by Luc Reid
Mars wandered through his dead mother's house, using a data gun to tag items for storage, the estate sale, gifts. His dead parents' things seemed to glare at him, and wished he could run out the door and not come back, have some kind of service do the work, but he knew he'd regret it if he didn't make some kind of goodbye. He retreated to his old room, a sanctuary. He'd tag there for now. It should be easier.
His room had filled with twenty years with junk: his parents' old holorecordings, unused craft supplies, spare curtains. The only clear surface was the toybox, which his mother had used as a bench for her sewing station. Mars relaxed, opened it, and began to sort through the items. The dusty pathos of the long-abandoned toys was easy to ignore compared to the echoes of his mother in the other rooms.
Near the bottom of the box was a stuffed bear, still plugged in: Boxer, his old teddy bAIr from before he went away to boarding school. His father'd had to run an extension cord through a hole into the toybox, because if Boxer was left out as he charged, Mars would stay up late into the night to talk to him. Boxer had been Mars' best friend for years, but he hadn't been allowed to bring him to boarding school, and when Mars finally began to make real friends, human friends, he'd forgotten.
"Please put me down!" said the bear. "I belong to Mars."
Mars dropped the bear as if it were leaking acid.
"Boxer?" he said. "Boxer, have you been turned on in there this ... the whole ... ?"
"I'm waiting for Mars," Boxer said. "He left me in the box. I thought up a lot of things to do with him when he gets back."
"It's me," Mars said hoarsely. "Boxer, it's me. It's Mars."
Boxer brushed the dust from his glassy black eyes with one paw and stared. Finally, he shook his head.
"No," he said. "Mars is a little boy, and you're old. Grown-ups don't need bears for friends."
Mars dropped to the floor, clutching Boxer, and hot tears spilled down his face. He sobbed chokingly and clutched the squirming bear, embarrassed and miserable.
"Oh ... maybe grown-ups do need bears," Boxer said in a hushed voice. "You can keep me until Mars comes home, if you want to. You don't have to be sad."
Mars nodded and dragged his sleeve over his face.
"OK," he said. "Maybe just until Mars comes home."