Coffee vats belched and farted espresso aromas so strong not even nose filters helped. Jacob, vat inspector, took his job seriously. Unstable vats threatened everyone.
Catching violators helped his career and kept people safe. Too many people looked to get rich creating vats.
A story about the next generation of genetically modified organisms .
April 13th, 2068
The air had a rich espresso aroma from all the vat farts. It soaked right in past Jacob’s nose plugs. How much worse would it be if he wasn’t wearing them?
Standing next to him, seemingly unaffected, Roberta sipped a hot latte supplied by the pimply, over-eager manager. In the nest boxes filling three racks stretching across the room, the coffee vats sat blinking with stupid contentment. Colors ranged from a deep, dark almost black green, to a light spring green color. They were obese, mostly boneless, with flat faces and big yellow eyes with horizontal goat-like pupils. And like goats, they chewed, continuously, a deep-throated mastication noise that had Jacob wishing he’d brought earplugs too.
“Everything’s in order,” the manager said again, for like the fifth time. Jacob had already forgotten his name. It was on the forms.
“We always get the highest ratings.”
One of the chubby mid-tone coffee vats belched out a house blend burp. Jacob pinched his nose. It didn’t help.
Roberta lifted her tablet, flicking through the forms with her thumb. “DNA samples last filed a month ago?”
“We drew new samples this morning and sent them off,” the manager said. “They’re stable.”
Stable. If vats stayed stable, then Jacob wouldn’t have a job. Ever since Arvad Blum had introduced the first bioengineered vats thirty years ago, vat designers had been claiming that their designs were stable. If that was true, they wouldn’t have had the outbreaks in Los Angeles, the vat swarms across Kansas, or the Paris incident.
The lure of cheap food production kept designers always working on new vats of all shapes, sizes and possibilities. The wonderland of genetics finally opened up for anyone dreaming of getting rich.
Jacob walked over to the vat nest boxes. All those chewing, belching, farting vats watched him, yellow eyes moving and tracking him with placid interest.
What if it was all an act? What if the vats tumbled out of their nest boxes in a fleshy, sticky avalanche? Of course they hardly had limbs to speak of, stumpy little legs with webbed frog-like feet. Unlikely they could even get out of the nest boxes.
A dark green vat in front of him reached up and gripped the bar along the front of the nest box. As if a signal passed among them, the others also reached up and wrapped webbed toes around the bars on their boxes.
Jacob stepped back.
“They have to stay moist,” the manager said at Jacob’s elbow.
Jacob didn’t twitch a muscle. Roberta grinned over the top of her coffee. “I think they’re cute.”
“Cute? You’ve got weird taste,” Jacob said.
Jacob ignored the manager and walked around to the back side of the first rack. Mounted at the back of each nest box was a translucent container, catching the coffee beans that each vat produced. Each was neatly labeled with the type of bean and roasting instructions right on the container.
The manager skipped around in front of Jacob. “Do you want to see the beans?”
Without waiting for an answer the manager pulled a half-full plastic bin from the back of the nest box. A grassy, swampy smell came from the box that didn’t smell much like coffee, in direct contrast to the farts and burps. Inside the translucent box was a mass of slimy green beans.
“We process and roast the beans right here in house,” the manager said. “All the process water, and organic waste feeds right back into the vats, each one is engineered to produce a different flavor, which we enhance with our roasting process.”
Jacob ignored him. He’d heard it all before. He slipped past the manager and walked down the aisle between the nest boxes. He ignored the vats on his left watching him. The floor was clean. No spilled beans. It looked freshly mopped.
A loud flatulent ripping noise signaled another coffee blast into the air. The nose plugs were useless.
A full circuit later there wasn’t anything out of place. Either the jittery manager kept the place clean, or they’d had a heads up that an inspection was coming.
“Anything?” He asked Roberta.
She lifted her cup. “The coffee is good.”
Three years they’d been partners. She was five years younger, six inches shorter, dressed better and had a PhD. His wife, Nancy, loved her. He’d asked Nancy once if it bothered her that his partner was young and pretty. She’d started laughing. So much for being jealous.
Not that he’d ever hit on Roberta, that’d be wrong on so many levels. His girls loved her too, and were always on him to bring her home for dinner. With five women in his house already, why they felt the need to bring in another, he didn’t understand. Even Destiny, his youngest, loved it when he brought home Aunt Berta.
“The girls were asking if you’re coming for dinner on Friday?”
Roberta smiled and winked. “Can’t. I’ve got a date.”
He arched an eyebrow, and then turned to the nervous manager. “We’ll file our report. You’ll get a copy. Thank you for your time.”
“Any time,” the manager gushed. “Thank you. I think what you do, monitoring vats, is so important to keep us all safe.”
Even with the nose plugs, Jacob could smell bullshit. He glanced at Roberta. Their eyes met and he knew she’d picked up on it too.
He pointed back past the racks. “Didn’t we park around back? We can go out this way, right?”
“Ah, sure. Of course. That’s very considerate. Wouldn’t want to make the customers nervous.”
Of course not.
Roberta went off on the right side of the room. Jacob took the left. Gleaming stainless steel counters caught his blurry reflection, distorting it into funhouse shapes. Sinks, industrial dish washers, and ovens. Banks of drawers, no doubt filled with utensils and supplies.
Except drawers didn’t belch. Not normally. Jacob pulled open the top drawer, full of rolls of foil, and paper towels.
“Did you need something?” The manager asked.
Jacob opened the next drawer down. A dozen fat vat faces looked up at him, only small, fist-sized, like a bunch of slimy green goat-eyed cherubs. All chewing. One belched a light coffee burp.
“I found it,” Jacob said.
“I can explain.”
“Save it for your lawyer.” Roberta was coming around the far side. “You don’t have a permit to breed vats. Roberta, will you do the honors?”
Home was a yellow rancher in an older neighborhood up on the Eastside, within easy walking distance to the woodland trail. It was a quiet neighborhood, a good one to raise the girls in, with plenty of other children in the neighborhood. The sort of place where neighbors still held outdoor barbecues, and stayed up late to look at the lights on the Moon.
Jacob often joked about applying for a vat inspector job on the Moon, when the girls were grown. Everything they ate up there was vat grown.
Nancy wouldn’t hear of it. “What about your parents?”
What about them? Their tiny blue vat-powered car was in the drive as he turned in. Odd. It wasn’t like them to come by on a weekday.
As Jacob went inside he expected an orchestra of high-pitched girlish laughter and instead the place was quiet. His gut tightened. It was the same feeling he got when someone was trying to pull something over on him. Something serious was going on.
He found Nancy and his mother in the living room, alone. No sign of the girls. Both women looked up at him as he entered. Nancy, at thirty, just like him, still looked at least ten years younger. She shared the same pointed chin and tiny nose as his mother, lending some truth to the idea that you married women that resembled your mother.
Mom was, as always, fit and health-looking, white hair hanging in luxurious waves around her fine features. She was like weathered marble, elegant and grave.
“Mom? Nance? What’s going on? Where are the girls?”
Nancy patted the couch cushion. “They’re at Stacey’s, spending the night, except Destiny. She’s already up in her room reading before bed. How was your day?”
Jacob considered shucking off his coat and rejected the idea. If his mother was here alone, it only meant one thing. “It’s Dad, isn’t it? What’s wrong?”
“Sit down, Jacob,” Mom said. “Your father is okay, at the moment. It’s you, we’re concerned about.”
Me? Jacob peeled off the coat, and tossed it on the recliner. He joined Nance and looked across the coffee table at Mom. “Me?”
Mom picked up a steaming mug and settled back in her chair. She smiled. “You look tired. What’d you do today?”
She was avoiding the issue. It was like her, raise something, then dance around it. Her tea smelled minty, a welcome change from his day. They’d spent hours at the coffee house after shutting it down. In the end the young manager was crying.
And now every customer that had had coffee there since the baby vats started showing up had to be contacted and tested. The investigation would turn up if the breeding had been deliberate or not. Deliberate meant breaking a zillion laws, not to mention copyright infringement, but that was easy to handle. Spontaneous reproduction? That was a bigger mess.
“Actually, Roberta and I broke a huge case open. Coffee shop downtown was hiding baby coffee vats. The department’s going to have to assign a whole special investigative team to it.”
Nancy and Mom exchanged a look.
“What is it?”
Mom peered at him over her mug. She took a sip. Exasperated, Jacob collapsed back on the couch and crossed his arms. “Fine. You know, you always do this, bring something up and then dance around it.”
He looked at Nancy. “You should have seen her about the sex talk. It took her three weeks to get around to it, as if I hadn’t already read everything.”
“It should have been your father giving you that talk,” Mom said. She put her mug down. “And it should have been him now, too, except he can’t.”
He sat back up feeling as if an icy hand had slid down his shirt. “What? Come on.”
She took a deep breath. “This isn’t easy, Jacob. Particularly given your job.”
“Let me talk! If I’m going to tell you this, keep your questions until I’m done.”
He’d rarely heard her sound like that, not growing up. Not as an adult. “Okay. Sorry.”
“There’s no easy way to tell you this. Your father’s not well.” She raised a hand, forestalling questions. “It’s not like he’s going to die right now, there’re changes going on. He’s a vat, son. Your father is a vat.”
That wasn’t a beer-pissing turtle barrel. He looked at Nancy, knowing his mouth was open. No words formed. Nancy patted his hand and her lips pressed together sympathetically. Oh, hell, Nancy believed it. If she believed it, it had to be true.
“We wanted to tell you when you were young. Oh, we were so scared when I got pregnant with you. Every day we expected the, well, someone in your position, to show up and know everything. It didn’t happen and the pregnancy didn’t set off any alarms. When you were born, you were just so perfect, and normal. Well, it never came up.”
Never came up. Jacob collapsed back on the couch. He scratched the back of his hand on his stubble. His father was a vat. That made him, what? A vat? Half a vat?
A laugh bubble up out of his chest. It slipped out, making him burp like one of the vats at the coffee house. A bit of hot vomit, tasting of bile and salami hit the back of his throat.
He swallowed and coughed. The laughter died and hot tears stung his eyes.
He shook his head. “This doesn’t make any sense! I’ve been to the doctor! I’ve had blood tests, hell, I’ve passed screenings at work. We have to pass regular screenings, because we come into contact with vats all the time. If Dad’s a vat, that makes me a vat, and we’d have been caught a long time ago.”
Mom shook her head. “It didn’t work that way, son. You’re not a vat.”
Nancy reached up and touched his arm. “Apparently it skipped a generation.”
They were in the kitchen, the three of them, around the oak-topped island. The lights over the island were on, but none of the others, making a spot light on the gleaming oak and the jar at the center.
It was just a mason jar, with a brass lid. Holes had been punched in the top with a nail or a screw driver, the way kids sometimes did when they wanted to keep a bug in a jar. Except this wasn’t a bug.
The thing in the jar looked prehistoric. It was red and soft-looking, with bumpy skin and a clutch of legs up around one end. Fuzzy antenna spread out form the head. It was coiled around the jar, antenna drifting slowly above its rear end. Spread out it was probably under six inches long. Like the coffee vats it looked moist, almost jelly-like.
Jacob’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t had anything to eat except lunch, and right now he couldn’t imagine eating. He crouched down beside the island to get a better look at the thing in the jar.
What they’d said, he couldn’t believe it.
“This came out of Destiny?”
His youngest. A perfect cherub that loved to giggle and had midnight hair that cascaded down around her shoulders. She wore princess dresses and looked like a miniature Snow White.
“Heaved it right up while brushing her teeth,” Mom said. “Started screaming her head off.”
“It was horrible,” Nancy said. “I was so glad your mother was here to help.”
Jacob moved around the island. In the jar the vat thing turned, wiggling that clutch of legs to rotate in place. Watching him. Did it recognize him?
“When I saw it, I had to tell her the truth,” Mom said. “You recognize it, don’t you?”
Of course he did. Jacob rubbed his jaw. This was Arvad Blum’s work from thirty years ago. Or at least a copy of his designs. Something like this had infected an office building in Chicago and like the parasites that made snails climb to the tops of trees to get eaten by birds, it had driven all those people up to the top of their skyscrapers. If they hadn’t been stopped they’d have gone over the roof.
His throat was dry. He stood up and backed over to the sink, bracing his hands on the counter.
“How do we know that she didn’t get exposed to something?”
Mom pointed at the jar. “Because that’s what saved your father’s life.”
“No messing around this time, Mom. What happened?”
“It was just over thirty years ago. Arvad Blum was in the news with his miracle breakthrough, his gift to the world. No more hunger, no starvation, all of our ills were going to be cured. No unethical slaughter of animals, because the vats were each created by us for a specific purpose.”
She waved her hands. “Sorry! Fine, I’ll get to the point. Your father had leukemia –”
“You never told me that.”
Nancy touched his arm. “Let her finish.”
“Leukemia. He was dying. Arvad Blum made us an offer. Part of a research trial. This thing, it would live inside him and not only kill the cancer, but take care of everything else. Give him a super immune system. That’s what it is. It bonds with the host and takes care of you. A symbiote.”
Mom walked around the island, her shoes clicking on the granite tiles. She reached Jacob’s other side.
“Only yesterday your father was complaining of a bad headache. I was worried, he never has headaches, he never get sick. You know that.”
He did. He always wondered why he hadn’t inherited his father’s constitution. Now he knew. Blum had given it to his father. Infecting him. Vat organisms were notoriously easy to make these days. The challenge was creating stable ones. Errant vat organisms spread, cancer-like, converting other organisms in the process.
“He got sick. I was going to call the doctor when he threw up one of those.” She rubbed her arms. “It was much bigger, and gray. I saw it when Blum brought it, and it looked like that one. The one he threw up yesterday, it was dying. It did die, within a minute.”
Her lips puckered slightly. She rolled her shoulders. “He’s not himself. He complains that he hurts everywhere. That he doesn’t feel good, can’t see as well. A bunch of things. Now he knows how I feel!”
Nancy leaned into Jacob’s arm. “Can it be a coincidence that his died and Destiny, well, that there’s a new healthy one?”
How the hell was he to know? This was all so far outside of the norm, they might as well be on the Moon. There were procedures for this sort of situation. People he should call. Would call, except this was his family. It complicated everything. Something about the story bothered him. He touched Mom’s shoulder.
“You said Blum brought this to Dad. When he was arrested, they rounded up all of the people he experimented on. They went through extensive testing and quarantine.”
“I have to call this in.”
“You can’t!” Both of them said it together.
A soft voice spoke up from the doorway. “What’s going on?”
It was Destiny, in purple polka dot pajamas, rubbing her eyes.
Destiny. Oh hell. If he called them, what would they put her through, that she brought up this thing?
Jacob smiled at her.
“I thought you were sleeping, bug.” He winced as the nickname slipped out. It wasn’t so funny anymore. He swept her up in his arms, drawing out a familiar giggle and buried his face in her honey-scented hair. “Let’s get you in bed. Tell Mom and Nana goodnight.”
“Night Momma! Night Nana! Night Fairy Bug!”
Fairy bug. Right.
After tucking Destiny back into bed Jacob returned to find Nancy and Mom back in the living room again, both on the couch this time, with Destiny’s fairy bug in the jar on the coffee table. It’s antennae waggled at him as he sat.
“Before you do anything,” Mom said. “I want you to think about your father. I’m afraid that without his vat the leukemia is going to come back, plus who knows what else it was taking care of. I think we should consider giving this one to him.”
“It looks just like the one that he had.”
“You said that was bigger and gray.”
“Now! When Blum brought it to us, it looked just like this one.”
Nancy spoke up. “Jacob’s right, though. Just because this looks the same, it doesn’t mean it is the same.”
“I’m worried about a lot more than that,” Jacob said. “You said it skipped a generation. How is that possible? How could it have passed on through me to Destiny?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “You’re the expert on this stuff. Isn’t that what you do every day?”
“I find people violating the laws. I’m more like a dog catcher than anything.”
“Well I still think it means something that this one came out of Destiny when the one in your father died.”
They’d never seen a mobile home overgrown with vat tissue that had gotten out of hand, consuming the owner and his birds. That one had had strings of eyes, like beads on a string, that had watched them when they torched the place.
His precious Destiny had vomited up a vat created by Arvad Blum. It was his fault that she had done that, even if it had happened without his knowledge. He still didn’t understand how it’d happened, how he could have passed so many tests without it being detected.
He reached out and picked up the jar holding Destiny’s fairy bug. It rotated around the base on that clutch of legs and waved antennae at him. The thought of one of these things crawling out of his throat, hell, it’d give him nightmares. Destiny didn’t seem bothered, somehow, with the resilience of youth.
“There’s only one thing we can do.” He looked past the jar at Nancy and his mother. “We have to protect Destiny, and help father if we can, but we can’t risk letting an unstable vat loose, either.”
“What do we do?” Nancy asked.
“We need to go talk to Arvad Blum.” He put the jar down on the table. “Tomorrow. We take the girls, pick up Dad, and we all go see him.”
“Do you know where he is?” Mom asked.
Yes, he did. Blum was forbidden from practicing any genetic research after his convictions. His appeals to have the sentence suspended had always failed. Vats were big business now, but no one forgot the man that first unleashed them on the world. No matter what his original intentions.
The smell of salt air and the sight of primary-colored kites dancing on the wind, greeted them as they drove into Westport.
In the back, the girls crowded against the car windows to catch the first glimpse of the ocean. Nancy had Destiny’s fairy bug jar in her bag. None of them had told the older girls the real reason for the trip, they were all just excited to get to take a trip out to the beach with grandma and grandpa.
“Are we there yet?” Cracked Dad from the first row of the minivan’s seats. “Are we there yet?”
Claire and Jolene, seven and nine, picked up the chant. “Are we there yet?”
Destiny laughed with her high clear voice and practically screamed it out. “Are we there yet?”
In the backseat ten-year-old Sarah said, “Really?”
Jacob watched the street signs. He’d gotten the address from the database at work, right before pleading for the rest of the week off to take care of his sick father.
The file hadn’t detailed how else Blum was monitored. Electronic communications, certainly. Was his house bugged? Jacob felt like pulling over and puking himself, except he was also terrified that he might puke up another fairy bug. What if they all started doing it?
It was enough to make his head spin.
There. Breakwater. That was the street. He turned down the quiet street running parallel to the coast.
“Dad,” Sarah said. “Where are you going?”
“We need to make a quick stop, for work,” he lied. “I’m going to see a man, ask him a question and then we’ll get on to the beach house.”
A rental. He’d rented it for the week. Therapy to make his father feel better. His mouth felt dry and sandy. He had trouble swallowing.
Visiting Blum was a bad idea. If the monitoring picked him up, given his position, it’d be bad for them both. Blum might not even want to see him. It was enough to make him want to turn around and leave.
Except the house was right there. It was small, brown, with a well-maintained yard. Bright purple and yellow crocuses filled the flower beds in a colorful bounty. Gravel crunched beneath the tires as he pulled over in front of the house.
He twisted around in his seat. “Girls, Mom’s going to take you on to the beach house. Grandpa and I are going to get out, talk to this man, and then we’ll walk over.”
“We are?” Dad said.
Jacob’s mother elbowed him.
“Oh, right. I guess we’re there!” Dad laughed and got up, moving stiffly and climbed out.
Jacob went out his door, walking fast. He didn’t want the van seen parked in front of Blum’s place. Better that everyone else went on to the rental. Nancy was coming around the front of the van. She handed him the bag with the jar.
“I will.” He kissed her lightly on the lips.
She slipped past him, moving around to the driver’s side. Jacob didn’t look back. He walked over to his father, keeping the bag in front of him.
Dad was waving as the van pulled away. Jacob took his arm. “Come on, Dad.”
“Son, if this is going to get you in trouble, maybe we shouldn’t.”
Jacob shook his head. “It’s too late now. Come on. Let’s not stand here attracting attention.”
The house had glass French doors at the front. The easier for anyone to see inside, apparently. Jacob rang the doorbell.
A man moved inside. He was short, bald and round. He shuffled to the door. There was little about him that looked like the Arvad Blum Jacob knew from the old pictures, except for the beak-like nose that made him look like an owl in a moth-eaten purple bathrobe.
Blum opened the doors and squinted at them. Under the robe he wore swim trunks, a stained t-shirt and that was it except a sleek-looking bracelet on his left arm. That had to be the monitor device. “Yes?”
“Thank you,” Dad said.
They went inside. Sand gritted the wood floors. Blum closed the door behind them. The place, like Blum, could use a cleaning. It had a musty smell like day old pizza. Or maybe that was the pizza boxes piled in a bin beside the door.
Without a word Blum went on into the kitchen and disappeared into the cupboards. Jacob and his father followed Blum, who looked back and pressed a finger to his pudgy lips.
A moment later he came out with a box, matte black, with hinges on one side and a round hole. Blum unlatched the box. The inside was covered in eggshell foam, hollow at the middle. Blum put his hand in the box, and then closed it, so that the sides closed around his hand with his wrist through the round hole.
“There,” Blum said. “They can’t hear us if we’re quiet.”
“A sound-proof box. The bracelet is a listening device, as well as a tracker. The box doesn’t interfere with the tracking capabilities, it just damps the noise. We can’t be too long, or they’ll get suspicious. Show it to me.”
Jacob pulled the jar out of the bag and set it on the counter. The fairy bug looked duller today, and its antenna moved sluggishly.
“It can’t survive in there,” Blum said. “Where’d you get it?”
Jacob filled him in, quickly and concisely. Where he’d seen Jacob’s father, what happened the other day when Dad’s vat was regurgitated and died, and Destiny bring up this one.
“How’s all this possible?” Jacob asked. “Did I pass this on to my daughter? What did you do?”
Using his free hand, Blum stroked the glass. The fairy bug barely moved. “This was my greatest creation. The cure all. It binds to the host, taking over the immune system functions, giving you a super immunity.”
“My leukemia went away,” Dad said. “I never got sick after that, not until the other day.”
“I always wondered how the lifespan would work. And as far as passing it on, yes, the dormant spores are in the blood stream. It was designed to spread, and when it finds an unoccupied host, it sets up home.”
“But my daughter vomited this one up.”
Blum wobbled his hand in the air. “Yes, well, that’s the other mechanism. If it senses that a host has lost its symbiote it can take more direct action, if its young enough. It can leave the current host, letting a new spore mature, while it moves on to the more established host.”
“So this was Destiny’s symbiote, and it picked up and moved, to reach my father, like moving into a bigger house?”
Blum laughed. “Yes! Like that. I wouldn’t worry about your daughter, a new symbiote would have already taken hold there, to pick up the slack.”
“We’re all infected then,” Jacob said.
“Fortunately for you.”
“But I get sick. I’m a vat inspector, I’ve been tested and it never turns up anything.”
“Then you may have rejected the symbiote. I didn’t have time to make improvements before I was caught. Maybe it didn’t fully integrate, it might be dormant in you, yet produce spores which passed to your wife through intercourse, and then to your child. The spores wouldn’t show up on the tests.”
Jacob leaned on the counter, feeling sick. “If they find out about this, what happens?”
Blum shook his head. “You don’t want to get caught. They’ll break up your family quarantine you. Blame me, since you came here. Thanks by the way!”
“Sorry, we needed answers.”
Dad picked up the jar. “This’ll make me feel better again, like before.”
Blum nodded. “It should.”
Dad twisted the lid on the jar. Jacob reached out and put his hand over his fathers. “You don’t know that! What if it’s changed? What if it isn’t the same?”
“It came from sweet little Destiny,” Dad said. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt me. And I don’t want to feel so terrible.”
“You have to go,” Blum said urgently. “They’ll notice that I’ve gone quiet. They don’t like that.”
Jacob took his hand off the jar. “Okay, Dad. Go ahead.”
Dad twisted off the lid. He hoisted it in the air and looked inside. “There’s my pretty. What’d she call it?”
“A fairy bug,” Jacob said.
Dad laughed. “Down the hatch!”
Jacob turned away. He didn’t want to watch. Dad made a gagging sound, and then he did turn, thinking that maybe his father was choking. A flash of a red tail disappeared past Dad’s lips. Then he took in a deep breath and put the jar down on the counter.
“That’s better.” Dad held out his hand to Blum. “Thank you. You saved my life, twice now.”
Blum beamed and shook his hand. “Thank you. I’m glad to know they’re still out there. Eventually the government will find out, maybe by then they’ll spread enough. Go! You have to hurry.”
Dad headed for the front door. Jacob turned to leave, then stopped and turned back. “Did you keep any research on these things?”
Blum squinted at him. “There’s a friend of mine, from when we were kids. I trusted him. Name is Jang Sun. He’s working on the Moon now.”
The Moon. Hell. Jacob followed his Dad out.
Two blocks away, a pair of big black cars, low slung models, sped past heading towards Blum’s house. Jacob held his father’s arm and kept walking. No one stopped them.
That night, after the girls were asleep, exhausted from an afternoon of flying kites, Jacob, Nancy and his parents sat out on the deck. The wind off the ocean was cold, so he bundled up under a rough wool blanket with Nancy. Her hand played along his leg.
Dad and Mom were laughing, heads together. They clinked glasses of root beer and drank.
Far up above the dark waves, hung the bright moon with glittering lights on the surface. The colonies were up there, and more, slowly spreading out into the solar system. Vats helped make that possible, and they always needed more trained inspectors.
“He said that this man, Jang Sun had the research?” Nancy asked.
“Yes. He couldn’t answer the questions. Why do I get sick? Mom clearly doesn’t have a super immune system either. But you and the girls, you don’t get sick.”
She was silent for a moment.
“I used to,” she said. “When I was younger. Remember? When we first met, I had the flu.”
“You were just nervous.”
She laughed. “But you’re right. I haven’t been sick in a long time, not since I was pregnant with Sarah.”
“It’d be a risk. If the scans picked up anything, it could be tough on everyone.” He couldn’t even imagine it, leaving Earth.
“Vats are heavily used up there. If we could work with Dr. Jang, we might get some answers.”
She cuddled up against him. “And could we do this, looking up at the Earth?”
He kissed the top of her head. “We might.”
Out into the frontier, then. How was he going to break the news to Roberta? She’d have to get a new partner. Maybe she’d find one that like coffee.
This story is the 45th weekly short story release, written in March 2013. Eventually I’ll do a standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the story. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Everything for a Chance.