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Challenge #01391-C296: Strange Customers

Being alive put him at a severe disadvantage -- OohLookShiny

[AN: My instant thought on this is Miles Vorkosigan, but I'm trying to exercise myself here...]

This had to be the strangest motley crew to ever find themselves in Dr Mellitus' offices. One human boy, three automatons. The doctor had been intellectually aware that Junkers cobbled together their own creations from the waste-piles, but this was the first time he'd seen some that looked that way.

Especially the short one. She had part of a cooking pot on her face and seemed to compensate for the ruin by wearing the fanciest clothes she could get her hands on. The tall one was typical Junker fare. A soldier-machine or war-maton that acted like a younger juvenile and, in this case, kept a firm grip on the arm of Exhibit C.

The third automaton in the party needed a good cleaning, but was otherwise functional. That one acted like he was here on sufferance. Something he wanted to get through, rather quickly, and then be on with other business.

Dr Mellitus had also heard that automatons that were operational too long began to gather... personality. The small one had to be working the longest. "He- he- he broke into my house," she said. "And now he's come in- into my care. I've done my- done my best, but... I'm sure- sure- sure he needs- needs more."

The boy was clean and groomed, but the automaton had solved the problem inherent in his long hair by styling it as if it were a girls' hair. And a multitude of tiny braids wound their way into an elaborate, gordian knot of twining twists over the back and top of his head. But that was not the main problem.

The main problem was the neglect this child had suffered beforehand. His teeth might be clean now, but there was evident decay. Besides the club foot, there was the beginnings of a hunched back, and his body was covered in scars. The doctor listened with a stethoscope to his heart and lungs, palpitated his organs and muscles, and tried not to show emotion when an accidentally-cracked phalange was greeted with nothing more than a wince.

In brief... Being alive put him at a severe disadvantage.

"This boy needs ample supplies of calcium. Milk in every form. Cheese if milk is unavailable. Soft fish bones if he can't digest either. Iron, sunshine. Plenty of roughage... you have nutrition programs that are up to date?"

"Oh yes," said the small one. "I keep- I keep as up to date as I- as I can." The feathers on her hat bobbed hypnotically whenever she spoke.

"As for the club foot... There is a way to straighten the bones, but I'd wait until his skeleton is stronger. It's a painful process and will involve a brace to correct the bones. Though... given the child's evident past... I suspect he won't be impeded by pain."

The boy snorted. "Jules no getting much pain from Ticktocks. Is good-good. Jules coming back when bones strong."

And that seemed to be it. The boy hopped off the examination bed and back into his clothes. The short one rummaged around in a carpet bag and gave the child a sweet and, after some evident consideration, offered one to Dr Mellitus as well.

"Finally," said the besmeared Exhibit C. "We have more important things to do. We're so close."

"Old program," smiled the boy. He joined hands with the short one and limped away.

Dr Mellitus wouldn't see him again for a year, and by then... the world had changed.

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