Your Eyes

Wyatt wanted a family. Like his best friend Hank.

Or at least a babezee. The catalog said that the doctors used bits of your hair to make the babezee. Your eyes, your hair color, and everything. Almost like a real baby, only better, because your babezee never grew up.

His to love, for always. Perfect.

GMO food is only the beginning.

🚀

“Have you seen my babezee catalog?” Wyatt shoved the brightly colored catalog at Hank.

Hank scowled. It was his most common expression and one that he was good at. He used his broom handle to shove the offending catalog aside. “Don’t start with that shit, Wyatt. Fake babies? Who needs that? I have enough trouble with the real thing.”

Wyatt’s finger traced the plump curve of a happy cheek. The paper felt slick and cold beneath his finger. Not at all how the babezee would feel. A babezee would be warm and soft. He could cuddle it and carry it around. “Ain’t fake.”

Hank shook the broom handle. “Just push the damn cart, Wyatt. You can look at the catalog when we take a break. We have to get this place clean after all.”

Sometimes Wyatt wished that Hank would listen more. He always seemed angry. Wyatt didn’t understand that. Hank had a perfect life. He had a good job cleaning. It was nice and quiet at night too. No people to give them trouble. When Hank went home Wanda would be there, Hank’s wife. She was pretty. Plump like the babezees. Wyatt liked her laugh. He remembered from the time he went to Hank’s barbecue party last summer. Hank had a house and a car and kids of his own. Wyatt didn’t know what he thought about the kids. They were so quick and loud. At the barbecue he couldn’t understand how Hank and Wanda kept track of them. It seemed like everywhere he had looked the kids were there running and laughing. Screaming sometimes too. He didn’t like the screams. And Wanda had a baby. A real baby that she grew in her own tummy. Hank called the baby his angel but her name was actually Martha. Wyatt thought Hank should be happy because he had so much but Hank usually complained about something.

Wyatt pushed the cart while Hank pushed the broom. Sometimes Hank let him push the broom but when he did Hank usually complained that Wyatt missed something so mostly Wyatt pushed the cart. He liked pushing the cart. He kept it neat. Everything in the right place, ready so he could hand Hank whatever he needed. Sometimes Hank called him his nurse. That made Hank laugh but Wyatt didn’t understand why.

“You still with me Wyatt? Or are you off dreaming about those damn babezees?”

Wyatt rolled up the catalog and stuffed it in his back pocket. “I’m here, Hank. Need something?”

“The fucking dust pan, thank you very much.”

Wyatt handed Hank the dust pan. “You’re welcome.”

🚀

After work Wyatt went out to the bus stop and sat on the cold metal bench. He took out the babezee catalog and looked at the pictures some more. There were all sorts of babezees in the pictures. Wyatt had asked Hank to help him understand why. Hank said no but Jilly back at the office had told him. The babezee doctors took some of your hair when you wanted a babezee. They used the hair to make the babezee match you, so it would have your eyes and hair. Jilly said it made the babezees seem real because they looked like you. Wyatt looked at all of the different babezees smiling in the pictures. Did he want a babezee to look like him? The thought made his palms sweaty and his heart race. A babezee of his very own that would look like him, that’s what he wanted.

He hugged the catalog to his chest and wished he could smell “that perfect babezee” smell. He wanted to come home and find the babezee waiting for him, happy to be fed. It seemed like a babezee would be much better than a dog which might bark or bite. Or a cat that could scratch. You couldn’t cuddle a bird.

A babezee would be the best, Wyatt thought. He had to get one. Jilly might help him. He’d ask her tomorrow.

🚀

“Jilly! I have a question.”

Jilly tapped a stack of papers on her desk. She smelled like strawberries. Jilly always smelled like strawberries but Wyatt never saw her eat any. “What is it?”

Wyatt held out the babezee catalog and Jilly groaned.

“Are you still going on about those things?”

“I want one.”

Jilly took the catalog and tossed it down on her desk. She pointed a strawberry-red fingernail at the babezees smiling on the cover. “You want one of these twisted monkey mutants? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“It isn’t a monkey,” Wyatt complained. “It’s a babezee.”

“I told you before, Wyatt. Those are chimpanzees that they’ve mucked around with. They changed stuff inside them to get rid of the hair, changed around their hands and faces. Turned them into fucking useless imitation babies only without the screaming all night. Perfect angels, they call them but I’m telling you that’s some twisted shit. They sell these things to rich broads too busy and too pure to have children themselves. Real save-the-planet types while they show off their perfectly cute mutant monkeys. Filling the maternal instinct crap. And you don’t have any maternal instincts, Wyatt. You aren’t a woman.”

“I want one,” Wyatt said stubbornly. “I need your help to order one. I don’t know what to do.”

Jilly rubbed her eyes. “Look, Wyatt. These things cost a shit-load of money.”

“I have money.”

“Come on, how much money do you have?”

Wyatt thought maybe Jilly was going to change her mind and help him. He had brought his checkbook with him. He held it out. “I write down everything I save.”

For a second she just stared at Wyatt then she snatched the checkbook out of his hand. She flipped through the pages and her eyes grew wide. She covered her mouth for a second and then let the checkbook drop onto the babezee catalog. “How the hell do you have that kind of money?”

Wyatt shrugged. “I save my money. Isn’t that good?”

Jilly laughed. “Sure, it’s fucking great. Don’t you buy stuff?”

“Only what I need,” Wyatt said.

“But you want to buy one of these babezees? It’ll clean out your savings, Wyatt. Hell, you could buy a house with what you have and as much as those things cost.”

“Really?” Wyatt hadn’t ever thought he could buy a house. He could have his own house just like Hank. Except he didn’t need a house, did he? All by himself? He shook his head. “I just want a babezee.”

“I don’t know about this, Wyatt. Why do you want one of these things?”

“I just do,” he said. It was hard to explain. He didn’t think he could make Jilly understand.

She tapped the catalog again. Outside he heard the truck breaks squeal. Hank would be coming in. “You’ll have to do better than that. They don’t sell babezees to just anyone. They do screenings.”

“What’s that?”

“They test you, Wyatt. To make sure you are the right type of person to have a babezee. They don’t want to sell to fucking pedophiles, you know?”

He wasn’t sure what she meant. “Will you help me?”

Jilly picked up the catalog and his checkbook. She shoved them at him. “No, Wyatt. It’s a bad idea. I’d be wrong not to tell you that. Save your fucking money. Forget about the babezees.”

Hank knocked on the door. “Hey man, you ready to roll?”

🚀

“Come on, Wyatt. What’s the problem, man?”

Hank had already asked that question more than once. Wyatt shook his head and pulled the next trash bag out of the wastebasket. He dropped it into the big trash bin on the cart. When he reached to get another trash bag Hank snatched the roll away.

“Tell me what the fuck is wrong, man! I can’t be going through the whole shift looking at your hang-dog face.”

The trouble was whenever Wyatt thought about what Jilly had said he felt like crying. He wasn’t supposed to cry. He knew that. Men didn’t cry. He didn’t want to start blubbering in front of Hank. Then Hank would know the truth, that he wasn’t really a man. He wasn’t going to have a wife like Wanda and a house. A babezee would be enough but Jilly had been mean. She wouldn’t help him.

“Come on Wyatt. You’re pissing me off. I don’t want to spend the whole shift with you looking like you’ve lost a winning lottery ticket.”

Wyatt pulled the catalog out of his back pocket. He held it out to Hank. Hank took the catalog, unrolled it and groaned. “Babezees? You’re still going on about these things? You know they never grow up, right?” Hank’s finger poked at the belly of a laughing babezee. “They stay like that right up until they die. Pathetic little fuckers.”

Wyatt reached for the catalog. He could feel his face burning. Hank and Jilly were the same. They didn’t understand. Hank didn’t give him the catalog back. He held it out of Wyatt’s reach and moved around the cart.

“Hank, can I please have it back?”

“You know how much these things cost? Heck, if I had that kind of money I could send one of my kids to college, not that there would be much point. You couldn’t afford to buy one of them anyway. How about we just throw this away?”

Hank dangled the catalog over the trash bin. Wyatt lunged across the cart, upsetting the toilet paper rolls but Hank kept the catalog out of reach and danced back with a laugh. Wyatt clenched his fists.

“Hank, that’s mine!”

“Bullshit. You found it in one of the office trash cans.”

“Yeah, but I found it so finders keepers. They didn’t want it.”

Hank waved the catalog. “But you can’t get one of these!”

Wyatt dug in his other pocket and pulled out the check book. “I have money.”

“Really? Let me see.”

“Give me the catalog first,” Wyatt said.

“Sure, sure.” Hank handed over the catalog and took the checkbook.

Wyatt looked at the pictures of the babezees on the front. They looked so happy. Hank and Jilly didn’t like them but that was okay. He liked them. Other people did too or there wouldn’t be this catalog. Hank whistled.

“Jeezus! You do have some dough, don’t you?”

“I told Jilly I had money,” Wyatt said. “She wouldn’t help me buy a babezee.”

“You save everything, don’t you man?”

“It’s good to save money.”

Hank nodded. “Sure it’s good, but you have to spend something now and then. Why else do this work?”

“I like my job,” Wyatt said. “I like things clean.”

“Sure, sure. You really want to blow your wad on one of these babezees, don’t you?” Hank laughed and waved the checkbook. “You won’t have all that money saved anymore.”

“I want one,” Wyatt said. He struggled to find the words. It was hard sometimes. “I want to take care of it.”

“I get it, man. You know that they don’t live long, right? Five years or so, that’s it.”

Five years! It sounded like a long time to Wyatt. He didn’t really care about the money. He saved it because that’s what he was supposed to do. Everyone said that it was good to save money. He hadn’t ever really understood why until now. Without knowing it he had been saving for a babezee.

“Wyatt? You still there?”

“Yes, Hank.”

Hank thwacked Wyatt in the chest with the checkbook. Wyatt took the checkbook back. “I’ll help you, man. It’s some crazy shit but I’ll help you out. Saturday we’ll go over to that clinic they have.”

“Clinic?”

“It’s like a store, man. You have to answer questions and shit before they decide whether or not you are the right type of person to have one of these babezees.” Hank’s voice sounded serious. He put a hand on Wyatt’s shoulder and that made Wyatt feel better. Hank was his friend even if he did get angry a lot. “I’ll help you out there, okay?”

Impulsively Wyatt pulled Hank into a hug because he was so happy. It only lasted a second before Hank pushed him away but Wyatt thought he saw Hank smile as he turned away and picked up a broom.

“Come on man, we have cleaning to do.”

🚀

When Saturday came Wyatt was so excited that he couldn’t sit still and wait so he cleaned his apartment and dressed in his best clothes. Hank came and took him downtown. The whole way Wyatt sang along with the country western songs on Hank’s radio even when he didn’t know the words. He stared at the babezee catalog while he sang as if he was singing to all of those smiling faces, their eyes big with happiness and laughter.

At last Hank pulled to a stop in front of a building. Wyatt was first out of the truck but then he stopped, unsure of where to go. The building in front of them looked worn and dingy. It wasn’t clean. Graffiti made the walls look dirty and trash littered the parking lot. In front of them was a rusted rolling metal door like some of the work-sites had at the loading docks. It didn’t look like the sort of place where Wyatt expected to find the babezees. Hank had gotten out of the truck and came around the front jingling his keys.

“This is the clinic?” Wyatt asked.

“This is better,” Hank said. “You brought the cash like I said?”

Wyatt dug his hand into his coverall pocket and pulled out the banded stack of bills. Hank shoved his hand back to his pocket.

“Not out here! Come on. We have to get inside. Leave the dough in your pocket until I say so, okay?”

“Sure, Hank.”

Hank walked over to the rolling door and Wyatt followed. Hank banged on the metal. After a couple seconds the metal door rolled up rattling and squealing. Two men stood inside. Scary men, Wyatt thought. They looked at Hank and then him with eyes hidden by sunglasses even though it didn’t look bright inside.

“That the buyer?” One of the men asked in a scratchy voice.

“Yeah,” Hank answered. “Stan sent us.”

The man that had spoken gestured for them to follow and headed into the building. Hank went after him and Wyatt hurried to keep up with Hank. He didn’t like these men but Hank was his friend. The other man stayed behind and lowered the door with a crashing bang behind them. It made Wyatt jump. The place was a big warehouse, Wyatt realized. He had worked in warehouses before, mostly sweeping. Usually warehouses had lots of boxes. This place had boxes but the center of the warehouse had some sort of building set up with walls made of plastic and bright lights inside. It made the whole thing glow with pretty blue light. Through the plastic Wyatt saw blurry people walking around doing things with machinery. One of the people reached into something and pulled out a small shape that kicked and wiggled. Even from here Wyatt could see that it had to be a babezee. He hadn’t pictured the clinic would look like this but it didn’t matter. There were babezees!

They stopped at a doorway in the plastic wall. The man that had met them at the door told them to wait and disappeared inside.

“I’m going to get a babezee now?” Wyatt asked.

“Sure, sure you are.” Hank put an arm around Wyatt’s shoulders. “Only the thing is, these are made by a different company than the one in your catalog so they don’t call them babezees. Companies get picky about those things, you know. Trademarks and all that shit. A friend of mine, Stan, put me onto this place. They’re doing some amazing shit here. Better than those babezees in the catalog.”

Wyatt struggled to understand all of that. “They aren’t babezees?”

“It’s the same thing,” Hank insisted. “Better even. These little fuckers are cool. Stan showed me a video. Trust me, you’ll be impressed.”

He didn’t have time to figure out what Hank meant before the man came back.

“Come on.”

Hank nudged him to go first so Wyatt followed the man into the plastic building. It was like a maze inside. Wyatt followed the man through the narrow corridors. They walked past rooms with plastic walls but he couldn’t ever see clearly what was inside. Towards the center of the plastic building the hallway just ended in a big room. The man stopped and gestured at a man and woman in long white coats. Wyatt walked into the room with wide eyes. He ignored the people. The room was filled with small plastic beds and in each bed a babezee squirmed beneath blue and pink blankets. There had to be dozens of them. He could hear soft noises they made like giggles done in a whisper. He wanted to grab them all and give each and every one of them a big hug.

The woman stepped in front of him, blocking his view, which made him look at her instead. He’d rather look at the babezees. She had blond hair piled up on her head and bright scarlet lips. He thought she looked hungry.

“I’m Doctor Penniwell.” She stuck out her hand.

Reluctantly Wyatt took her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before letting go. She smelled like old apples, he thought. “My name is Wyatt.”

The other doctor offered his hand. “Doctor Burton. You’ve made a good choice coming here, Wyatt.”

Wyatt liked Doctor Burton a little better than Doctor Penniwell. He looked like he laughed a lot. Wyatt tried to see past the doctors. He wanted to see the babezees. “Can I see them?”

Doctor Burton put his hand on Wyatt’s elbow and guided him past Doctor Penniwell. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? These are the cutting edge. No one has pseudo-infants like these. Because we’re just starting out you have a chance to get in on the ground floor. We want to build word of mouth. Affordable pseudo-infants for the masses. We call them babimals.”

“Babimals?”

“That’s right, Wyatt. Take a look.”

Wyatt hurried over to the nearest plastic bed. He looked in and yellow eyes with a dark slit-pupil looked up at him with wonder. A tiny red mouth parted in a smile. The babimal gurgled happily and a forked tongue flicked out, tasting the air with several fast licks. Wyatt recoiled and bumped into Doctor Burton.

“That’s not a babezee!”

“No, Wyatt.” Doctor Burton walked around him and lifted the squirming thing from the bed. Tiny legs and arms kicked happily and it laughed. Doctor Burton cradled it in his arms. “I told you. This is a babimal, from our reptile line. Why don’t you try holding it?”

The babimal was cute, Wyatt thought reluctantly. He was afraid he might drop it as Doctor Burton handed him the squirming bundle. As soon as he took the babimal it snuggled up affectionately. It didn’t have any hair. There were fine scales on its head that sparkled green in the bright lights. Wyatt held the babimal in one arm and ran his hand across the babimal’s head. It felt soft and dry to the touch. The forked tongue flicked out again and tickled his neck.

Hank had come over and he peeked at the babimal’s face. “Cool, man. He has snake eyes and everything. Does it bite?”

Wyatt almost dropped the babimal. Doctor Burton quickly took it when he held it out. Doctor Burton didn’t look happy with Hank.

“No. It doesn’t bite. All of our babimals are perfectly safe. Unlike our competitor we don’t hide the origins of the babimals. They’ve taken a species with 98% the same DNA as humans and have altered it to make them even closer to humans while preventing growth and development. By all rights they should be brought up on ethical charges when you consider that their product is essentially human. With our babimals we’ve added the characteristics that we find so appealing in infants but our pseudo-infants are still clearly not human.”

Wyatt didn’t understand everything the doctor was saying but he didn’t like that babimal. He felt bad for it but the scales and tongue made him feel all icky inside. He tugged on Hank’s sleeve. “I don’t want that.”

Hank pulled away. “Sure, why don’t you look around? They have other types.”

Doctor Penniwell gestured at the beds. “Maybe one of the canine varieties would be more to your liking?”

Wyatt felt tears pricking at his eyes. He didn’t like this. He thought about the babezees. That’s what he had wanted. The babimal Doctor Burton held flicked its tongue again and Wyatt backed away. He wanted to go home. Go home and wrap his afghan around his shoulders and eat ice cream.

“Let’s look,” Hank said. “I went to all this fucking effort to do something for you and bring you down here, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” Wyatt said miserably. He could tell Hank wasn’t happy.

“Great, then let’s look.”

Wyatt didn’t know what else to do so he followed Hank away from the doctors. On each side there were babimals in the plastic beds. At first they looked a lot like that first one but then they changed. The next group had fine hair covering their plump faces and long floppy ears. Hank reached down to pick one up and it jumped right up into his arms. Wyatt took a nervous step back. It had jumped! It snuggled up to Hank and then turned its head to look at him. The babimal had pink eyes, floppy ears and the little button nose twitched and wiggled. Wyatt laughed. It looked like a bunny, he realized.

“You like that?” Hank asked.

The bunny babimal kicked its legs and Hank had to struggle to hold onto it. He laughed and put it gently back down into the plastic bed. “Wow, it has strong legs. How about that one?”

The idea of it jumping made Wyatt nervous. “I don’t know.”

Hank rubbed his eyes. “Fine, Mr. Picky. Let’s look some more.”

All the babimals were cute, Wyatt thought. They did remind him of the babezees but they also made him nervous. There was a doggie babimal with big eyes and dark hair on its head but it had a tongue that hung out of its mouth when it panted and a tail that wagged very fast. The kitty babimal was covered in fine fur and purred when Hank made him pet it but it didn’t laugh or giggle. Plus it had sharp fingernails. He could already see how it had torn up the blankets in the bed. At least the doctors didn’t follow them around. The more Wyatt saw the more he kept thinking about babezees. Hank started to get angry.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? All you have to do is pick one out, we pay and you get to go home with it. No screenings, no tests, no waiting. These are cool. Didn’t you see that one that looked like a living teddy bear? Jeezus, my girls would kill for something like that.”

Wyatt hung his head and tried hard not to cry. He didn’t want Hank to be mad but he didn’t like the babimals. They all looked weird even if they were cute.

“Come on,” Hank snapped. “We haven’t seen these over here.”

Wyatt followed because he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t run away because that would make Hank more mad and he didn’t know if he could find a way out of the plastic building. The doctors hadn’t followed them but they were standing across the room watching.

“Holy shit,” Hank shouted. “Wyatt, you’ve got to see this.”

Wyatt looked up. Hank was holding a baby angel.

It took his breath away. Pink arms waved above the blanket but behind the arms white wings beat rapidly. A spray of soft white feathers covered her head and framed the smiling face. Her eyes were cloudy gray. She was beautiful. Wyatt reached out to take her from Hank. The angel came to him with a little giggle that made Wyatt laugh, she sounded so happy. As soon as he took her the wings settled down brushed gently against his hands. He held her close and the tiny arms went around his neck. Wyatt inhaled and she smelled of summer breezes. She cooed softly. He thought for a second of the babezees and found that they couldn’t compare in his mind. He remembered Hank’s baby, the one he called his angel, all red-faced and screaming. His angel was perfect.

Hank laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s the one?”

“Yes.”

He felt Hank take his arm and followed blindly, trusting Hank to lead him out but he only had eyes for his angel.

“You’ve made an excellent choice, Wyatt,” Doctor Burton said. “The Cherub is our most advanced babimal yet. Very complicated to make. Unfortunately that also means it is also the most expensive.”

“I have money.” Wyatt carefully held his angel with one arm while he pulled out the bundles of cash and handed them to Hank. He stroked his angel’s wings and smiled.

Hank split one of the bundles and put half in his pocket. He gave the rest to Doctor Burton who handed it to Doctor Penniwell. “Thanks, doc.”

Wyatt looked at the three of them smiling and then at the pocket where Hank had put the cash. Hank noticed him looking and scowled.

“My finder’s fee,” he snapped. “Let’s get out of here.”

Doctor Penniwell held out a thin magazine with pictures of more angels on the cover. “This has all of the information you need to care for the cherub.”

Hank grabbed the magazine but the doctor didn’t let go. Her expression hardened. “You realize, of course, that we do not offer refunds. Your friend’s purchase is final. And any estimate of the lifespan of the babimal is simply that, an estimate. Until we see several more generations we can’t be sure how long they will live. And, just in case you have any ideas, all babimals sold are born sterile and can’t be bred. Any reverse engineering or cloning is strictly prohibited.”

Hank snatched the magazine away. “Yeah, right. Thanks doc. Come on Wyatt.”

It was all confusing but he wanted to see the magazine and he had his angel so he followed Hank. Somehow Hank seemed to know how to get out of the plastic building because he made his way through the corridors without having to ask for directions. Hank was good at that sort of thing. They left the plastic building and entered the warehouse. It was colder so Wyatt made sure his angel was covered with the blanket. They went to the rolling metal door and one of the men there lifted it up. His angel clung to him tighter as it rattled and clanked. Wyatt stroked her head and followed Hank out to the car.

🚀

Wyatt was surprised when Hank said they were home. He managed to look away from Angel’s beautiful gray eyes and saw his apartment building outside. Wyatt tickled Angel’s belly with one finger. Her face scrunched up and she giggled happily while her little wings fluttered.

“We’re home,” Wyatt whispered.

Hank shoved the magazine at Wyatt. “Get the fuck out already before you make me sick.”

Wyatt didn’t know why Hank was angry but he was too happy to worry about it. “Thank you Hank.”

“Come on, man. Wanda’s gonna be pissed I’ve taken this long already. Get out.”

Wyatt picked up Angel, the magazine and got out of the truck. Hank took off as soon as the door closed. Wyatt turned and pointed up the stairs. “That’s home, up there. Come on.”

He’d just started up the stairs when he heard a shout behind him. Wyatt stopped and looked back. Uh oh, Mr. Travis the landlord was coming across the parking lot waving his hand. Mr. Travis wore a black suit which hung loose on his tall frame. Wyatt waited with Angel.

“Wyatt, what’ve you got there? Is that a baby?”

“No, Mr. Travis.”

Mr. Travis tugged on his suit jacket. “Looks like a baby to me.”

Just then Angel slipped her wings out from under the blanket and flapped them a couple times. Mr. Travis took a step back.

“What is it?”

Wyatt beamed and turned Angel around so Mr. Travis could see her. She cooed and flapped her wings. “This is Angel.”

“That’s a cherub!”

He remembered the doctor using that word back at the warehouse. “That’s right. The doctor said she was.”

Mr. Travis crossed himself and took another step back. He pointed at Angel. “That is a blasphemy! I won’t tolerate this. Bad enough I’ve had to put up with you but this is it. You’re going to have to move out.”

Wyatt held Angel close and marveled at how light she was in her arms. He didn’t understand Mr. Travis. He stroked the soft feathers covering her head. Move out? He couldn’t move out. He lived here. If he moved out where would he go? He kissed the top of Angel’s head, hot against his lips even through feathers smelling of sunshine and dandelion puffs. Her tiny arms reached around his neck and then her wings stretched out and fanned gently in the breeze. When at last he looked up Mr. Travis was halfway across the parking lot, chasing his shadow.

Maybe Mr. Travis hadn’t meant it, Wyatt decided. He took Angel upstairs to his home.

🚀

The next day at work he showed the magazine to Jilly. “I need help, Jilly.”

“Ooh, now I like these. What cuties! Much better than those fucking monkeys.” Jilly flipped through the magazine then tossed it back towards him onto the counter. “But you’d better forget it. Save your money for something that you actually need.”

Wyatt picked up the magazine and held it out to her again. “Please Jilly. I need to know how to feed my Angel. She isn’t eating anything.”

“Wait a minute. What the fuck are you talking about? Your angel?”

“Hank helped me find her,” Wyatt said. “We were going to go to the clinic but then we went to the warehouse and that’s where I found my angel. But she isn’t eating. Please help me.”

Jilly took the magazine. “Hank helped you, did he?”

“Yes, Hank’s my friend.”

“That piece of shit isn’t your friend,” Jilly said. “I’ll look at the magazine. Go do your job. After work I’ll take you home and we’ll see about this Angel of yours.”

“Thank you!” Wyatt wanted to hug Jilly but she was behind the counter.

“Get out my sight,” Jilly said.

🚀

Hank took off with his tires squealing. Jilly waved the magazine at him. “Yeah, get out of here, you piece of shit!”

Wyatt tried hard not to cry. Hank had been angry all day at work. Whenever Wyatt tried to ask Hank about Angel Hank had told Wyatt to shut the fuck up and push the cart. Jilly touched his arm. “Don’t worry about him, Wyatt. Come on. I’ve got my rust-bucket over here.”

Wyatt held the magazine on the way. Jilly’s car smelled like strawberries too. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “See, you need to get baby food. That’s the thing. It says there that she can’t eat solid food so you have to get baby food.”

“Okay.”

“And plenty of water. She has to eat every few hours, Wyatt. You just left her at home?”

Wyatt moaned and clenched the magazine. “I didn’t know!”

“Hey! Cut that out. Look, we’ll get the food and go to your place. It’s only been a day, right? Don’t worry.”

At the grocery store Wyatt gave his checkbook to Jilly. She looked at it and her eyes got wide. “What happened to all your money?”

“Hank said to get cash. For my Angel.”

“Asshole.”

Wyatt stepped back. The grocery store clerk was staring at them both. Jilly shook her head and handed him back the checkbook. “I wasn’t talking about you Wyatt. Hank is the asshole. He cleaned you out, you understand? I’ll buy the food. It’ll get you through until pay day.”

Jilly used a card in the machine to pay for the food. That looked easy, Wyatt thought. Easier than writing a check. Jilly didn’t want to show him the card. They left the store and she drove fast on the way home. Faster even than Hank drove. It was scary but Wyatt didn’t mind. He wanted to get home to Angel.

At the apartment Mr. Travis was putting a piece of paper on his door. Jilly grabbed his arm and tore the paper off the door. “What the hell is this? An eviction notice? You can’t do that!”

Mr. Travis pulled away and ran a hand down his sleeve. “I can too. No pets and no children. It says so right in the lease. I don’t know which that abomination is but it’s one or the other, or maybe both. Either way he is out of here in twenty days.”

Mr. Travis hurried off down the stairs. Jilly handed Wyatt the paper. “What a shit hole. I’ll bet you’ve never been late on the rent once, right?”

“I pay my rent,” Wyatt said.

Jilly gestured at the door. “Come on. Let’s get inside.”

Wyatt unlocked the door while Jilly held the groceries and they went inside. Jilly rubbed her arms. “It’s freezing in here, Wyatt. Don’t you have heat?”

“I turn it off when I leave.” Wyatt turned on the light in the living room. “Angel? I’m home.”

He didn’t hear any answering laugh from her cardboard box. Jilly set down the groceries. She was looking at the box. “Did you leave her in there?”

“I built a nest for her,” Wyatt said.

“Ah, shit, Wyatt. You’re supposed to keep the place warm.”

“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

Jilly rubbed her mouth. “Fuck it.”

She crossed the room to the box and looked inside. It was a big box. He’d taken the top off and piled pillows inside with her blanket and his teddy bear. Wyatt followed her and looked inside. Angel lay at the bottom on her side, wrapped around the bear with the blanket across her legs. Her wing was stretched out along her body.

“Oh Wyatt,” Jilly said. “She’s beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so wonderful.”

Wyatt reached down and slid his hands beneath her small body. She felt cool to the touch and when he lifted her she felt as limp as his teddy bear. He felt scared all of a sudden and it was hard to breath.

“Ah fuck, Wyatt,” Jilly said.

Wyatt hugged Angel to his chest and felt tears stinging his eyes. Angel stirred and her soft face pressed against his neck. Her wings fluttered.

Jilly laughed. “She isn’t dead! Come on, Wyatt! Let’s get this place warmed up and get some food in her.”

Wyatt held Angel while Jilly turned on the heaters and got the baby food out. They tried the banana food first and Angel liked it. Her dainty mouth took tiny little bits of the banana. As the apartment warmed she moved more and chirped happily with each bit of the food. In no time at all she’d eaten all of the banana in the little jar. She lay in his arms and cooed at him. He tickled her tummy and she laughed. Wyatt looked up from Angel and saw Jilly watching. He almost didn’t recognize her with a smile on her face. He lifted Angel towards her.

“Do you want to hold her, Jilly?”

Jilly laughed. “Okay. Sure, Wyatt.”

She took Angel and rocked her gently. She laughed when Angel fanned her wings. Jilly looked up at Wyatt and then he saw her look at the paper Mr. Travis had left on the door.

“You’re going to need a place to live,” Jilly said. “So maybe it’d be okay if you stayed with me.”

“With you?”

Jilly stroked Angel’s feathers. “Well, it makes sense. I can help with the little one. Heck, I could keep her with me while you’re out cleaning. She has to be fed every few hours. It’ll be easier with two people looking after her. What do you say?”

Wyatt got up and came over to Jilly. He hugged her. “Yes! Thank you Jilly!”

She shrugged. “Heck, it’ll be nice to have someone else around I guess. We’ll figure things out, for all of us. Whatever else those bastards are doing they’ve created a miracle here with this little one.”

Angel looked at both of them and giggled happily. Wyatt ran a finger over her feathers. His angel and his friend Jilly. He couldn’t remember being happier.

🚀

6,200 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 66th weekly short story release, written way back in July 2007. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. 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 Space Lot.

Headless Server

Just coming out of an ice age, the alien world of New Anchorage promised Neil and Cassidy plenty of cold cases to solve.

Private detectives with Reach-wide licenses, they came to New Anchorage for a different sort of adventure – and find a chilling mystery.

If you love science fiction mysteries, alien planets, and exotic cuisine, check out Headless Server.

🔍

Breakfast came on a cerulean ceramic platter, covered with a matching ceramic lid decorated with cartoony examples of native New Anchorage wildlife. The server was cold-adapted mod-sapiens, a surprisingly cute girl with really big manga-style eyes, dark bangs hung above her eyes but downy white fur covered the rest of her face. When she blinked, it showed her double eyelid.

Neil smiled at her as she slid the platter onto the small polished stone table between him and Cassidy. Their server gave him a brilliant smile back, as bright as the hidden New Anchorage sun. Then she lifted the lid from the platter.

Breakfast bounced up from the platter. The menu had said eggs and bacon. Instead dozens of orange balls, each the size of a cherry tomato, popped, a snapping-fingers sort of sound, and bounced up and down. A whole jumping, popping, crowd of them. And the smell, it was a spicy, peppery odor with a hint of apple. There were also long blue things coiled on the platter that twitched and jerked, apparently in response to the bouncing balls.

“Joy,” the server said, favoring him with a wink of one big eye.

Cassidy kicked him beneath the table.

Neil fought back a wince and smiled at the server. “Thank you.”

She turned and skipped off. Her short red apron did nothing to cover her furry backside and long, tight legs.

Another kick hit his shins.

“Ouch!” Neil looked at Cassidy. “You didn’t have to kick me.”

Cassidy’s right eyebrow raised. “You didn’t have to ogle the waitress.”

Unlike the server, Cassidy was cyber-sapiens. Mostly unmodified base DNA with sensory and nervous system augmentations. Ten years together as partners in the detective business and in private, and he still found her beautiful and compelling. She had a full figure and dark wavy hair, and an adventurous streak that excited him.

It was her idea that they eat breakfast at this place. It was a small restaurant on the river-side strip, the sort of place where they might pick up cases. The dim interior held a dozen tables, plus seats along the bar. Most of those were occupied, bundled up locals hunched over their coffee and food. Two of the other tables were in use, by a couple of old cold-adapted mod-sapiens. It didn’t look like the sort of place that attracted tourists. Not that New Anchorage had many tourists. Most that did come were relic hunters. But so far Cassidy hadn’t found them a planet that was crime free, so their Reach-wide licenses were still useful. After a month here, business had been slow, but Cassidy’s optimism never let up.

The orange ball things were slowing down. They popping noises were decreasing and the jumps weren’t going as high. Some of them were starting to look wrinkled.

“This is eggs and bacon? Are they alive?” he said.

Cassidy caught one of the bouncing things between two fingers as it popped up and tossed it into her mouth. She chewed, swallowed and smiled. “Nope. Not anymore, anyway. That’s what they say. It’s steam escaping that makes them jump. They’re better before they deflate.”

He poked at one of the blue things. It twitched like it was going to wrap around his finger and he jerked his hand back.

“And those?”

Cassidy jabbed one with a neatly manicured nail. The blue thing whipped up and coiled around her finger. Neil’s stomach rolled as she lifted her finger to her mouth, her lips sliding around the finger and the blue thing. She sucked on it, her eyes on him the whole time, and sucked it right off her finger. It uncoiled bit by bit and disappeared into her mouth. She chewed with relish.

“Hmmm, that’s delicious. You’ve got to try it. It tastes like pesto chicken. Garlicky.”

Neil eyed the whole twitching, bouncing mess of a breakfast. “I don’t know.”

“They aren’t alive. Not really. They react to heat, residual cellular activity, that’s all. The steam from the balls activates them. Or the heat from your finger. I’m not letting you leave until you try them.”

In the ten years that they’d been together, Neil had heard similar statements many times before. Cassidy was always the more adventurous one. She picked out their destinations, a new planet each year, while he tagged along. Solving crime across the Reach.

This year was New Anchorage, a barely habitable, cold world where the day-night cycle took a whole month. Not a place he would have picked to spend a year. Experts said it was coming out of an ice age, but temperatures wouldn’t get anywhere close to comfortable for at least three hundred years. Standard, not New Anchorage years, which lasted ten standard years. It was the ice age that had eventually doomed the native, now extinct, civilization.

“Come on, you have to,” Cassidy said.

He reached out to pick up a deflated orange ball and his finger brushed one of the blue wormy things. It coiled swiftly around his finger. The touch was drier than he had expected and cool.

Cassidy grinned. “Go on. Try both.”

She’d never let him live it down if he didn’t. Neil lifted both up, closed his eyes, and shoved them in his mouth. He nearly bit his finger, pulling the blue thing off with his teeth. He wasn’t making it look sexy, he was just trying not to gag. The blue thing was thrashing in his mouth, trying to coil around his tongue.

He bit down to stop it. Juices filled his mouth. And Cassidy was right. It did taste sort of like pesto, with the orange thing adding a peppery and apple taste to the mix. The texture was firmer than chicken or pasta, not exactly rubbery, but chewy. He chewed quickly to stop the thing from moving and swallowed.

It wasn’t so bad, really. He caught one of the orange things that hadn’t quite stopped bouncing. It popped in a hot rush when he bit into it. That was better. The peppery steam helped clear out his sinuses.

A scream from the back interrupted their meal. Neil stood up, so did Cassidy, as the cute server backed out of the kitchen area. She screamed again and fluttered her hands in front of her eyes, like she couldn’t decide whether to cover them or to look.

The locals stood up off the bar stools and crowded up to the edge. A big man, the fur on his face long and trailing down a hairy chest, reached across and touched the server’s shoulder.

“Bethany, what wrong?”

Neil edged closer to the crowd, but held back. Maybe she’d seen a spider or a mouse or something. If they had those here, or their equivalents.

“Dixon, in the freezer,” she said. Her arm pointed for emphasis.

Dixon? With a name and a reaction like that, it didn’t sound like a spider had scared her. Neil moved closer and pulled his badge. He held it up.

“Detectives. May we help?”

Bethany turned, fixing her big eyes on him. She rushed to the edge of the counter. The locals fell back, turning to face him.

“Yes, sir. Please do,” Bethany said.

Cassidy was beside him, her own badge in her hand. She held the shield out toward the locals. “Case claim, then. We’ll investigate.”

A case claim meant that the local governmental body couldn’t just throw them off the case without paying a nominal fee. Cassidy always did look after the business side of things. She was great at getting reluctant municipalities to pay up, which helped them make enough on each planet to afford moving on to the next.

“Show us Dixon,” Neil said.

The freezer was a simple box at the back of the place. Lacking insulation, it used the ambient temperature outside to keep things frozen. It was neat. Clean plastic boxes lined the shelves. There were whole cartons full of those orange eggs, not bouncing right now. The one thing that didn’t belong with the body lying in the center aisle. It’d be face-down, if it still had a face. The bloodless neck was pointing at the door.

Bethany, and the two cooks, crowded in behind them.

Cassidy went in first. Her implants would film the whole scene, record environmental factors, and document everything that they did. She walked over to the left side of the body and worked her way around to the other side. Her breath fogged the air. They’d left their heavy outer gear in the airlock on the way in. Neil picked up a large can of some sort of pickled vegetable and dropped it on the floor in front of the door.

The server, Bethany, stood in the doorway wearing nothing but her red apron and watched. “Doing what?”

“Just want to make sure the door doesn’t shut on us,” Neil said. He wasn’t going to take any chance, even if it was unlikely that they would all decide to shut him and Cassidy in the freezer.

He turned his attention to the body. The air in here was cold. Freezing, well-below freezing. Cassidy stood opposite, hugging her arms.

“Let’s make this fast,” he said.

The body was another cold-adapted colonist, just like the girl. White fur covered the body. This one also wore a red apron, apparently that was the unisex dress code at the restaurant. Neil walked around the body, following the path Cassidy had walked, watching for anything of interest. Standing at the feet, the view was uninterrupted by the apron, and the body was clearly male. He completed his circuit to end up beside Cassidy.

To Bethany, he said, “His name was Dixon?”

“Uh huh. Yes.”

He didn’t want to be indelicate, but he said, “How do you know it’s him?”

“Dixon worked last night,” Bethany said. “Just he and I covering shifts with Lalia off. And I recognize him, we see each other this way.”

Of course they did. The aprons didn’t cover their backsides, so that’s what she would normally see. It was an obvious thing. He moved on.

He looked back at the cooks. “Were either of you working last night?”

Both men shook their furry heads. The tallest of the two, with a round face that gave him a teddy bear look, said, “Taylor, he cooks night. Does morning prep.”

Neil looked at the crates of the orange eggs. “Has anyone been in here this morning?”

All three of them shook their heads. The cook who hadn’t spoken yet broke his silence. “Taylor loads cooler.”

He turned and pointed back into the kitchen. There was a big refrigerator.

“I come in,” Bethany said. “Starting lunch prep and find Dixon.”

Cassidy said, “Where do we find Taylor?”

He would have been the last person to see Dixon, and right now the most likely suspect.

“I get address,” Bethany said. “Don’t wanna be here, anyhow.”

She shoved between the two cooks. Cassidy moved into the doorway. “Come on, I will take your statements, while my partner works.”

Slowly, the two furry cooks left Neil alone, trailing along with Cassidy. That was the thing about ten years together. They each knew what the other needed. And right now, he needed privacy. The next part of the investigation made some people uneasy.

Plus it was damn cold and he wanted to get done without having to answer questions while he was working. And Cassidy’s enhancements made her a natural lie detector. She could take their statements, and she’d know if they were lying or not. Their thin covering of fur wouldn’t change that. He had his own work to do.

He started back at the neck, absent a head or blood. He bent close and inhaled deeply. No odor. The edges were clean, precise. All the tissues were cut in the same fine line, which had passed right through the spinal column between the vertebrae without cutting bone. Some sort of molecular blade? That would account for the lack of tearing and the precise nature of the cut, but the whole inside of the freezer should have been sprayed with Dixon’s blood and there wasn’t a drop.

That suggested he was killed elsewhere. But why kill the server at all? And if you did kill him, why bring the body back to where he worked and leave it in the freezer?

Neil leaned closer, looking the severed ends of the major veins and arteries. They had a puckered look. He pulled gloves out of his pocket and pulled them on. They didn’t do anything to help warm his hands. His teeth chattered. He had to get out of here soon or freeze.

He poked at the tissues. They were soft, pliable beneath his finger. That was weird. The body wasn’t frozen. He bent closer and probed at the carotid. The cut was clean, level with the cut through the rest of the tissues, rimmed with a fuzzy white substance he had taken for frost. Down inside the artery was more white stuff, completely clogging the inside. It pulled in the sides, causing the puckering that he had noticed.

Neil rocked back on his heels. What could cause that? Not an ordinary cut, and why wasn’t the body frozen if it’d been in the freezer since the night before?

He stood up and moved to Dixon’s side, and crouched again. It was time to roll the body over and see what else there was to see. If he found anything interesting, he’d call Cassidy to document it. He ran his fingers along Dixon’s arms. The tissue was soft to the touch, not exactly warm, but definitely not freezing. He continued on down the arm and discovered that Dixon’s hand was cupping something. It was small, hidden in the shadow between his hand and his thigh.

Neil didn’t disturb it. He wanted Cassidy recording before he moved the body and uncovered the object. It also gave him a reason to get out of the freezer. He walked out into the warmer kitchen. Cassidy was talking with the heavier cook. He caught her gaze and she excused herself.

When she reached him she said, “What did you find?”

“He’s not frozen,” Neil said softly.

“What?”

“Come see for yourself. I want close-ups of the neck, there’s something odd there. And he’s got something in his hand that we’ll see when we roll him over. I wanted you there for that.”

Neil glanced back into the kitchen area, past Cassidy. The cooks were talking amongst themselves, and Bethany. Many of the locals were crowded around too. It wouldn’t be long before they all started wanting answers. With the case claim filed, they’d also have the local law down here soon too. Some jurisdictions would just pay the fee to get them off the case. Sometimes that was okay, but this time he wanted to dig deeper. There were just too many things that didn’t make sense.

“Any trouble with them?”

She shook her head. “All of them are shocked. I don’t think they have a clue about what happened. I did get a picture of Dixon.”

“That’ll be helpful if we find his head,” he said. “Let’s get this done before we get interrupted.”

They went back into the freezer together. Cassidy bent down to get a good look at the neck wound.

“That’s weird. It’s like all of the capillaries have been sealed with that white compound,” she said, moving around to join him at Dixon’s side. “Some sort of clotting agent?”

“What could do that and prevent any blood from spilling?”

“Beats me.” She knelt beside the body and pulled on her gloves. “Let’s see what else we’ve got.”

Neil joined her on her right, closest to whatever Dixon had in his hand. Neil put one hand on Dixon’s wrist to keep it pinned to the body, and the other on Dixon’s side.

“You get the shoulder and we’ll  roll him up and over,” Neil said. “On three. Two. One.”

They both pushed and lifted. The body came up, but it was loose and floppy. Not frozen, and not stiff with rigor. As it rolled, Neil got a look at the thing in Dixon’s hand.

It looked like dark wood, a deep reddish material laced with a grain. Except the grains in the object were white and seemed to snake beneath the polished surface. At three points the white lines joined together and continued out of the object, extending down where they pierced Dixon’s hand beneath his index and little fingers, and at his wrist.

“Hold it,” Neil said. “Can you see this?”

Cassidy leaned close to him. Her warmth was welcome. He wanted to huddle close to her, preferably with both of them in some deep hot spring or pool, without anything on, just to get warm again.

“I see it,” she said. “Whatever that is, it looks attached. What do you think?”

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he’s got that white stuff around his wound, and this thing is connected to his hand and wrist.”

She leaned across him, still holding Dixon’s upper body. He wanted to press against her warmth, but the situation made that awkward. And there was no telling what that thing was doing to the body. At least they were wearing gloves.

“If this is biological we have to close the place down and file an alert,” Neil said.

“It doesn’t look biological,” Cassidy said. “I’m not getting organic readings from it. And in the infrared there are markings on the object.”

“Native? Is it a relic?” The ice age had buried and ground up most of the native civilization’s artifacts, but relic hunters were still digging up pieces that had survived.

“Looks like it to me,” she said. She smiled at Neil, even though her lips were starting to turn blue. “This could be a big break for us.”

Neil pushed the body further up. “I don’t see any signs of trauma to the front of the body.”

“Wow.” Cassidy’s eyes widened, irises huge and dark, the way they got when she looked into the infrared. “He’s still warm, Neil. There’s a pulse!”

He shivered and it wasn’t only from the cold. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. It’s slow, wait,” she said. She stared intently at the furry chest beneath the apron.

Neil’s legs were beginning to cramp. He didn’t feel anything in the wrist he was holding. Not that he doubted her, but how could the server be alive without his head?

“There! Almost two minutes between beats. It’s faint, but there.”

“Put him down.” Neil said, lowering the body with her help.

When the headless server was back as they’d found him, Neil stood up. He took Cassidy’s elbow. “If there’s a pulse, does that mean he’s alive? Without a head, isn’t he sort of brain-dead?”

“I don’t know. We don’t know anything about that relic. Or where his head is. We’re going to need help on this one.”

“Fine. Let’s get out of this freezer, and contact the local medical responders. We’ve got a case claim, amend it to include the relic.”

She didn’t move. “Should we get him out of the freezer?”

Neil shook his head. “We don’t know what that would do to him. Maybe being nearly frozen is part of it, sort of a hibernation thing.”

“I don’t think their mod includes hibernation.”

Teeth chattering, Neil shrugged. His toes were feeling numb. “Either way, we need to go and find this Taylor that was working last night. He was probably the last one to see Dixon alive. Or intact.”

Cassidy finally moved out of the freezer. Neil followed her out, and moved the can away from the door. He told the cooks and Bethany to stay out of the freezer while Cassidy contacted the medical responders and filled them in on what had been found. From the sound of it, they didn’t want to believe her at first. After confirming her universal license and with an image of Dixon’s body, they jumped into action and would be on site within minutes. She gave them strict instructions to leave the native artifact alone, until they knew more about its origin.

With that done, Neil and Cassidy headed out to find Taylor. The best thing about leaving, was getting to put on their cold-weather gear. Neil dialed up the suit’s internal heating to the max.

🔍

New Anchorage was a relatively new colony, that had garnered interest primarily because of the extinct civilization. Conditions were considerably harsher than those experienced by its namesake. Habitable definitions had been stretched by the colonial administrators, in Neil’s opinion, as they stomped into the big geo-thermal-powered warren where Taylor lived. Ice fell from their boots into the melt grate at the entrance while jets of air blasted off the ice clinging to the outside of their suits. By the time they got through the jets their suits were dry. Neil pulled down his face mask, but kept the rest of the suit on. He still hadn’t warmed up.

Taylor’s apartment was on the third floor down, the fifteen door in a stained and chipped corridor that smelled of smoke, food and urine. A half-dozen fat mod-gen cats lounged around the corridor, basking beneath the light tubes bringing in reflected sunlight from outside.

“Why are there so many cats in this colony?” Neil said, not for the first time.

Cassidy grinned at him. “You just don’t like cats.”

That was true. Neil stopped in front of Taylor’s door and pushed the call button.

No response from inside. Neil pushed the button again.

This time something thumped inside.

He looked at Cassidy. “Did that sound like someone in distress to you?”

“It did,” she said.

Their license gave them limited rights to enter private dwellings, unless they thought there was risk of deadly harm coming to someone inside. Or that the dwelling was an obvious crime scene. Given that they’d come here to talk to the last person likely to have seen Dixon with a head, Neil was pretty sure they had cause.

Cassidy moved to the other side of the doorway. He took up position beside the panel. They didn’t carry weapons, but that didn’t mean that someone inside wouldn’t be armed.

He entered his license code into the panel. It flashed green, confirming and recording his authorization, and opened the door.

“Private detectives,” Neil called. “We’re unarmed, and coming in. We are recording.”

At least Cassidy was recording. Which meant he went first with his hands open and out to his side.

It wasn’t a large apartment. Not much more than a rectangular box that extended from the hallway to the enclosed sun balcony on the far side of the room. These were compact dwellings, with features that folded out from the room. Right now there were two people in the bed that was taking up most of the room.

And there was a mod-sapiens head on the steps beside the bed that led up to the sun balcony. Neil looked at the head and she looked back. The head belonged to a woman with fine features, covered in soft fuzz. Her eyes were open, fixed on him, and her mouth moved.

Red lips mouthed the words, Help me.

One of the native artifacts, just like the one that Dixon’s body held, was attached to the head’s neck.

The people in the bed finally stirred. One of them sat up, a woman with rather large, and firm, shaved breasts. She rubbed her eyes and then dropped her hands to blink at Neil and Cassidy.

Except the head had masculine features, and dark eyebrows.

Cassidy nudged Neil with her arm. “Umm, Neil?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s Dixon’s head.”

“That’s not his body.”

The head on the steps rolled her eyes, and then looked sideways, glaring at Dixon.

The other person in the bed groaned and sat up with his eyes squinted shut. He was unmodified, with golden skin and wavy blond hair. He would have looked more at home on a sunny beach than New Anchorage. He yawned.

“Man, what time is it?”

The woman with Dixon’s head jabbed the guy in the side. “We over slept!”

Neil looked at Cassidy. “Dear, would you contact the authorities?”

“Already doing it, honey.”

🔍

Local law arrived in five minutes along with a medical response team. Cassidy shared their files, billed the colony the usual fees for the case. Given that no one was actually dead, Neil agreed that they bill the case as a kidnapping and assault, rather than murder. That, plus the claim they’d filed on recovering the native artifacts, meant that the New Anchorage was going to turn out to be one of their more lucrative planets. This was a discovery that would have the medical establishment salivating for more research.

Dixon stopped in the doorway as they were going to lead him away. “We weren’t going to keep her body. We hired her for the night, that was all. Once we got up we would have switched back, and Taylor would have taken my head back to my body. We just slept in.”

The med techs carry were carrying out the woman’s head at that moment and she started mouthing curse words at Dixon. It was less effective without lungs to give them voice.

“Why all this?” Neil asked.

Dixon glanced at Taylor, being questioned over by the bed and lowered his voice. “Taylor, he’s into women, you know? Once I knew what those things could do, I talked him into trying this.”

Dixon’s voice became wistful. “It was worth it, you know?”

He was led off and Neil stepped out with Cassidy. One of the fat mod-gen cats rubbed against his leg. Cassidy pulled him close and planted a kiss on his lips.

“The lengths people go to for love,” she said.

He kissed her back. She had a point. He’d come to a frozen planet for her, and would follow her wherever she wanted to go next.

🔍
4,384 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 48th weekly short story release, written in October 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 Flame Breaker.

Manifesting Destiny

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 Jacobs nose plugs. How much worse would it be if he wasnt 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 hed brought earplugs too.

Everythings 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 didnt 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. Theyre stable.

Stable. If vats stayed stable, then Jacob wouldnt 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 wouldnt 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.

Valves opened above each nest box and a cool mist sprayed out onto the vats. Each vat lifted its fat face up to the spray, opened its fat mouth and hummed a deep thrumming cry. The mist kicked off a second later, and grunting, huffing, belching and farting, the vats settled down again.

They have to stay moist, the manager said at Jacobs elbow.

Jacob didnt twitch a muscle. Roberta grinned over the top of her coffee. I think theyre cute.

Cute? Youve 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 didnt 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. Hed 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 wasnt anything out of place. Either the jittery manager kept the place clean, or theyd had a heads up that an inspection was coming.

Anything? He asked Roberta.

She lifted her cup. The coffee is good.

Three years theyd been partners. She was five years younger, six inches shorter, dressed better and had a PhD. His wife, Nancy, loved her. Hed asked Nancy once if it bothered her that his partner was young and pretty. Shed started laughing. So much for being jealous.

Not that hed ever hit on Roberta, thatd 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 didnt understand. Even Destiny, his youngest, loved it when he brought home Aunt Berta.

The girls were asking if youre coming for dinner on Friday?

Roberta smiled and winked. Cant. Ive got a date.

He arched an eyebrow, and then turned to the nervous manager. Well file our report. Youll 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 shed picked up on it too.

He pointed back past the racks. Didnt we park around back? We can go out this way, right?

Ah, sure. Of course. Thats very considerate. Wouldnt 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 didnt 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 dont 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 wouldnt 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 wasnt 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? Whats going on? Where are the girls?

Nancy patted the couch cushion. Theyre at Staceys, spending the night, except Destiny. Shes 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. Its Dad, isnt it? Whats wrong?

Sit down, Jacob, Mom said. Your father is okay, at the moment. Its you, were 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. Whatd 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. Theyd spent hours at the coffee house after shutting it down. In the end the young manager was crying.

We didnt try to breed them! We dont even know how theyre doing it! The babies just started showing up!

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 departments 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 hadnt 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 cant.

He sat back up feeling as if an icy hand had slid down his shirt. What? Come on.

She took a deep breath. This isnt easy, Jacob. Particularly given your job.

My job?

Let me talk! If Im going to tell you this, keep your questions until Im done.

Hed rarely heard her sound like that, not growing up. Not as an adult. Okay. Sorry.

Oh Hell. His gut sank. She was going to tell him that Dad had gotten into making vats. Maybe one of those home brew vats that fermented hops in their guts and pissed out beer. Looked like barrel-shaped turtles sitting on their asses with a bony pecker where the spout would be. Some bars had those sitting right up on the counters and let customers feed them peanuts. Said it gave the beer a nutty flavor.

Theres no easy way to tell you this. Your fathers not well. She raised a hand, forestalling questions. Its not like hes going to die right now, therere changes going on. Hes a vat, son. Your father is a vat.

That wasnt 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 didnt happen and the pregnancy didnt 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 doesnt make any sense! Ive been to the doctor! Ive had blood tests, hell, Ive passed screenings at work. We have to pass regular screenings, because we come into contact with vats all the time. If Dads a vat, that makes me a vat, and wed have been caught a long time ago.

Mom shook her head. It didnt work that way, son. Youre 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 wasnt 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.

Jacobs stomach rumbled. He hadnt had anything to eat except lunch, and right now he couldnt imagine eating. He crouched down beside the island to get a better look at the thing in the jar.

What theyd said, he couldnt 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, dont you?

Of course he did. Jacob rubbed his jaw. This was Arvad Blums 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 hadnt been stopped theyd 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 didnt get exposed to something?

Mom pointed at the jar. Because thats what saved your fathers 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.

Mom!

She waved her hands. Sorry! Fine, Ill get to the point. Your father had leukemia

You never told me that.

Nancy touched his arm. Let her finish.

Sorry, Mom.

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. Thats 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 Jacobother 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 hadnt inherited his fathers 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.

And Dad?

Her lips puckered slightly. She rolled her shoulders. Hes not himself. He complains that he hurts everywhere. That he doesnt feel good, cant see as well. A bunch of things. Now he knows how I feel!

Nancy leaned into Jacobs arm. Can it be a coincidence that his died and Destiny, well, that theres 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 Moms 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.

She shook her head. Not us. Blum never made any records of giving this to your father. He was dying, Jacob. Blum knew that. He told us that this was a long shot, but your father, he figured what was there to lose?

I have to call this in.

You cant! Both of them said it together.

A soft voice spoke up from the doorway. Whats 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 wasnt so funny anymore. He swept her up in his arms, drawing out a familiar giggle and buried his face in her honey-scented hair. Lets 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 Destinys fairy bug in the jar on the coffee table. Its antennae waggled at him as he sat.

Before you do anything, Mom said. I want you to think about your father. Im 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.

Of all the things she could have said, that one didnt surprise him. Even so, he shook his head. We cant! We dont know anything about this one. Theres no telling what it would do 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. Jacobs right, though. Just because this looks the same, it doesnt mean it is the same.

Im 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 dont know, Mom said. Youre the expert on this stuff. Isnt that what you do every day?

I find people violating the laws. Im 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.

Theyd 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 didnt understand how itd happened, how he could have passed so many tests without it being detected.

He reached out and picked up the jar holding Destinys 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, itd give him nightmares. Destiny didnt seem bothered, somehow, with the resilience of youth.

Theres 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 cant 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 Destinys 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 minivans 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. Hed 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 same man laughing his head off right now.
Blums position was monitored continuously. He lived in house arrest, forbidden from anything connected to his field. It had to be hell for the man, cut off from what he had loved. He made his living writing popular science articles, on anything except the field where hed made his name.

The file hadnt 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. Im going to see a man, ask him a question and then well get on to the beach house.

A rental. Hed 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, itd 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, Moms going to take you on to the beach house. Grandpa and I are going to get out, talk to this man, and then well walk over.

We are? Dad said.

Jacobs mother elbowed him.

Oh, right. I guess were there! Dad laughed and got up, moving stiffly and climbed out.

Jacob went out his door, walking fast. He didnt want the van seen parked in front of Blums 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.

Be careful.

I will. He kissed her lightly on the lips.

She slipped past him, moving around to the drivers side. Jacob didnt 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 shouldnt.

Jacob shook his head. Its too late now. Come on. Lets 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?

Dr. Blum —
Not a doctor anymore. Blum snorted. They took that away with everything else.
My name is Jacob, and this is my father.
Dad thrust out his hand. Michael, but weve met.
Blum didnt take the offered hand. We have?”
I was a patient of yours, Dad said. Over thirty years ago. Right before the arrests.
Blum took a wary step back. Whats this about?
Jacob didnt want to say. Instead he lifted the jar part way from the bag. Blums eyes grew larger. His hands fluttered with pushing-down gestures.
Jacob put the jar back in the bag. Blum beckoned to them and backed into the house, holding the door.

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 cant hear us if were quiet.

 What is that? Dad gestured at the box.

A sound-proof box. The bracelet is a listening device, as well as a tracker. The box doesnt interfere with the tracking capabilities, it just damps the noise. We cant be too long, or theyll 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 cant survive in there, Blum said. Whered you get it?

Jacob filled him in, quickly and concisely. Where hed seen Jacobs father, what happened the other day when Dads vat was regurgitated and died, and Destiny bring up this one.

Hows 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, thats 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 Destinys symbiote, and it picked up and moved, to reach my father, like moving into a bigger house?

Blum laughed. Yes! Like that. I wouldnt worry about your daughter, a new symbiote would have already taken hold there, to pick up the slack.

Were all infected then, Jacob said.

Fortunately for you.

But I get sick. Im a vat inspector, Ive been tested and it never turns up anything.

Then you may have rejected the symbiote. I didnt have time to make improvements before I was caught. Maybe it didnt 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 wouldnt 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 dont want to get caught. Theyll 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. Thisll 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 dont know that! What if its changed? What if it isnt the same?

It came from sweet little Destiny, Dad said. I dont think its going to hurt me. And I dont want to feel so terrible.

You have to go, Blum said urgently. Theyll notice that Ive gone quiet. They dont 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. Theres my pretty. Whatd she call it?

A fairy bug, Jacob said.

Dad laughed. Down the hatch!

Jacob turned away. He didnt 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 Dads lips. Then he took in a deep breath and put the jar down on the counter.

Thats better. Dad held out his hand to Blum. Thank you. You saved my life, twice now.

Blum beamed and shook his hand. Thank you. Im glad to know theyre still out there. Eventually the government will find out, maybe by then theyll 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. Theres a friend of mine, from when we were kids. I trusted him. Name is Jang Sun. Hes 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 Blums house. Jacob held his fathers 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 couldnt answer the questions. Why do I get sick? Mom clearly doesnt have a super immune system either. But you and the girls, you dont 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 youre right. I havent been sick in a long time, not since I was pregnant with Sarah.

Itd be a risk. If the scans picked up anything, it could be tough on everyone. He couldnt 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? Shed have to get a new partner. Maybe shed find one that like coffee.

🚀
5,852 WORDS

Author’s Note

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.