grimaced in pain as he rubbed his hip.
Mike sat down on the sofa. “You’re in pain.” He noted.
“Yeah.” Joel nodded. “Tell me about you though, how’d you guys find me?”
“Well, Pearl crashed the SOL down somewhere by Milwaukee. And... well, re-entry was really rough and I thought I was going to die.” Mike said.
Joel nodded. He understood the feeling completely.
“But apart from a few cuts and bruises, I survived. So did the bots. Obviously. Crow pretended that he was dead though. Wasn’t even convincing. He just kept muttering over and over ‘I’m dead’ whenever one of us tried to touch him or say something to him.”
“Well, I don’t put that past Crow, actually.” Joel said.
“Magic Voice was the only one who didn’t make it.” Mike said. “Disintegrated with the SOL.”
Joel didn’t react. He didn’t know how to. He’d coded and programmed Magic Voice himself, before he’d even started on Gypsum. “Go on, Mike.” He said, an obvious twinge of sadness in his voice.
“After the crash, I found I had nowhere to stay. No possessions. No ID. No... nothing. I rounded up the bots and went back to my parents’ house in rural Wisconsin. Stayed there a few days while I pulled myself together, got my birth certificate and all that. Applied for a new ID. That was when I went to the bank and geez, I didn’t expect to be that rich.” Mike chuckled and shook his head. “Okay, maybe not rich, but I had a few thousand and I used that to buy a car, rent an apartment for me and the bots back in Milwaukee-and get some new possessions too. I also signed on with a new temp agency.”
“You got your life back together quicker than I did.” Joel noted.
Mike shrugged. “Yeah, well, I guess it helps landing near home and not in the Australian Outback.”
“I guess.” Joel agreed.
“After a few days, Gypsum left. She said she was bored and that she was going to start her own business. Quickest startup I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s my Gyps.” Joel gave a half smile. He was proud of his bots. Of course he was. But he was still, in a way, grieving the loss of Magic Voice. A few tears made their way to his eyes and he sniffled, but was quick to wipe the tears away with his sleeve.
“Servo, Crow and Cambot stayed with me. In my crappy little apartment.”
“I’m sure it’s not that crappy-“
“It’s practically a studio.” Mike said. “It’s crappy. I mean, I’m looking for a new one, of course. Just need to save a bit from my temp work. Wiped out my bank account buying new stuff.”
“If you need a loan, I’ll help-“
Mike shook his head. “Nah, Gypsum offered already.”
“And?” Joel prompted.
“We said no.” Mike said. “Actually, she offered stock first. Could have been multi-millionaires.”
“Why didn’t she offer me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she just didn’t know how to get hold of you.” Mike suggested.
Joel had different ideas though and those ideas involved resentment. Gypsum resented him for leaving. And if that was the case, Joel really couldn’t blame her.
“Yeah, maybe.” He said.
“So Servo mentioned finding you and I remembered you came onto the Satellite Of Love and saved us all from certain death... you mentioned you managed the Hot Fish Shop in Osseo. It took a while to find your address though. It took ages looking through Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. But I found it.” Mike explained. “I rounded up Crow, Servo and Cambot and... we got here yesterday, actually. We went to your Hot Fish Shop and there was some girl there-“
“April.” Joel said. “She works for me.”
“Yeah, yeah, April.” Mike nodded. “Anyway, she said you weren’t in that day-“
“No, I took the day off because I had a hospital appointment.” Joel said. “It’s like a half hour drive to Minneapolis.”
“You could have been back in time-“
“Not with what they were doing to me.”
“I’ll take your word on that.” Mike said. “The bots and I went to Minneapolis, saw some sights and stayed overnight at a hotel. Came back here at around midday and only Tom wanted to come so we ended up knocked on the wrong door. Your neighbours. They took us in, you came home and... here we are.”
“When you say you saw some sights-“
“Nothing exciting, really. Just the zoo.” Mike said. “Cambot was most excited. He kept poking his lens in the lions’ faces. Crow and Servo were really just kind of confused. I don’t think they knew that those kinds of animals ever existed.”
“Hm. I suppose all those terrible Japanese monster movies messed with their brains.” Joel said.
“So earlier... what did you mean when you said that you didn’t try and kill yourself then?” Mike asked.
Joel swallowed hard. “Look, I know, I said I didn’t want to take you with me. The truth was that I-I couldn’t take you with me. It was a suicide mission. But I didn’t want Servo, Crow, Gypsum and Cambot to know that. I didn’t want you to know that.”
“So what happened?” Mike asked.
“Uh... well, my spacecraft crashed, apparently somewhere near Green Bay. I don’t remember what happened. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, three paramedics were watching over me. My spacecraft was wrecked and so was my body.” Joel explained. “I spent a week under sedation.”
Mike bit his lip and shook his head. “God.”
“Yeah. It gets worse.” Joel said. “End result was twenty-five different broken bones-some with more than one break. Collapsed lungs. Punctured lung. Crushed spleen. Bruised kidneys. Internal bleeding. I’m amazed I stayed conscious for some of that and didn’t hibernate into some kind of coma.”
“I’m just amazed you survived.” Mike said. “No wonder you don’t want to tell the bots.”
“I spent two months in the hospital after that. My brother and sister-in-law came here to look after me when I was discharged. Once I got out of the wheelchair, I convinced them to leave.” Joel said. “That was about the time I got cleared for light work. Still can’t cook and serve at the Hot Fish Shop, but that’s what Kyle, Chris, April and the others are for. I take money and things like that. And I can drive again, so that’s good.”
“I’m sorry you went through that for me and the bots.” Mike said.
“It was for the bots.” Joel said. “I didn’t know that Dr F had kidnapped anyone else.”
“What were you going to tell them if you left and I hadn’t been there?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know.” Joel admitted. “I would have thought of something.”
The two men sat in relative silence, except for the excited voices of the two bots outside.
“There’s no more Satellite Of Love.” Mike said.
“Yeah, I know.” Joel said. “Saw the crash on the news. Sucks knowing that all this,” he gestured to his body, “was all for nothing. But hey, I guess it wasn’t. Because you’re all here now. You’re all safe. That’s what matters, really.”
“You don’t think that someday, some Forrester is going to build another satellite and shoot someone else up in space, do you?” Mike asked.
“Nah.” Joel shook his head. “I know Clay-Dr F had at least one daughter. Queenie or something. Think Frank had a clone or something too. Not so sure about Erhardt. But nobody in any discipline at Gizmonic Institute would let them repeat the MST3K experiments on anyone else. I know that after you and I got shot up there, they added extra security to their space missions. Like all space missions have to be sanctioned by at least three higher ups and they can also be aborted by them, so...”
“No more terrible movies.” Mike said.
“Yeah. No more terrible movies.” Joel nodded. He opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could, a baseball came crashing through his back window. Instead, he groaned.
“Sorry, Joel!” Servo called out.
“Yeah! Sorry!” Crow shouted.
“Great.” Joel muttered.
Mike stood up off the couch. “Look, Joel, you’re clearly in pain. I’ll handle this one.” He said.
Joel sat back and relaxed. He checked the time on his watch-not quite time to take his pain pills just yet. But for now, his bots were back. And the only other person who’d been through what he had was in his house. Things were looking up. Or at least more up than they were when he crashed down to Earth six months ago.
Mike had invited Joel round to his apartment in Milwaukee for Thanksgiving , but Joel hadn’t been able to make the long drive from Osseo. So Mike and the bots-all four of them this time-came back to Joel’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving.
“Hey, Joel,” Crow asked, holding up one of Joel’s crutches, “what’s this?”
“It’s nothing, Crow.” Mike took the crutch from Crow. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I know it’s a crutch, Mike, I’m eleven years old. I’m not stupid.” Crow said. “I meant what is it doing in Joel’s house.”
“I got hurt a few months back.” Joel said. “But I’m fine now. There’s no need for you to worry about it.” A half truth. He still needed the crutch, according to his physical therapist.
“Uh huh.” If Crow could narrow his eyes, he would be doing it. It was clear he didn’t trust Joel fully. Not that Joel could actually blame him for that.
“Why don’t we play football?” Mike asked, putting the crutch to one side. “Me and Crow vs Joel and Tom?”
“Oh, I’m happy just to watch with Gyps and Cambot.” Joel said.
“Oh yeah.” Mike nodded, understanding that Joel was still in pain. “Well... Gypsum’s got the turkey in the oven.”
Gypsum slithered to the living room door. “It’s not ready yet, Mike!” She said before slithering away again.
“Of course it isn’t.” Mike muttered. He sat down on the sofa.
Joel reached over for the remote which was lying on the coffee table. “Well, we could always watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade highlights.” He suggested.
“I’d rather kill myself.” Servo said.
“Tom, don’t make jokes like that. It’s insensitive.” Joel said.
“Well, what are we going to do then?” Servo asked. “I’m bored.”
“Football is on.” Joel said, waving the remote. “Bears are playing the Lions.”
Mike glanced over at the clock. “It’d be almost over. Also screw the Bears and the Lions. Packers all the way.”
“It’s a good thing you and I share more than the Satellite Of Love in common, Mike.” Joel said. “Wouldn’t talk to you otherwise.”
“Ah, come on. We’re friends.” Mike said.
“This is the third time we’ve met.” Joel pointed out.
“Yeah, but we talk on the phone. I know about your stuff. We’re friends.” Mike insisted.
“Hey, Joel, what’s this?” Crow asked, holding a bottle of Joel’s painkillers. “Vee-caw-din?”
“That’s Vicodin, Crow.” Joel swiped the bottle from Crow’s claw. “It’s a painkiller. Don’t ever touch these.”
“Why do you need painkillers, Joel?” Servo asked.
“Because I get pain.” Joel said.
Crow and Servo seemed to accept the answer and wandered out of the living room, Cambot following.
“Joel, you’re taking opioids?” Mike asked in a hushed voice.
“Don’t judge me. I’m taking them exactly as my doctor prescribed.” Joel said.
“I had no idea the pain was that bad.” Mike said.
“Well, you try crashing down to Earth from space and-“
“I’ve done that.” Mike said.
“Yeah, but it’s not like you got hurt, really, is it?”
“No. I wasn’t in a coma like you were.”
“I wasn’t in a coma.” Joel said. “I was sedated-there’s actually a difference, you know.”
“Still, I can’t imagine how much it must have hurt.” Mike said. “The worst pain I feel are headaches. I...” He trailed off.
“Yeah.” Joel nodded.
Gypsum slithered into the room. “Mike, the turkey will be ready soon. I suggest you start making those potatoes like you said you would.”
“Alright, Gyps. Alright.” Mike stood up from the sofa and walked to the door, but was almost knocked over by Crow, Servo and Cambot rushing back into the room.
“Hey, hey!” Joel said. “Careful, you guys! You could have hurt Mike!”
“Mike can handle it!” Crow said. “Worse case is that he hits his head and thinks he’s someone else.”
“And this happens how often?” Joel asked.
“Often enough.” Servo replied.
Joel made a mental note to ask Mike about that. “So where did you guys go?”
“Up to your room, Joel.” Crow said.
“Yeah.” Servo said.
“Oh? Did you find anything interesting?” Joel asked. He knew they wouldn’t. He hadn’t been up there properly since April.
“Nah.” Crow shook his head. “But why is there a wheelchair in the closet under your stairs?”
“Because there is.” Joel answered.
“Can I use it?” Crow asked. “I want to do an experiment.”
“What’s the experiment?” Joel asked, expecting some answer like racing against Servo.
“I want to set it on fire.”
“No you most certainly cannot use it.” Joel said.
“Why not?” Crow asked.
“You don’t need it, do you, Joel?” Servo asked.
“What I don’t need is a fire marshal condemning my house on Thanksgiving.” Joel said. “I like this place, guys. I’m settled here. Don’t start any fires.”
“Joel, you’re such a spoilsport.” Crow muttered.
“My house, my rules.” Joel said.
“Gypsum gets to play with fire.” Servo complained.
“Gypsum is more trustworthy than either of you.” Joel said. “So yes, she gets to use fire. But she doesn’t get to play with it because nobody should be playing with fire since I don’t want my house burned down to the ground.”
Servo and Crow complained as they left the room again, looking for something to do. Cambot followed them.
“Why do you have a wheelchair, Joel?” Gypsum asked. “You’re not paralysed. Are you?”
“No, Gyps, I’m not.” Joel said. “I just... I got hurt. I broke my leg a few months ago is all.”
Gypsum nodded her large purple head. “Okay.”
“I’m okay now though.” Joel assured her.
Mike walked back into the living room. “The mashed potatoes are cooking now, Gypsum.” He said. “I just confiscated a lighter from Crow.” He handed the item in question to Joel.
“Thanks.” Joel took the lighter and put it in his pocket.
“He was trying to set fire to, uh, to your vacuum cleaner.”
Joel shook his head. “After I told them not to set fire to anything?”
“Well, you know Crow.” Mike said.
“Yeah, unfortunately I do. I’m the one who made him.” Joel said. He stood up out of his chair with a groan. His hip, his leg and his back all hurt in one go and he felt like he was going to fall down again.
“Joel!” Gypsum cried out. She wrapped her coils around his chest to steady him, which only brought on a new form of pain.
“Aah!” Joel grabbed his ribs.
“Gypsum, let go.” Mike said quickly.
“But he’ll fall if I don’t-“
“It’s okay, I’ve got him.” He positioned himself so that he would be able to catch Joel if he did fall and support him if he didn’t.
Gypsum grunted to let Mike know she wasn’t happy, but still let go of Joel anyway.
Joel fell forwards into Mike, who helped steady him on his feet.
“You okay?” Mike asked.
“I’m fine.” Joel answered.
“What would you do if none of us were here?” Mike asked.
“That’s what the crutches are for.” Joel said. “Looks like I have a new one now and his name is Mike Nelson.”
Mike chuckled. “Well. I would go so far as to-“
“Eew! Servo come here! Mike’s in love with Joel! Look he’s hugging Joel and they’re smiling!”
“Mike, no! How could you betray us like this?!”
“Hey now, Mike’s only holding around me because I feel a bit dizzy.” Joel said. “It’s certainly not because he’s in love with me.”
“Not now, Gyps.” Mike said.
“People only hug people they’re in love with.” Servo said. “Joel left us twice. You could do so much better than Joel.”
“Gee, thanks for making me feel good.” Joel said dryly. He clung to the back of Mike’s shirt, not letting the bots know how he felt like he was going to fall down. He shouldn’t have overdone it at the Hot Fish Shop yesterday. He should have just left it to Chris.
“Hey, Joel, why do you celebrate Thanksgiving anyway?” Crow asked.
“Because I do.” Joel replied. He didn’t have the brainpower to think about anything other than not falling over.
Mike stepped in. “Because Thanksgiving is about being thankful for what you’ve got and Joel is very thankful that you guys are back in his life. And I’m very thankful to have you guys and Joel in my life.” He said. “What are you guys thankful for?”
“I’m thankful that Joel is back in my life.” Servo said. “He may have been an ass to us sometimes, but he still made us.”
“What? When have I ever been an ass to you?” Joel asked.
“When you first created us, you kind of resented us.” Servo said. “The rock, paper scissors thing.”
“You ripped my arm off, like a lot.” Crow said. “And you replaced Servo’s head with a balloon and inflated it until it popped-“
“Hey, as I recall, you were also chanting ‘pop, pop, pop’, Crow!” Joel said.
“But then you went and left us.” Crow said. “I’m not thankful for that.”
“That choice was taken out of my hands, Crow.” Joel said. “I would have stayed if I could.”
“Well, I’m thankful that Joel didn’t die.” Gypsum said. “And I hope you’ll be thankful for the meal that Mike and I made.”
“Is the food ready?” Crow asked, getting to his feet.
“Well, I know that the Cowboys and the Dolphins are playing soon.” Mike said, almost dropping Joel.
“Mike!” Joel exclaimed.
Mike realised he was letting Joel drop and hastily picked him back up again.
“Mike!” Joel repeated, this time in a pained way.
“Joel!” Gypsum hurried worriedly to the two men.
“Gyps, I’m fine.” Joel said in a way that gave away that he wasn’t really fine.
“You don’t sound fine.” Gypsum said.
“Yeah and you don’t look fine either.” Crow pointed out.
“Wait, is that what the crutches and the wheelchair and the painkillers are for?” Servo asked accusingly.
“No, Tom, it’s my shoulder that’s hurting.” Joel said. “I think Mike jarred it or something when he picked me up.”
“Why did he need to pick you up in the first place?” Crow asked.
“Aw come on. I told you already, I’m dizzy.” Joel said. “Go on, Gyps, go check on dinner.”
Gypsum looked over at Joel and reluctantly slithered out of the room.
“Crow, Tom, Cambot, why don’t you go and help her?” Mike suggested.
“She doesn’t need help.” Servo said.
“Let me rephrase that, go and help Gypsum.” Mike said.
The three robots walked-and floated-out of the room, leaving the two humans left.
“I don’t wanna hear it, Mike, I’m fine.”
“My... it hurts like...” Joel gestured vaguely around his left thigh and hip, “around here.”
“Didn’t you break your hip?” Mike asked.
“Yeah. And my femur.” Joel said. “A-and my pelvis.” He added quietly.
“Have you taken your painkillers today?”
“Have I-of course I have, Mike!”
“How long have you been on them?”
“Ooh. That’s nearly seven months.”
“It is seven months.” Joel corrected.
“Then you must be developing some kind of resistance to them.” Mike suggested. “I read that it can happen with prescription opioids.”
“Yeah. I... I’ll go back to my doctor.” Joel said. “I don’t want to take another though, because I’m scared of becoming addicted-“
“Addicted to what, Joel?” Servo asked as he floated into the room.
“Gypsum’s cooking.” Joel said hastily.
“Oh. Well, what a coincidence. She sent me in here to tell you that dinner was ready.”
“We’ll be there now, Servo.” Mike said.
Servo floated away again.
“Can you walk?” Mike asked.
“I think I need my crutch, but I don’t want the bots to see me using it.” Joel said. “I’m gonna use the wall for balance instead.”
Mike nodded. “If you’re sure.” He removed his hand from around Joel’s waist and slowly took a step away from him.
Joel nodded and took a few steps forward until he was leaning on the wall. He walked over to the doorway to see Servo hovering outside it.
“Aha!” Servo exclaimed. “You are hurt!”
“Tom, keep it down!” Joel hissed.
“You do need that wheelchair! You do-“
Servo was stopped by Mike’s hand covering his little silver beak. “Be quiet, Servo.”
“What’s going on out here?” Gypsum asked. “Tom, what did you say?”
Mike removed his hand and shot him a look of warning.
“I didn’t say anything, Gypsum.” Servo said.
“Yeah, I heard it too, Servo.” Crow said. “Something about that wheelchair we found...?”
“I didn’t say anything.” Servo repeated.
“And besides, I already told you guys not to worry.” Joel said. “I’m fine. I promise. Come on. Let’s go eat.”
Exactly a month later, Joel made it down to Milwaukee. He had to drive in stages, which made the eight hour drive into more of a two day drive. But he still made it in time for Christmas. He took the elevator up to Mike’s new apartment and knocked on the door.
Crow answered it and screamed in Joel’s face. “Y2K IS GONNA KILL US ALL, JOEL!”
Servo simply shouted excitedly. “Joel’s here! Joel’s here!”
Mike pushed the screaming Crow to one side. “Good to see you again, Joel.”
“I don’t know why I came.” Joel said. “I guess I just had to spend Christmas with my bots. They’re my family.”
“If you weren’t feeling up to coming here, I could have brought Tom, Crow and Cambot to your place.” Mike said.
“I need a nap. I’ve been on the road for two days.” Joel said.
“Two days? But it’s only an eight hour drive.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he realised that Joel would have had to have been more careful when driving because of his injuries and his painkillers. “Oh the snow.”
“Sure, the snow.” Joel nodded. “Gonna let me in?”
“Oops, sorry.” Mike stepped aside to let Joel inside. “Well, you’ll be sleeping in my bed-“
“No, I’ll be fine on the sofa.” Joel said.
“And hurt your hip worse? No, you should have the bed.” Mike said.
“Joel, what’s wrong with your hip?” Servo asked.
“Nothing, Servo. I just-I hurt it a few months back.”
“Is that why you take those Veecowdin painkillers?” Crow asked.
“Vicodin and yes.” Joel said.
“Why didn’t you admit to us that you were hurt, Joel?” Servo asked. Even though he was a robot, his feelings sounded hurt.
“Because it’s not your place to worry about that.” Joel said. “Just as it’s not Mike’s either.”
“What happened, Joel?” Crow asked. “How did you get hurt?”
“I was... um... in a car accident. And I broke my hip.” Joel explained, telling some truths, but holding back the full truth. “And also my leg. Now it hurts and I take painkillers so it doesn’t hurt. But I’m getting better. I promise. Don’t worry.”
“Why would we worry?” Crow asked. “We only wish it was worse, right, Servo?”
Joel knew that Crow was speaking out of resentment, but his words stung. He didn’t want Crow and Servo to know just how bad his injuries had been. And there he was, talking about how he wished it was worse-
“Crow, you should apologise for that comment.” Mike said sternly.
Mike raised his voice. “Apologise now!”
“Jeez.” Crow muttered. “Sorry, Joel.”
“Now go to your room.”
“I’m not a child!”
“It’s okay, Mike. I know how Crow can be sometimes. He didn’t mean it. And he said he was sorry.” Joel said. “I mean, you had to shout at him first, but he still said sorry.”
“He shouldn’t have said that to begin with, Joel.” Mike said.
“It’s fine. Just forget about it. I’m here to celebrate Christmas, not to watch you punish Tom and Crow.”
“You’re right. You’re right.” Mike nodded.
“So what do you want for Christmas then?” Joel asked.
“I want Furbies.” Servo said. “I want so many that I want to drown in Furbies!”
“I want to decide who lives and who dies.” Crow said.
Joel pinched the bridge of his nose and Mike simply sighed and shook his head.
“Every year.” They said in unison.
They turned and looked at each other in surprise as if they hadn’t expected the other to say it. And they both burst out laughing.
Christmas Day was two days later. Joel had noticed that Crow and Servo had been acting differently towards him, but put it down to Christmas.
On Christmas Morning, Mike entered his bedroom, where Joel was sleeping, and sat down on the bed, waking Joel up.
“Hey, Joel.” He greeted. “You said you have to take your pills at a specific time, so I brought you a cup of water.” He held up a cup of water.
Joel sat up and took the cup from Mike. “Thanks.” He said. “How are the bots?”
“They’re still following their sleep cycle. Incidentally, thanks for changing their wake up time for a later time.” Mike said. “Gives us a bit more time in bed.”
“Well, I’m in bed.” Joel said. “You’re on the sofa.”
“You should be in bed.” Mike said. “I’m not the one who messed up his bones and internal organs.”
“That was months ago.” Joel pointed out.
“Yeah. But you still take Vicodin.” Mike said.
“Yeah, in higher doses now.” Joel said.
“Yeesh. You think you might have some kind of dependency?”
“I’m still in a lot of pain, Mike.” Joel reached over on the bedside table for his bottle of painkillers and put the cup down. He opened the bottle and took a pill out, taking it with the water Mike had given him.
“Yeah, I can’t say I’ve ever broken twenty-whatever bones at the same time before.” Mike said. “Hell, I haven’t even broken ten. You know, Joel, you’re practically Evil Knievel.”
“What a great comparison.” Joel said dryly as he closed the bottle back up. “Still, pretty sure Evil Knievel broke every bone, not just twenty-five.”
“His medical bills must have been really high.” Mike said. “And I’m pretty sure that what happened to you must have been painful, regardless. What’s it like being in a coma?”
“I’ve told you before, I wasn’t in a coma, Mike. I was under sedation.” Joel said. “And it was really weird. I was aware on some level what was happening to me. But I could have sworn it was Dr Forrester come up with a new form of deep hurting.”
“I guess that’s what it’d be like for me, except it’d be with Pearl, Dr F’s mom.” Mike said.
“The worst bit was the immobilisation.” Joel explained. “I couldn’t really move anything thanks to the breaks in my leg, hip, pelvis, ribs, shoulder and back. They surgically repaired some of it. But I still had to wait for new bone to regrow, which meant, for the most part, either lying or sitting there, doing nothing when I could-I could have been working on some new inventions.”
“It must have been so-“
“It was boring.” Joel said. “I’d rather sit through a twelve hour loop of Monster A-Go Go, Manos and The Castle Of Fu Manchu.”
“Ugh. Never let me end up so badly injured that I’m put in the hospital for two months.” Mike said.
“Well, you live in Milwaukee and I live in Osseo... but whenever you’re in Osseo, yeah, I’ll do all the driving.” Joel agreed.
“Who’d look after the bots?” Mike asked.
“Well, I would.” Joel replied.
“And if both of us get laid up?”
“It’d have to be Gypsum, wouldn’t it?”
“But what would we tell the bots?”
“Not the truth.” Joel said.
“You know you’re going to have to tell them about your re-entry some day, right, Joel?”
“I can’t risk them being mad at me again.”
“Joel. They won’t be mad at you for getting hurt.” Mike said.
“You’re right. They won’t.” Joel said. “They’ll be mad that I didn’t tell them that I was expecting to die.”
“Crow will be. I don’t know about Servo and Cambot.” Mike rubbed the back of his neck. “I think Gypsum would just be upset.”
“Yeah. She’s still pretty sensitive.” Joel said.
Mike looked over at the digital clock on the bedside table. “Come on.” He said. “The bots will be waking up soon for-“
“Open up your heart and let the Patrick Swayze Christmas in”
Joel raised an eyebrow. “You said soon?”
“Okay, so Servo’s up already. It’s time you got up too.” Mike stood up off the bed as Servo carried on singing in the background. He went to the dresser and opened a drawer.
“What are you doing?” Joel asked.
Mike turned around and tossed a pair of socks onto the bed. “I wore these for years, it’s only fair I give them back now. Merry Christmas.” He said with a slight smirk.
Joel picked up the socks and unfolded them out of the ball. Yep. They were his tube socks. “Thanks.” He said.
“I’ll meet you back in the living room.” Mike opened up the door and slipped out, just as Crow joined in the singing too.
“Or we’ll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear-“
“Crow!” Mike shouted.
“What, I was only singing, Mike. So a good action sequence doesn’t belong at Christmas?”
“I’m not saying that, Crow, I’ve seen Die Hard-“
Joel chuckled to himself as he pulled the blankets off. He took a few moments before he put the socks on and finished the cup of water off.
After some time doing his physical therapy exercises on his shoulder and his hip, Joel finally made it out of Mike’s bedroom, carrying the cup with him.
“It’s Joel!” Servo cried out. “Merry Christmas, Joel!” He floated excitedly over to his creator.
“Merry Christmas, Tom.” Joel said, patting Servo on his dome.
“Mike said we could have ice cream for breakfast.” Servo said.
“Did he now?” Joel looked over at Mike.
Mike avoided Joel’s gaze and looked down sheepishly. “It’s Christmas.” He mumbled.
“You’re right, it is Christmas.” Joel said. “But if you’re going to have ice cream for breakfast, you should have something substantial first, like a piece of toast-“
“Spoilsport.” Crow said.
“Yeah, we wanna open our presents.” Servo said.
“Not now, Servo.” Mike said.
“Why not now?” Servo asked.
“Because you’ve just got up. At least have breakfast before you open your presents.” Mike said.
“Mike’s right.” Joel interjected. “Breakfast first. Then presents. And I hope you like what I got you.”
Servo and Crow rushed from the couch over to the kitchenette to raid the fridge, while Cambot stayed hovering in place, looking at Mike and Joel converse.
“You got them presents too?”
“Of course I did, they’re my bots.”
“Gypsum sent them something too.”
“They’re going to be so glad they aren’t living in space anymore.”
“We’re already glad!” Crow said loudly.
“Yeah, kind of!” Servo added.
“Kind of?” Joel repeated.
“Some things are foreign to the bots since the Satellite is all they’ve ever known.” Mike explained. “It took me forever to get the bots into my car. Crow just kept staring at it and shaking.”
“You could have crashed the car, Mike!” Crow said.
“Yeah, but I didn’t!” Mike said. “Okay, it’s been a while since I drove, but my license is still valid until next year!”
“I thought you said you crashed without ID.” Joel said.
“Yeah, my driving license is just a driving license. It’s not an ID.” Mike explained. “Just lets me drive.”
Joel nodded and walked over to the sofa, carefully sitting down.
“Want a coffee or something?” Mike offered.
“Yeah. Got any Decaf?” Joel asked.
“Uh... I think so.” Mike nodded. “Yeah, I think we do.” He walked to the kitchenette where the two hyperactive robots were still raiding his fridge. “Move.” He said.
“You are not my real father!” Crow shouted.
“I never claimed to be!” Mike said.
Joel smiled to himself and turned to Cambot. “Merry Christmas.” He reached over and patted Cambot.
Cambot blurped happily.
“We got Decaf, Joel.” Mike called out across the room.
“Thanks, Mike!” Joel called back.
The bots were kicked out of Mike’s kitchenette and Crow, carrying all the food he could in his arms, sat down on the sofa on the opposite side of Joel. Servo sat down in between Joel and Crow.
“Whatcha got there, Crow?” Joel asked.
“Food.” Crow said.
“Yeah, what food?”
“None of your business.”
“Crow, come on, you can’t talk to Joel like that.” Servo said.
“You know how this works, Servo, we’ll get attached to him again and he’ll leave again. Like he did before.” Crow said.
Joel looked over at the two bots and blinked. Was that really how they felt about him? Servo was obviously kinder about it than Crow, but then again, it was kind of in Crow’s programming to be a jerk anyway. It was obvious that Joel’s leaving had affected them. But even if he didn’t know about him, Joel was thankful that they had Mike as company for those almost six years on the satellite.
“But Joel’s here. He’s not going to leave.”
“He left us on the Satellite Of Love twice, Servo!”
“Hey, I’m not going to leave you again. I promise.” Joel said.
“You say that now, Joel Robinson, but you’ll leave us again anyway. The only trustworthy human here is Mike Nelson.”
Joel sighed. He knew he wouldn’t be forgiven so easily, especially by Crow.
Mike handed Joel a cup of coffee and sat down in the beanbag chair by the TV. “It’s nice that you consider me trustworthy, but Joel is trustworthy too, you know. He made you.”
“And he hurt us by leaving!” Crow said. “A-and physically. Sometimes.”
“Joel, I have to ask, did you really beat Crow with a hammer because he crawled through the SOL vents?” Mike asked.
Joel glared at Crow. “Seems he didn’t tell you the full story-he crawled through the vents, fell out in my room and damaged his bowling pin. I had to take him to the workshop to hammer the dent out.”
Crow pointed his claw in Joel’s face. “You still hit me with a hammer!”
“Alright, alright.” Mike reached over for the remote. “Let’s see what’s on TV, shall we?” He turned the TV on and flicked through the channels. “Oh look, it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. I remember watching this as a kid.”
“Me too.” Joel said.
“I feel really old now.” Mike said.
“You feel old? I have chronic back and hip pain-how’s that for feeling old?” Joel said. “I feel forty years older than I am. I should be seventy-nine, not thirty-nine.”
“If you were seventy-nine, I’d be dead.”
“Who’d look after these three?”
“We can look after ourselves, thank you.” Crow said.
“Yeah, now shut up!” Servo complained. “You’re spoiling the movie!”
“It’s not a movie, it’s a special-“
“You’re telling me Charlie Brown’s never had a movie before?” Crow asked. “Of course he has! He’s Charlie Brown!”
“Yeah, but this isn’t a movie, Crow.” Joel said. “It’s a half hour TV special.”
“Oh.” Crow looked at the TV and less than a minute later, turned to Mike. “Can we open our presents now?”
“Wait until the special’s over.”
“But I don’t wanna do that.” Crow complained. “I wanna open them now.”
“Crow, we said ‘no’.”
“You are not my real father!”
Joel simply rolled his eyes.
“Crow, are you eating ice cream?” Mike asked.
“Yeah, you said I could.”
“Joel said no.”
“That’s not fair, Mike, it’s Christmas Day.”
“Yeah, but I said no, Crow.”
“I’m not eating ice cream.” Servo said. “So can I open a present?”
“No.” Joel said.
Crow and Servo’s voices overlapped along with indignant buzzing and whirring from Cambot, mostly complaints of Joel’s decision was arbitrary and how it wasn’t fair.
Mike put his head in his hands. “Shut up!” He shouted. “Oh my-is it just too much to ask that we settle down and have a nice Christmas?” He raised his head. “Look, Joel’s here. I’m here. You’re all here. This is your first Christmas on Earth. Just... just behave, okay?”
The bots paused, pondering it for a moment, before Crow got up off the sofa and ran to the tree. He picked up a present and ripped the paper off with his claw hands.
“Hey, not fair!” Servo complained. “If Crow gets to open his presents, then I should get to open my presents!”
Cambot beeped angrily.
“I told Crow not to open his presents, guys, what can I say?” Joel said with a shrug.
“Monopoly?” Crow sulked. “That present sucks anyway, Joel!”
“Actually, I got you that.” Mike said. “It’s a classic Earth game and-“
“I want to open one now.” Servo said.
“Fine, Tom. You go ahead and open one.” Joel said.
“Alright!” Servo cheered and hovered as fast as he could over to the tree. “Crow, can you hand me one of my presents... and open it?”
Joel really had to rethink Servo’s arms now that they were back on Earth and had more access to better materials.
“Sure thing, Servo.” Crow said. He picked up a present for Tom and opened it.
“Oh yay! A Furby!” Servo said excitedly.
“Wait, you got him a Furby too?” Joel asked.
“We both got him Furbies?” Mike asked.
“I got more Furbies?” The childlike joy came out in Servo’s voice.
“Why does Servo get Furbies and I get...” Crow paused to open another one of his presents, “Operation?”
“Operation is another classic Earth Game-“
“I know what Operation is, Mike!” Crow snapped.
“Well... Look, Crow, if you wanted a Furby, you should have just told us that you wanted a Furby like Tom did.” Joel said.
“I don’t want a Furby.” Crow said.
“Did Santa bring me a Furby?” Servo asked.
“I don’t know what Santa brought you.” Joel said. “Santa brought you whatever you asked him for when you went to the mall with Mike.”
“Why didn’t you go, Joel?” Servo asked. “You could have met Santa!”
“I didn’t go because I was busy.” Joel said. He didn’t want to tell the bots that he couldn’t go because he needed the wheelchair for that and he didn’t want the bots to see him using it.
“Busy doing what, Joel?” Crow asked.
“Cleaning this place so Santa wouldn’t trip on any dirty socks when he came here.” Servo said.
“Come on, Mike, you really do wallow in your own filth.” Servo said.
Cambot chirped in agreement.
“Like your room on the Satellite Of Love was any cleaner than mine!” Mike argued.
“We all know the cleanest room was mine.” Crow said.
“That’s a lie too! It was obviously Gypsum’s!” Servo said.
“Nuh-uh! I would go in there every Tuesday and Thursday to trash it!”
“You did what?!”
While Crow, Mike, Cambot and Servo argued among themselves, Joel stayed in his spot on the sofa and sipped his coffee as he continued to watch the Charlie Brown special on the TV.
“Guys, can you keep it down? I’m still trying to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.” He drawled.
“Joel, give me my Furby!” Servo demanded.
“It’s in my car. You’ll have to wait.” Joel said. “Unless Mike wants to go down and get the presents.”
“There you go. You’ll just have to wait.”
“I don’t want to wait to see what you got me, Joel.” Crow said. “I want to see now!”
“I’m not going to get any peace to watch this, am I?” Joel asked.
Mike shook his head. “No, no you’re not.”
Joel sighed. “Why don’t you go and see what Santa got you then?”
“You mean it, Joel?” Crow asked.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” Mike shrugged. “Santa left the presents in my room-“
“Wait, why did he do that?” Servo asked.
“Because I asked him to.” Joel said. “I asked him for a peaceful Christmas Morning and it doesn’t look like I got it.”
“Of course you didn’t, Joel, his slaves can’t make peace or else the world would be drowning in peace.” Servo said.
“Oh my god.” Joel mumbled.
“Santa doesn’t have slaves.” Mike said, noticing Joel’s change in attitude. “He has elves-“
“Who work for him for free.” Servo said. “Free labour means they’re slaves.”
“Slaves. Right.” Mike said.
“Santa’s a slavedriver, Mike. I mean, sure, he looks all innocent with his fat belly and his beard and his elderly looks and his ‘ho ho ho’-“
“Is this actually going anywhere, Servo?” Joel asked.
“Santa’s really the bad guy!” Servo declared.
Crow gasped. “I knew it! He doesn’t get presents because he’s on his own naughty list!”
“Are you guys gonna open your presents from Santa or not?” Mike asked.
“Not if he used his slaves to make them.” Servo said. If his arms worked, he would be folding them, his tone was just that indignant.
Joel stood up from the sofa and put his cup on the kitchenette counter.
“Where are you going?” Mike asked.
“To get the bots’ presents from my car.” Joel replied. “Since they aren’t going to open Santa’s.”
“Need any help?” Mike asked, mindful of Joel’s bad shoulder. “To carry them up, I mean?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.” Joel said.
“Why don’t you open the presents Gypsum got you while Joel and I are gone?” Mike suggested. “We’ll only be a few minutes.”
Mike picked up his keys as Joel slipped his shoes on.
“Don’t set fire to anything.”
“No promises.” Crow answered.
Mike opened his apartment door and let himself-and Joel-out.
“So this is going to be our Christmas.” Joel said.
“Hey, you were the one who came here.” Mike pointed out. “You could have just stayed in Osseo.”
“And have my brother bring his family round?” Joel shook his head. “Nah. I’d rather not be forced into my wheelchair and then have to go sledding with them.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “So that wheelchair is yours? As in you still use it?”
“Well, yeah.” Joel shrugged. “You think I can walk around the Mall of America with this leg? Not a chance.”
Mike pressed the call elevator button. “Why would your brother get involved though?”
“Because he and his wife and family moved me into their place while I recovered. He keeps tabs on me almost obsessively. It’s weird, Mike.” Joel said.
“Why couldn’t you just say no to him?” Mike asked.
The elevator doors pinged and the two men stepped inside.
“Alright. I’ll break your bones-the same ones I broke-and then you say no to being looked after.”
“Did you want to be looked after?”
“Well, no. Not really, but when you’ve got casts on both your arms, you’re not really going to be doing much looking after yourself.”
The elevator opened up again on the ground floor and Joel stepped out before Mike. He checked the time on his watch-twenty past eight. Christmas Day was going to last forever.
“Suppose it makes wiping difficult.”
“Forget wiping, what about eating? And showering? And dressing?”
“That’d be the worst.”
“No, the worst was that his wife babied me. Like all the damage is under the bandages. My brain is fine, my body is not. I know how Stephen Hawking must feel now. Except more permanently.” Joel complained.
“Well, you’re here now.” Mike said. “And you got Crow and Servo and Cambot back.”
“And it was more than worth almost dying for.” Joel said.
They walked outside and Mike shivered-he hadn’t brought a coat with him. Neither had Joel.
Joel bent down and scraped some of the snow from the floor and crushed it into a snowball, hiding it behind his back when Mike looked at him. When Mike turned back around, Joel threw the snowball, which hit him on the shoulder.
Mike yelped, part in surprise and part because the snowball was so damn cold.
Joel meanwhile was just standing there, chuckling. Or he was until Mike threw a snowball right into his face.
Mike grinned, looking proud of himself and turned around again, carrying on walking to Joel’s car.
Joel crept up behind Mike and scooped up some more snow. He pulled Mike’s pyjama top and dropped the snow down his back.
Again, Mike yelped, this time definitely because the snow was cold. “Joel!” He cried out.
Joel laughed and jogged away, while Mike was still pathetically trying to get the snow from his top.
“Screw you, Joel! I’m going to get you!” Mike called.
“Oh no you’re not.” Joel muttered. He smirked as he made some more snowballs. When Mike turned the corner, Joel pelted him with the snowballs, causing Mike to drop the snowball that he was going to throw at Joel.
“Alright.” Mike wiped the snow from his face. “Truce, truce.”
“Fine. Truce. But I’ll get you later.” Joel said.
“Fine, but I’m not going out later.” Mike said.
“Oh, so you’re going to stay in all day with Crow and Tom?”
Mike considered it for a moment. “Nah, forget it. Like you said, you’ll get me later.”
“Alright. Let’s get those presents.” Joel said. He hurried over to his car and unlocked the door.
Mike followed and started to grab the presents from the trunk. “Joel, why do you have a crutch in your trunk?”
“In case I need it, of course.” Joel said, appearing at Mike’s side.
“And do you?”
“Why do you not use it? And why do you have so many presents?”
“Because it’s the bots’ first Christmas in... Wisconsin. They deserve it.” Joel answered.
“What’s wrong with Wisconsin?” Mike asked. “I live here!”
“And I grew up here.” Joel said.
“I didn’t know that.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Mike Nelson.”
“Like your brother’s name?”
“Ah! That’s a conversation for another day.”
“You’re not going to tell me what your brother’s name is? You mention him all the time and I don’t even get a name?”
Joel shrugged. “Hey, I have to keep up the mystery somehow.”
“I have a brother too.” Mike said.
“Yeah, Eddie. I know.” Joel closed the trunk and locked up.
“How do you-“
“You told me about him already.” Joel picked up the presents he’d put on the ground and started walking back to the building.
“Oh.” Mike blinked. “I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember a lot of things. And that’s okay.” Joel said. “I know the bots are very distracting sometimes.”
“Nah, it’s been going on for years before I met the bots. I’ve always been pretty forgetful, you know?” Mike said.
“Not really.” Joel admitted. “I’ve only been forgetful since my skull got crushed-“
“Oh what?!” Mike exclaimed.
“Yeah, it was when I crashed back to Earth.” Joel said. “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“It sounds pretty bad.” Mike said.
“Nah, just linear fractures of the parietal bone and the temporal bone and a depressed basilar skull fracture of the frontal bone.” Joel said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah well it sounds painful.” Mike said as he tried to open the door with his elbow. When he succeeded in opening it a little bit, he tried again with his foot, eventually getting the door open.
“It’s better now, Mike, I had reconstructive surgery.” Joel said.
“Really?” Mike looked at Joel’s forehead, trying to spot the scar.
“What are you looking at?” Joel asked.
“Looking for the scar.” Mike replied.
“It’s... they shaved my head to do the surgery.” Joel explained. “So my hair covers the scar.”
“Let me guess, you’re not going to tell Crow and Servo?”
“Not a chance.” Joel pressed the call elevator button and the elevator doors opened immediately.
“Convenient.” Mike noted as he and Joel stepped inside. “Can I just ask, does your shoulder hurt?”
“You have most of the presents, Mike.” Joel said. “Also I took my painkiller like a half hour ago.”
“Yeah, but does it hurt?”
Joel shrugged one sided. “I guess a little bit. Not totally though. I can actually do normal things, so that’s great.”
The doors to the elevator opened on Mike’s floor.
Mike chuckled. “Except Christmas, right?”
“Oh you’re absolutely right there.” Joel drawled.
The two men stepped out and walked down the hall to Mike’s apartment.
Mike put the presents down on the floor while he rummaged in his pocket for his key, which he found in the pocket of his pyjama pants.
Joel took the key from Mike and opened the door as Mike picked up the pile of presents.
“So what did Gypsum get you?” Mike asked.
“Pokémon.” Servo answered.
Cambot nudged at some VCRs and chirped.
“And I got a Tickle Me Elmo.” Crow said. “The indignity of it all!”
“Crow, it’s okay, honey-it’s just a toy.” Joel said.
Servo let out a little gasp and Cambot whirred.
“What?” Joel asked.
“You called Crow ‘honey’.” Servo said.
“Well, yeah, I always call you guys ‘honey’, I-“ Joel stopped dead in his tracks. He realised it was the first time in six years that he’d actually called Crow or Servo or Cambot or anyone honey.
“Joel?” Mike asked.
Joel nodded. “Yeah.”
Mike nodded. “Alright, these are Joel’s presents to you.” He set the pile of presents down on the floor for the bots.
“Alright!” Crow dived towards the pile, but was beaten by Servo.
“I got here before you! I get to open a present first!”
“Come on! You don’t even have working arms so how are you going to open a present first, dickweed?”
“Hey, no insulting each other.” Joel said. He sat down on the sofa again and took a small gift wrapped box from his pocket.
“What’s that, Joel?” Servo asked.
“Before you open the presents in my pile, I have an extra special present I’d like to give you.” Joel said. “And because it’s so extra special, I’m giving it to all of you. So Cambot, Crow, Mike and Tom, this is for you.” He held the box out.
Mike took the box and untied the string from around it. He pulled the lid off and Servo and Cambot both hovered higher for a better look, while Crow stood up on tip toes.
“It’s a key.” Crow said.
“It’s the key to my house.” Joel said. “Look, I’m kind of expecting you to come and visit-you’ve done it twice now already.”
“What makes you think that we want to visit you?” Crow asked.
“I want to visit Joel.” Servo said.
“He abandoned us twice.” Crow argued.
“It wasn’t his fault!” Servo argued back.
“I think the key’s just wonderful, Joel.” Mike said loudly, overs Crow and Servo’s bickering.
Cambot chirped appreciatively and bopped Joel’s bicep.
Joel patted Cambot. “So this is the Christmas we get?”
“And it’s not even nine.” Mike said, glancing over at the clock. “Do you reckon today’s going to get worse?”
“Oh definitely.” Joel said. “But this is going to be our life from now on, Mike.”
“What do you mean?” Mike asked.
“This is our family. Our weird little Satellite Of Love family.” Joel said.
“And you know, despite how Servo and Crow are and trying to marry each other... I don’t think I’d have it any other way.” Mike said.
Joel sighed wistfully. “Yeah.” He sat watching his bots happily, until his eyes widened in horror as the penny dropped. “They did WHAT?!”