Peter tossed in his bed, moaning as the dream played itself out. It didn’t help matters there was a storm outside and he was already running a 102 degree fever.
Mike sighed and came out of the room. “I can’t reach him. This thing has him so far out of reach….”
Auburn whinnied and nudged his head. Mike looked down into the baby unicorn’s huge, frightened eyes. He crouched and ran his hand over the silky fur on the baby’s nose. “I don’t need to have Peter’s gift to see you’re scared, hon. We’ve got Micky heading to town – don’t see how without the car, but he’s gone – to get some fever medicine. Things will be okay. You’ll see.”
Another moan from Peter sent Mike darting back into the room. Peter opened his eyes and stared at Mike…through him.
“Michael,” he whispered, “help…can’t turn it off….”
“Sit tight, Pete,” Mike said, trying to sound comforting and in charge. “You got nothing to worry about.”
“No,” Peter said, tossing his head from side to side. “Michael… I don’t want to disappear….”
Mike frowned. Peter’s words, odd though they were, did make a certain kind of sense. Could someone be causing Peter’s illness? Mike normally would’ve written it off as a feverish delusion, but this seemed real….and stranger things had happened.
“Is somebody hurting you?” Mike asked.
“No,” Peter said, “but...too…too hot…I don’t…I’ll melt….”
Mike sighed and sat back. Peter was just having fever dreams; that was all. “Micky better get back here soon,” he sighed.
Micky touched down on the back porch, cut off the aura, and ran inside. “Medicine!” he called. As Mike fed it to Peter, Micky shook his head. “Man…all this rain and there’s a fire goin’ on.”
“A fire?” Davy asked. “Where?”
Micky’s words froze Mike still. “At the college. It’s really close to the science lab where all the weirdness started for us.”
“At the college?” Mike asked.
Micky nodded. “The reporter was saying if they don’t get it under control soon, the computer’s going to melt. Literally melt.”
“Oh, no…” Mike said. “And he said…he said he didn’t wanna….” He cursed under his breath.
Micky gave Mike an odd look. “What?”
Mike shook his head. “Peter…this fever’s got nothin’ to do with him. It’s the computer – Peter said it was too hot. He said he was gonna melt.”
“Peter said that?” Micky said skeptically.
“Man, I know how it sounds, but think about it. Haven’t we had enough weirdness to know it when we see it?” Mike asked.
Micky nodded. “You’re right…so you don’t think the medicine will help?”
Mike looked back towards Peter’s room, and shook his head. “No…I think it’s between Pete and the computer now.”
Half an hour later, Peter reared up, his eyes wild and frightened, his face redder than ever. He screamed at the top of his lungs, “I’M ON FIRE!!! MICHAEL, I’M ON FIRE!!!! I’M BURNING! I’M **BURNING**!!!!” The last word was an inhuman scream.
More helpless than he’d ever felt in his life, Mike grabbed Peter and just held on, projecting as much soothing calm as he could. Peter’s skin was nearly too hot to touch.
And the screams – they were unbearable. From the human throat came sounds of tortured metal, popping glass and sizzling diodes.
In sheer desperation, Micky filled a pan with cold water and upended it on Peter and Mike, soaking both them and the bed.
“MICKY!” Mike roared.
“Holy shit!” came from the living room. Davy ran in. “Mike, they’re showing live pictures of the fire on the news ---“
“The computer itself is burning now, we know,” Mike sighed, wiping the water from Peter’s cheek.
Mike ran his fingers along Peter’s cheek again. No, he’d not been mistaken.
Peter was noticeably cooler to the touch.
Davy burst out, “Mike, it’s not that! They’re showing the computer, yes – and the fire on it just went out! No explanation, no nothing! It’s burning all around it, but—“
Mike whirled. “Micky, load more water! Soak him to the skin! Peter…” he touched the cheek again. “Peter, I don’t understand what’s going on, but we’re going to keep drenching you – maybe the computer will cool off and you’ll be okay.”
Micky doused Peter faithfully every few minutes, and the computer stayed extinguished. Peter, however, did not regain consciousness.
“I hope he’s all right,” Micky said.
“He better be,” Mike said, unable to face the alternative right now. “That was quick thinking, Micky … you saved his life tonight.”
Micky shrugged. “Nah…not really.”
Mike met Micky’s eyes. “Yeah, really. I wasn’t doing any good just sitting here. You, though…you really did something.”
Micky smiled. “Thanks, Mike.”
Just then, Peter let out a soft gasp.
“Peter?” Mike laid his hands on Peter’s shoulders. “Peter, can you hear me?”
His eyes, fever-bright, opened. “…c-cold…”
“You’re hot, you’re cold – make up your mind,” Micky teased softly.
Peter smiled slightly. “…h-hi….Micky…..”
Mike grinned. “You’re gonna be okay, Shotgun.”
“Not?” Mike frowned. “Not what?”
“….shotgun….homo…sapiens….n-not….Winchester….” his eyes closed.
There was stunned silence, then Mike whispered, “Oh, shit. Here we go again.”
“It’s…in him…again?” Micky asked.
Mike nodded. “Looks that way, don’t you think?”
Micky looked at Peter, then at Mike. “I guess so. So what do we do?”
“Fire’s out,” Davy said, coming into the bedroom.
“Guess we wait for him to wake up again,” Mike said.
It was a long night.
Fortunately, Peter slept through most of it. The others watched him in staggered shifts. Mike tried to feel his aura, but had to pull back.
Peter’s beautiful warmth was blunted by the cold perfection of the mechanical mind he possessed once more. His natural linguistic gifts were crowded by the libraries inside his skull.
Mike could barely feel Peter’s compassion – possibly the most unique thing about the blond. It wasn’t gone, but it was smothered by everything else now there.
It was just the same as before.
And it broke Mike’s heart to feel.
“Did I die last night?”
It took Mike a minute to realise that Peter had asked the question.
“No, thanks to Micky,” Mike said. “He was the one who dumped cold water on you.”
Peter shook his head. “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean…I remember going up in flames…at least 100 degrees Celsius, maybe hotter…”
“That’s the computer,” Mike said uneasily. He didn’t like to think about the hold the machine had on his friend. “It’s back in your head.”
Peter closed his eyes briefly, then re-opened them. “But it’s different than before.”
“How?” Mike asked, dreading the answer.
“I can’t feel anything,” Peter said with no trace of emotion.
“I know,” Mike whispered. “I can feel the change. I just hope and pray it’s as temporary as the last time.”
Peter shook his head. “I just hope I don’t have to get shocked again…it’s bad once, worse twice….and I can only imagine what it would be like three times.”
”Probably bad,” Mike said, nodding.
Peter just sat for a moment, staring at his hands. “The computer was alive,” He told Mike softly. “It couldn’t feel, but it knew. It was aware of itself. I…I wonder if when it burned, it—fled? Ran into me to be safe?”
“So…y’mean…it might go back once the actual machine gets fixed?”
Peter nodded. “I think so. There’s a good probability of it.”
“So…what are you gonna do in the meantime?” Mike asked.
Peter shrugged. “I’m not sure.”
“Hey,” Micky said softly from the doorway. “How are you, big Peter?”
Peter frowned slightly, cocking his head to the side. “Big? I’m exactly 3.25 inches shorter than you are, Micky…and I have less surface area…”
“All right, all right, I get the idea,” Micky interrupted, holding up a hand. “I just came to tell you…Cotton’s outside, near the shore. I think he wants to talk to you.”
Peter nodded and walked out to the sand.
Micky looked at Mike. “How is he?”
“Machine-cold,” Mike sighed.
Peter crouched down and rubbed Cotton’s scales. “Hey, little one.”
Silence, then a frightened, You change! You notwarm!
He sighed. “I know, Cotton…” And he told him what happened in child’s words.
Ooooh, Peter…. The shark’s tail wiggled in distress. Want you warm!
“I want to be warm again, Cotton, but I don’t know how to do it.”
Too muchthink, not enoughfeel, the little shark told him. Hiding…
“Who is? I am?” Peter asked. That was ridiculous. What could he be hiding?
Hiding, hiding, Cotton said. Comfortable think, uneasy feel. Other self inside all think no feel. Make feel.
And with that, he returned to the sea where he could breathe.
“Great,” Peter said, brushing himself off and getting to his feet. “A shark that speaks in koans.”
“Speaks in who-whats?” Davy asked from behind Peter.
Peter turned around slowly. “I was unaware of your presence.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I wasn’t scared,” Peter said.
“Why not?” Davy asked. “The Peter I know would’ve jumped twelve feet into the air and hid under the bed.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be.”
“Be what?” Davy asked.
“Scared,” Peter replied.
Davy shrugged. “Peter, there’s nothing wrong with—“
“Maybe not to you,” Peter said. “But I don’t like being afraid. I don’t like being sad…I don’t like being hurt.”
Davy stared at Peter for a minute. “It wasn’t just the computer transferring itself into you …. You wanted it to, didn’t you? Why? What’s upsetting you so much?”
Peter’s eerily icy eyes looked into Davy’s. “When you know what it’s like to be me, David, then you can answer that question.” He pushed past his friend and headed down the beach.
Davy blinked. He rippled into a duplicate of Peter, then back into himself, frowning. “What did he mean by that?”
“Absolutely not,” Mike said, pounding his fist on the table.
“Mike,” Davy said in a wheedling tone, “it’s the only way….”
“No how, Shotgun. Not only is it not the only way, it’s not even an option!”
“Yes, it is. I could do it,” Davy shot back.
Micky stopped in the doorway. “Do what? What are you guys fighting about?”
Mike sighed. “Davy wants to…try and get inside Peter’s head.”
“I didn’t think he could,” Micky said.
“Not that way,” Davy said. “I can shape-shift… If I shifted my mind as well as my body—“
“And I say it’s too dangerous and he can’t go around shifting into somebody just because that somebody won’t tell him what’s wrong,” Mike said irritably.
“If you shifted your mind into Peter’s, could you shift back?” Micky asked.
Davy shook his head. “I don’t know. But he said he wasn’t going to tell me. He said the only way I’d ever know was to be him. And I’m willing to risk that.”
“No,” Mike repeated. “If you can’t shift back, we’ve lost you for good.”
“I think he should do it,” Micky said.
Mike looked stunned at him.
“Look, if it’ll help, I’ll shine my aura on you all night so you can be me again!” Micky said. “But this is a practical way for us to help Peter. If Davy’s willing, I say let him!”
Mike made a displeased face, leaning back in his chair. “Thanks, Mick, but no thanks. If one of us is gonna be somebody else, I think the rest of us better stay the way we are…including me.”
“Then you’ll let me do it?” Davy asked.
Mike sighed. “I don’t feel like I’ve got much of a choice right now. Besides, I’m outnumbered.”
Micky looked at Davy. “So…when are you going to do it?”
Davy shrugged, and suddenly, he’d shifted into Peter’s external appearance. “Now’s as good a time as any.”
“That was weird,” Mike said.
Davy smiled slightly. “Then brace yourself.” He closed his eyes, obviously concentrating very hard. For what seemed like an endless amount of time, nobody in the room moved or spoke. Then Davy opened his eyes, looking at Micky and Mike with evident confusion.
“Micky…Mike…Michael?” Davy whispered.
Mike swallowed hard, uncertain whether he should speak or not.
Suddenly, Davy let out a cry, curling in on himself and falling to the floor, the tears coming quickly and freely … as they would have if he had really been Peter.
Mike was kneeling beside Davy in a second. “Dave…uh, Peter…what’s the matter?”
“It hurts so much,” Davy whimpered in Peter’s voice.
“What hurts?” Mike asked. “How can we help you? What’s going on?”
“No…nobody can help…I’m just too…” The tears were rolling down Davy’s face…Peter’s face…. Whoever it was. “Nobody else does it as much as I do…I’m always too scared…or more sad than anybody…or…too stupid….
“You’re not, man,” Micky said gently. “Nobody expects you to be anything other than what you are.”
Davy shook his head. “But I don’t like what I am…”
“Then we work on changing that,” Mike said firmly.
“I already tried changing what I am,” Davy said, “with the computer, but you guys didn’t like me then either….”
“What do you mean, either?” Micky asked. “You don’t think we like you when you’re not a computer either?”
“Why would you?” Davy asked, hiccupping a little as he tried to stop crying. “I’m just a big baby…I’m always getting in trouble, or getting you guys in trouble….”
“That’s not true,” Mike said. “You don’t always get in trouble, and even if you didn’t get us in trouble sometimes, we’d get into plenty of trouble on our own because that’s just what we do.”
“And we like you, Peter…when you’re you, and not when you’re some machine,” Micky added.
Davy smiled Peter’s brilliant smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, really,” Mike said.
“Really?” came the soft voice from the doorway. “You…you’re not just saying that because you want me back the way I was?”
“Course we’re not just saying that,” Mike said, turning to face the real Peter. “Remember who you’re dealing with here: Brutally Honest Nesmith.”
“And his sidekick, Tactless Dolenz,” Micky grinned.
“Even when I’m stupid…when I cry…when I get scared…you like me anyway?” Peter said.
“Yeah, Peter, we do,” Mike said.
Micky nodded. “Believe it, man. It’s true.”
Micky took Davy/Peter’s hand; Mike took the real Peter’s hand. Mike spoke for them both. “Shotgun, we promise to work with you – find out why you overreact, and hopefully teach you not to. That is, if you want us to. See, Peter – this is somethin’ that can be changed. And not by hidin’ behind a computer brain, either.”
“Really?” both Peters said in unison.
Micky nodded. “Sure. I’ll help too. And Davy will.”
“Thanks fellas,” both Peters said in unison.
Mike chuckled. “You’re welcome.”
“So, uhm…where do we start?” Peter asked.
Micky took Davy/Peter by the shoulders and led him into the bedroom. “I’ll try to get this one back to his normal self.”
“While I work on getting this one to step out from under the computer,” Mike nodded.
They sat down and after a long pause, Mike said, “The computer’s safe now, Peter. You can let it go.”
“I…can?” Peter said slowly.
Mike nodded. “Yeah. You can.”
And Mike felt it. The hidden emotions slowly came out though the high intelligence remained. “The computer doesn’t feel safe yet,” Peter said. “But I’m back.”
Mike nodded. “Okay. So all we gotta do is wait till the computer’s repaired.”
“Not quite,” Micky said from the doorway.
“What do you mean?” Peter asked Micky.
Micky shook his head as Davy emerged from the bedroom…still Peter. “Just look.”
Davy smiled Peter’s smile at everyone. “Hi, guys.” Then he saw the real Peter, and his jaw dropped, as Mike had seen the real Peter’s do so many times.
“Oh…” Peter said softly.
Davy just shook his head. “What’s going on here? Why are there two of me?” His lower lip started to quiver. “Michael?”
Mike crossed the room to Davy. “Listen…Peter…it’s kinda complicated, but…Davy wanted to help you, see? Cause he didn’t know what was wrong, or why you’d rather be a computer than you.”
“He…didn’t?” Davy asked, unable to meet Mike’s eyes.
“No,” Mike said. “So he…you know how he can look like most anybody?”
“He changed so he could look like you,” Mike said. “But he changed his mind too, so that it would match yours exactly…so we could find out what was wrong.”
“So which one of me is Davy?” Davy asked. “Am I…or…is he?”
Micky squeezed his shoulder. “You are, man,” he whispered.
“Oh,” Davy said, nodding. A look of bewilderment crossed his face. “So…what do I do?”
“Well, way I see it; you gotta shift your mind back. You gotta figure out how, man, none of us know how your power works,” Mike said gently.
“But…I’m me now…and….I don’t know how Davy’s powers work either,” Davy said anxiously.
“So stop being you,” Peter said.
Davy looked with amazement at his twin. “How do I do that?”
“Easy,” Peter said. “You said you weren’t happy with who you were. So be Davy.”
“Be…oh,” Davy said softly. He looked at Peter. “Will you…be okay?”
Peter smiled sunnily. “I’ll be fine. Thank you. Me. Whatever.”
“Concentrate on Davy, shotgun,” Mike said. “Think about him real hard…so hard your brain could almost turn right into his if you thought just a little bit harder…”
Davy closed his eyes and his face screwed up in concentration. Time slowed to a crawl.
Suddenly Davy let out a wail. His hands flew to his head and he doubled over….
Shifting to his normal form as he did so.
“That was bloody intense,” Davy gasped, still holding his head. “Did it…work?”
“I’ll say it did,” Peter said. “You were more me than I am.”
“Oh. Good,” Davy said, straightening up and blinking. “You’re all right, then?”
Peter smiled genuinely. “I’m getting there.”
“That’s all that matters, then, right?” Davy smiled. “You’re gonna be fine?”
“Yeah,” Peter said, nodding. Then he rattled off something in another language, and Davy laughed.
“What’d he say?” Mike asked.
“He says he’ll be all right. In French,” Davy said, shaking his head. “It’s Peter, all right.”
“Hey, hold on a second!” Micky gasped, pointing at Davy. “Since when does Davy speak French?”
Davy looked shocked. “I hadn’t even thought of that. I…don’t….”
“But I do,” Peter said. “I figured you’d understand it…right now, anyway. The languages thing will probably wear off.”
“I hope you’re right, Peter,” Davy sighed. “This is too strange!”
“Hey…guys!” Micky said. “The guy on the radio just said that they’re almost finished fixing the fire damage…the specialists are all shocked because the computer’s in better shape than it should be…considering the fire and all….”
“How’d you know that? We don’t have the radio on,” Mike said.
Micky chuckled. “I bounced it off my force fields so I could hear any updates. The fields do come in handy sometimes.”
Peter nodded and sat cross-legged on the floor. He closed his eyes and sank deep into meditation.
The others waited with bated breath.
Peter finally opened his eyes and looked around at everybody. Then he smiled.
“Just me,” he said.
They whooped and hugged him – even Mike. Then Mike turned serious. “I meant what I said, man – we’ll figure out why you overact and we’ll help you overcome it.”
“I know you will, Michael. I trust you.” He hugged him again, and then grinned. “Cotton!” He ran to the beach to talk to the baby shark.
“Things normal here again?” Davy asked.
“Relatively,” Micky agreed with a grin.
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