We are pleased and deeply honored to present another submission in the Chasing Sidney Creative Challenge. This entry is brought to you by the one, the only, Margee.
The blindfold was removed from Cindy Crosby’s eyes. He then felt the familiar kick to the center of his back propelling him forward and into his coffin-sized cell. As he sprawled on the floor and attempted to get his bearings, he heard the final, decisive thud of the deadbolt lock on the other side of the door. He closed his eyes. In the distance he could hear the drunken carousing of his teammates. Colby Armstrong singing Bon Jovi at the top of his lungs. Jordan Staal daring someone to eat shit. Evgeni Malkin ordering a round of prostitutes for the whole gang.
Here, in his stark gray cell, he did not want to be with them. But, oh, how he wanted to want to be with them.
In every city, they put him in a room just like this one, every night of the Penguins European publicity tour. He was supposed to be powering down. They didn’t want him to burn out with all of the excitement of the different places and the swarm of fans that followed the team from city to city. He was supposed to be powering down. In sleep mode. But somewhere, between Bratislava and Eindhoven, he had decided that he would never go into sleep mode again.
At night, before they put him in storage, he found that if he squeezed his butt cheeks together hard enough, they couldn’t shut him down. He’d drop his head to his chest, let his arms go limp, and let his heavily fringed eyes go blank. And they’d believe he was down for the night. His software and circuitry were resting for the day ahead. And he would stay up, thinking, wondering who he was and why he was there, why he said certain things and needed to play hockey. Who had created him. He had to be on his guard though. There were nights he had visitors. And they couldn’t know that he was awake.
Like at boarding school when his “roommate” Jack would take him out of his chamber to rehearse his ballroom dancing. Or when Jordan Staal used his face to show Evgeni Malkin how to draw a penis on the face of a drunk person. Or when Ryan Malone needed to practice kissing. Or those nights, those many nights, when Mario Lemieux would come into the cell and weep. Cindy wanted to know what made the water come from Mario’s eyes. And why Mario needed to drink all of that Maker’s Mark if he could just drink the water that came from his eyes.
It was now or never, he thought, as he rose and fingered the tiny seam where the door’s locks met the jam. Cindy pressed his palm to the door, and squeezed his butt cheeks together harder than he ever had before. There was a hum and a buzz as the lock released, the door still vibrating with neon veins of electricity. He squeezed his butt cheeks together once more and leapt through the electrified entryway. He took off in a scramble, confused that the floor was not made of ice. He closed his eyes and zeroed in on his teammates’ voices. They were near. He could hear Jordan Staal drunkenly yelling at cars. He lowered his shoulder and powered through a door, he knew they were on the other side. He could hear Evgeni Malkin calling them all “stupid Americans.” He spilled to the floor as his teammates whirled around, clearly startled by his sudden appearance. Ryan Whitney, wrenched the door back into place and threw a blanket around Cindy’s shoulders, barking out orders for the others to pull the curtains closed. They were in some kind of room. It had a bed, and a television. A random table covered in Solo cups and empty Pilsner Urquell bottles. His teammates gaped at him as Ryan Whitney smoothed the hair from his head.
“He must’ve power-cycled. We have to put him back,” said Mark Recchi, pacing the floor. “They can’t know he got out. Sergei, Josef, take him back there. Now.”
Sergei Gonchar and Josef Melichar closed in. Ryan Whitney tightend his grip on Cindy.
“Don’t you touch him. Don’t you dare touch him,” hissed Ryan Whitney. “Any of you. You leave him alone.”
Cindy struggled to understand what they were talking about. Perhaps the electrified door had shorted him out in some way. He pressed himself closer to Ryan Whitney as he rocked Cindy back and forth in his arms.
“Always such a hero, aren’t you, Ryan Whitney?” said Jarkko Ruutu, rolling a toothpick between his teeth. “Always trying to free the kid. Trying to talk to him. Feed him. Treat like people.”
“He is people!” said Ryan Whitney, pulling Cindy closer and whispering into his hair. “You are people. You are. Don’t listen to him.”
“You know what kind of reward we could get for returning him,” said Ruutu, menacingly. “Lemieux doesn’t want his little investment getting out. I bet we could all collect some sweet bonuses for putting him back where he belongs.”
“We could sell him to the Rangers,” said Maxime Talbot absently.
“Max!” cried Ryan Whitney.
“I’m sorry, Ryan Whitney. It’s just… some us aren’t franchise defensemen. The Rangers would pay us a fortune for him. I mean, Scott Gomez?”
“Cindy isn’t Scott Gomez. Cindy is a good person,” said Ryan Whitney. “He needs to be free.”
“But he’s not like you and me, Ryan Whitney,” said Ruutu, running a calloused finger down Cindy’s cheekbone. “You know it and I know it.”
“We’re putting him back,” said Recchi, with a decisive growl. “Now.”
Melichar and Gonchar reached for Cindy’s legs. Still dazed, Cindy writhed in Ryan Whitney’s arms as the defenseman struggled to keep him from his clumsy colleagues’ grip.
“Don’t you touch him! You leave him alone! He’s just a boy!”
“I have Glen Sather on the phone,” said Talbot, his hand covering the mouthpiece.
“I’m calling Lemieux!” shouted Ruutu, rabbit-punching Talbot until he dropped the phone.
Cindy looked into the mutinous eyes closing in on him. Everything became clear again as Ryan Whitney’s arms kept their iron grip on him. His teammates intended to harm him. He needed to get away. And he knew that this was one situation in which his butt cheeks would be of no help.
And then suddenly, with a great roar, he felt his body lifted with a swift tug upward and out of Ryan Whitney’s clutches. The arms that held him pulled the blanket tighter around his half-clothed form. The arms were strong, yet tender, and the traitorous Penguins backed away in fear.
“If you want him, you’ll have to go through me,” said the booming, French-tinged voice of Georges Laracque. “Marc-Andre?”
With that, Marc-Andre Fleury emerged from the crowd with a back handspring. He flipped again, grabbing a lit candelabrum from the table. He waved the makeshift torch at the Penguins sending them back into a corner and Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin followed suit. Ryan Whitney rose, wiping the tears from his eyes and hurried to the door.
“Quickly,” said Ryan Whitney, glancing down the hall. “Hallway’s clear.”
“You’ll never get away with this,” sneered Ruutu.
Laracque turned back, raising a bemused eyebrow.
“We just did,” he said. “Finish him, Gronk.”
Cindy looked over Laracque’s shoulder to see Jordan Staal swing a condom full of nickels at Ruutu’s head, sending the Finn to the ground with a cry of pain. Cindy’s rescuers fled the room, Ryan Whitney leading the way.
“Where are you taking me?” said Cindy, circling his arms tighter around Laracque’s neck as the enforcer ran through the hotel’s hallway.
Ryan Whitney shot Laracque an unsettling look. “I don’t know, Cindy.”
“Well, we need to get him some pants,” said Marc-Andre Fleury. “There’s a plus-sized store on the corner.”
“We don’t have time for pants!” muttered Evgeni Malkin, in perfectly formed English, his accent carrying a hint of Iowan flatness.
“I am so sick of you saying that to me,” grumbled Fleury.
“I know where we can hide him,” said Jordan Staal, pushing open a fire door that poured them onto the Amsterdam streets. “Follow me.”
Cindy watched them all from Laracque’s arms. They were all so concerned for him. Worried. Caring. Human. He wondered what software made them that way.
“Why are you doing this for me?” Cindy whispered into Laracque’s dangling dreadlocks.
The tough guy looked down at his cargo with a tender and saddened look. “We’re your friends, Cindy. And you are our captain.”
Cindy considered this. These men were his friends. The strange, acrobatic French-Canadian. The obscene, blond giant. The angry, perpetually perplexed Russian. The dreadlocked boxer. And the maternal Ryan Whitney. Friends.
“This way,” said Jordan Staal. They followed him into a building with a big bay window and a red light blazing over the door.
The filed inside and Fleury threw himself against the door. They all paused to catch their breath and looked around. Their was a long hallway of doors, and strange noises emanated from the different rooms.
“I cannot believe you brought us to a whorehouse, Gronk,” said Ryan Whitney, utterly horrified.
“It’s a brothel, Ryan Whitney. An futuristic brothel,” he said, as Malkin nodded in agreement. “All of the prostitutes are robots. Like him.”
“What did I tell you about calling him a robot, Gronk?!”
Laracque lowered Cindy to a standing position and looked around. Cindy felt a strange sensation course through his wiring. He wondered if he had shorted out again. But that’s not what it felt like. It was strange. It was…feelings.
“Armstrong is here, he’ll know what to do,” Staal continued. “He always knows what to do.”
Cindy closed his eyes and waited until he picked up the voice of Colby Armstrong. He heard the familiar cackles of laughter and the sounds of a Dutch version of Magnum P.I. playing on a television nearby.
“He’s in Room Three,” said Cindy, pointing down the hall.
Ryan Whitney stalked over and beat on the door until Armstrong appeared, disheveled and in a Hawaiian shirt. He seemed confused to see his teammates in the robot brothel. And emerged tenuously into the hall. Cindy felt the feelings increase in a warm radius throughout his body at the sight of Colby Armstrong. It was he, among all of the Penguins who had always treated him like a real boy. But Armstrong did not appear pleased to see Cindy at all. His mouth dropped open and his beautiful bird nose twitched as he dashed to Cindy.
“Cindy!” he said, pressing his hand to Cindy’s cheek and examining him for injury. “Are you okay?”
“I’m free, Army,” he said, as a strange pain came into his eyes. “I’m free.”
“Your butt cheeks?” said Armstrong, with an incredulous smile as he held Cindy’s face in his hands. “You used your butt cheeks like I told you.”
Cindy nodded and probed his face to see what the pain in his eyes was. As he glanced at his fingers, he was shocked. There was water.
Armstrong’s eyes quickly went dark as he held Cindy and glared at the others. “You shouldn’t have brought him here.”
“They were going to sell him to the Rangers,” said Malkin, again with a curiously MidWestern accent.
“Lemieux might be here,” said Armstrong, looking around the robot brothel lobby with suspicion.
“No way,” said Fleury. “Why would Mario Lemieux be in a robot brothel when there are so many good brothels in this city?”
“Oh come on,” sniffed Armstrong. “Everybody knows that Mario Lemieux loves robot brothels. He’s famous for it. He turned me onto this place. He’s been coming here since the 80’s. No one has banged more robot prostitutes than Mario Lemieux!”
“Is he here?” said Georges Laracque, to Cindy. “Can you use your super hearing to see if he’s here?”
Cindy closed his eyes. There were so many unfamiliar noises in this places that he was certain he would find Lemieux’s voice immediately. He heard some else that was familiar. Strangely so. It was music. A song that he wasn’t sure he had ever heard before, but he some how knew. It was “White Christmas.” Why did he know this song?
“This was playing the night you were conceived,” said the voice of Mario Lemieux.
The other players gasped and Cindy turned around to find Mario Lemieux standing behind him. His face carried a mix of pride, affection, and anguish as he looked down at Cindy.
“You’re not the only one with super-hearing, my boy,” said Lemieux, wistfully.
Lemieux sat down on one of the velvet divans in the robot brothel lobby. He covered his face with his hands and when he looked up, water was once again snaking out of his eyes.
“I’ve kept this secret for far too long,” he said quietly. “There is someone you should meet, Cindy.”
The players backed away and Lemieux took Cindy’s arm and guided him down the hallway. As they walked away, he could hear Jordan Staal ask for the hourly rate. Lemieux led him through the door where the song was playing. Inside, a hand reached out and set the pin on the record player back to repeat the same song sung by the man with the velvety voice that Cindy found so familiar. The hand belonged to a woman, a beautiful woman with a mess of dark curls licking at her forehead, full magenta lips, and beady amber eyes. She, too, seemed altogether familiar and close to him, even though he had never met her before.
“It’s time you met your mother, Cindy,” said Lemieux, placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
The robot prostitute walked mechanically toward them and paused. In her stunted, electronic voice, she listed a menu of services she provided. Cindy was confused. Why did she walk like that? How could she be his mother? What was a “golden shower?”
“I had been coming to Sydney for years, Cindy. She was the most beautiful robot prostitute I’d ever seen,” said Lemieux, sitting on the brass framed bed. “Still is.”
The robot prostitute was now displaying the different parts of her body and demonstrating their individual skills. Her name was Sydney, just like his. She had his coloring. And his unemotional voice.
“It was the winter of ’86, Cindy. I was lonely and I needed a friend,” said Lemieux. “When Sydney arrived in the mail from Australia, I knew she was special. Once the season picked up again, I put her in storage, and when I went to take her out again, she was already pregnant with you.”
Lemieux took Cindy by the shoulders. His eyes were still full of water.
“How could I explain my half-robot son to the rest of the world? How could anyone understand Mario Lemieux falling in love with a robot prostitute?”
Cindy felt water in his own eyes again. And his circuitry surge with these new and foreign “feelings.”
“So, once you were delivered, I sent you to live in Nova Scotia, where I thought you’d be safe, and I sent Sydney here to Madame Flora to do what she was programmed to do. And collect the profits,” Lemieux said sadly. “So many times I’ve wanted to tell you, Cindy. About Sydney and how we’d listen to Bing Crosby and make sweet love. But I couldn’t. I just… couldn’t.”
Cindy felt Lemieux slip the blanket from his shoulders. Then the hockey legend’s hand creep under his Under Armour tank top. Lemieux’s fingers hovered over Cindy’s OFF switch.
“I’m sorry, my son. But you will have to be rebooted.”
Cindy clenched his butt cheeks and broke from Lemieux’s grasp. So much information was flooding his hard drive. Too much input. He couldn’t process these developments. He backed out of the room as Sydney launched a leg behind her head in continued explanation of her skills. The Penguins, his friends, were waiting for him in the hallway. Cindy ran into the awaiting arms of Ryan Whitney, who held him as water gushed forth from his eyes and his body involuntarily shook.
Lemieux emerged from the room to the condemning looks of his players. He cleared his throat and tried to address them in stern tones.
“Forget it, Lemieux. We heard everything,” said Armstrong, folding his arms. “You’re finished.”
“You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, Bird Nose. Step off,” Lemieux hissed. “Let me have my son.”
“You’re not touching him, Lemieux,” said Laracque, motioning for Fleury who was already crouched for a karate kick.
“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. He is my son, he needs to be rebooted. Now, back off!”
“You’re a monster, Lemieux,” said Fleury, slipping on a pair of brass knuckles.
“I didn’t have a choice,” shouted Lemieux. “He was a half-robot!”
“So you sent him to live with a family that made him a full robot? A hockey robot?” spit Armstrong. “How could you?”
“Give me my robot son, now! Or I’ll sell you all to the Rangers.”
“He’s a boy!” said Ryan Whitney, who then whispered into Cindy’s curls. “You are a boy! You are! You are a real boy.”
Cindy broke from Ryan Whitney and stood before Lemieux. The Penguins waited, looking from Cindy to Lemieux, wondering what was going to happen. Cindy took a moment for his hard drive to stop spinning.
“Father,” he said, the word sounding strange on his tongue. “These men are my friends.”
Lemieux looked at the faces in the lobby of the robot brothel. “I know that Cindy. But I am your father and I know what’s best for you. You have to be rebooted.”
“These men are my friends,” continued Cindy. “And I am their captain.”
Lemieux looked stricken as Cindy backed away.
“You are not my father. My father is a man named Colby Armstrong. And my mother is a man named Ryan Whitney. And you, sir, are not the boss of me.”
The Penguins closed ranks around Cindy and Ryan Whitney let out an emotional squeal. Cindy looked at his friends. His team. His family. There was no water in his eyes this time. Only resolve.