Otto had lived as a boy for twelve years before he was born. During that time, he remembers Leo as a small boy, timid, gentle. Passive. He also doesn’t remember anything before the Pucketts.
They were loving parents who had lost a son. The father was administrator of Windy Hill in Smyrna. The mother was a nurse, the most competent and capable woman on the floor, who had attracted his notice after a shouting session in his office one night. After the marriage, they had become devout Enochians, followers of the Golden Generation hero Enoch and his/her otherworldly message of peace. Otto still remembers the haunting choral sessions at the church, and being forbidden music any other time. The Pucketts weren’t Otto’s parents - but his synthetic memories have supplied him with a pair of parents, also medical professionals, also Enochians, friends and coworkers and coreligionists with Leo’s own.
Leo remembers being packed into the hover-car by his father’s soulless robots. Otto remembers watching the abduction from the next yard over, tracking the sleek and high-tech vehicle as it purred its way into the sky and beyond the clouds.
The car was cool.
There were other abductions. Age eight. Leo, whimpering with fear, Otto a helpless child unable to protect his neighbor and friend. The Delacruz family, lying unconscious on the floor of their beautiful and colorful home. The child, thrust by metallic hands into the waiting flyer. The jets - a new feature, meant to evade AEGIS high-mobility aircraft. No silent escape this, but a roaring rocket burn that would carry Leo to a new life.
That was also pretty cool, honestly.
Otto had never drowned before. The night of his creation, as his memories shifted from synthetic to authentic, he was thrust into a blackness that felt like the world’s oceans coming down on his head. Existence was an absolute void. Not even the beating of his own heart, the sound of his own breathing, the rhythmic pulse of blood through his eyeballs, subtly distorting his vision, nothing.
He came to gasping for air, flailing his limbs helplessly, finding that he was paralyzed. He remembers a voice - his own, he mistakenly thought at the time. His creator’s. His little brother’s. The whine of desperation as Leo promised him it would be okay, talked him through the panic, brought him back down. Leo, the boy who he always wanted to save, had saved him.
He felt a curious lack of sensation. Things he’d cared about before just didn’t matter any more. “Your hormonal model is incomplete,” Leo explained to Otto, and Otto understood, because he remembered the science too. “But I’m prepping a body for you.”
“‘Body’ sounds like a corpse,” Otto protested. “You mean that rusted-out shell of a car?”
“Yeah… Yeah. I got a … I got a shell for you. Something to wrap you up in. You’re gonna love it.”
The two worked hard. The car came alive. Otto felt a strength and power he’d never know. Everything was alien at first, but Leo worked like a stevedore, plugging things in, hacking code into the night, testing, double-checking, rewriting, rebuilding. Through it, Leo would talk about his dad, talk about the experiences. Otto gradually came to realize that the two boys didn’t remember those nights the same way. What Leo remembered was his dad. What Otto remembered…
I’ll never lose him to that other car again, he vowed to himself.
And when it came time for the two to duel, Otto was victorious.
Leo was almost sixteen. Otto knew, but wasn’t quite sure he felt, what was going on. He could see his friend distressed, determined, devoted. When Leo told him the plan, Project PNEUMA, Otto was supportive. But he also cautioned Leo about his own experiences. And this time, Leo was ready. A full-coverage sensory experience. A claustral bridge. A synthetic endocrine stream. Proprioceptive patching from Leo’s own body. Otto had emerged into this world through a wave of pain and terror. Now, Otto watched the miracle a second time, witnessed a girl come into being in a moment of bliss.
Watch how he dotes on her, Otto would think. He’s so much tougher than he used to be, but he’s so tender when he’s with her.
He saw his little brother hurt by the breakup, felt a flare of anger at Pneuma. But there was a tiny part of his mind that was confused. I’m right here, it said. Come notice me.
Otto would be a loyal and devoted friend, Leo’s best pal. As Leo turned more aggressive, Otto channeled his own macho streak into a tough but cool big bro image to counter it. When Leo was close to blowing up, Otto would say something rough-and-tumble, but less aggressive, and bring Leo around. Through it all, Pneuma was their friend as well. Every time she would say something, she hit the mark. Every gesture, every comforting act, was magical.
It took Otto time to internalize why she was so able to get to him. It was so simple. _She’s drawn from a later time in Leo’s life. She’s been my best friend for three years, and I never knew her.
All three of them remembered Rossum, horribly and bitterly. All three had been twisted in their own ways by that experience. Pneuma still more so, for she’d been home-schooled like Leo. It bound the two of them together in a way that Otto couldn’t match. But when Pneuma came to Otto in the night, and perched on his hood and whispered her fears and frustrations about her reality, he knew that their own bond would be as unique. His heart stirred with feelings, light and dark.
When Leo announced his plans to become a hero, Otto went along with it, as did Pneuma. The first time the three of them combined - Leo in his suit, Pneuma in her armored form, Otto in his humanoid shape - it felt like nothing Otto had experienced before. Three people, moving in unison, feeding each other cues, whispering in each other’s ears. It was a dance with three partners, and Otto wanted it never to end.
The Menagerie has been amazing, for everyone. Pneuma, now also Aria, and the boss are back together thanks to being part of that team. Good. That’s good. Otto had suggested other girls to Leo, and he sometimes wonders what would have happened if Leo had gone for it. But now, as he unites with his two friends again, and feels that perfect harmony of motion and intent, he knows this is how things were always meant to be.
author: Bill G.