"Ken," Burt said, bursting into my office, "you better see this. We've got a problem."
I looked up at the portly, balding little maintenance man. I had budget reports to complete. Still, a Burt emergency meant something was wrong with the park. That required immediate attention...probably.
"What is it, Burt?"
He scratched his head. "It's Holliday. You really better come see."
So, I followed him. We took the access alleys to the Tombstone, Arizona section of the park.
I should explain. I'm the head superintendent for the 'Living Past' theme park. We recreate history, literally. Everything is done with organic robots, flesh machines grown from the DNA of actual historical figures. Then we prop them up in a set of their most famous action and have them live it all out again. It's great. Verisimilitude: there's nothing like it.
Really, it's the next best thing to time travel. Somebody needs to get hurt in the acting? No problem, they're only robots. We can replace a heart or two, patch some skin, and have them going for the next show. We can even grow a whole new unit if we need to, which we sometimes do. It all runs smoothly.
Except, of course, when it doesn't.
When I got to the lot, the Earps and the Cowboys were all standing around. Doc was on the ground in a full lotus position. That wasn't right.
For those who haven't visited our park and don't know their history, I should clear up some common misconceptions. The gunfight didn't actually take place at the OK Corral. It was actually at a vacant lot between CS Fly photography studio and Harwood house on Freemont street. I should know, we built it all. I was there, along with Virgil, Morgan, and Wyatt Earp; Billy Clairborne; Ike and Billy Clanton; and Tom and Frank McLaury.
Oh, and Burt. Can't forget Burt simply because he wasn't historical.
Virgil stood over by Doc, looking laconically sheepish. "He wouldn't take the shotgun like he was supposed to," Virgil muttered.
Doc sat there in that lotus position, no shirt. He'd ruffled his hair all up and tied a strip from his trench coat around his head into a band. He wasn't wearing the trench coat either. From the looks of it, he'd have probably been wearing tie-dye if he could have gotten it.
"Ommmmmm," Doc chanted. His eyes were closed.
I stared at him. "He won't do it?" I asked Burt.
Burt shook his head. "Doesn't want to kill anymore. Keeps asking why he should. Why disarm those men? Who're they going to hurt now? There's no real town for law to be kept in."
"You reminded him it's not really killing since their only robots, organic or not?"
"Yup. Says it's the same."
"Fine." I shrugged. "Scrap him and get a new one. This one's gone sour."
I marched back to my office. That was that...except Burt showed up at my office again a week later. I didn’t have time for this.
"It's Holliday again," he explained. "Same thing."
"The new one? Well, do the same thing then. I've got other work to do." It was true; I did.
"Got it," he replied.
But, it didn't seem that he did, because he came back the next time it happened. And the next. I suppose that's what he should have done; he was merely maintenance, after all, not management. Replacing an entire unit is expensive. Besides, it was clear at some point we'd have to try something else. This wasn't working.
"Ken...well, you know the drill," Burt said, wandering lazily into my office again.
"Yup. New unit?"
I rose. "No; what's that buying us? A week at a shot at most? We can't keep doing that. No budget. Even the dead ones usually get only a couple replacement organs, not this. I better talk to him."
So Burt led the way again and again I followed.
The scene was the same as before, the Earps and the Cowboys standing six feet apart like they always did, ready to rip each other apart with thirty shots in thirty seconds. Doc was on the ground again. I was at least glad to see he hadn't found where to get tie-dye.
I squatted down in front of Doc and smacked him lightly on the forehead. He opened one eye. "Hey!" I said. "What are we doing here?"
"We've been through this before," he replied. His voice was oddly musical. Deep base for such a gaunt guy.
"I don’t think so¬—you and I haven't. The park has been through this with other units, but I'm talking to you now."
"I am I and always have been," he intoned. "The cycle of rebirth goes on."
"So you won't do your job?" I asked. "There's nothing I can do to convince you?"
"It's awful—awful," Holliday muttered. "It keeps being awful. I want out; I deserve peace."
"So...I need to replace you again?"
"You need to let me stop; stop adding links to your own chains."
I stood up and signed, scratched my head. I needed more options. There was nothing in the park manual about this. These kind of problems never really happened with anyone else but Doc. Most were perfectly willing to go on being themselves as long as we asked.
"Hey, Ken," Burt offered. "Why don't I dress up as Doc? It's a cushy job; I'd do it."
"You're not a robot, Burt," I reminded him. "Don't be an idiot. Insurance would have my ass."
"So? Doc don't get shot."
"It's still real bullets. Something could happen. Anyway, Doc does get grazed near his holster, only not really hurt. Let's also not forget that you look more like Santa Claus than Doc Holliday."
Burt chewed on his lip. Still, it wasn't a completely bad idea; it simply wouldn't work with Burt. There were other possibilities to consider, though.
"Hey, Frank!" I called. Frank McLaury dutifully wandered over. No attitude problems with him. "Hey, Burt....doesn't Frank kind of look like Doc?"
Burt squinted. "Well, maybe a little."
"A little is fine. He's got the right build. We can grow another Frank to replace him without getting rid of this one, dye his hair and such. Dress him up. Frank can play both sides. That's close enough, isn’t it?
"Well," Burt considered, "he isn't made from Doc...but he is at least made from someone at Tombstone."
"Right!" I said. "How about it, Frank? Think you'd like to not die for a change? Well, die and not die, I suppose?"
Frank smirked. "I'm your Huckleberry."
"Great! Doc gets what he wants and we can get on with this. Burt, retire Doc and get me another Frank. Let's restart this show. There's a park to run here."
Doc opened both eyes. "Really? You're really going to let me move on?"
I shrugged. "Sure, there's nothing else for it. This is too much trouble, more than it's worth."
He grinned. "Damn," he said, "this is funny."
BIO: David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K) and The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.