New stand alone short – “A Mother’s Son”

A Mother’s Son


Mackey Chandler

            Theodore looked out the narrow port of the ballistic express and watched the glare of the sun disappear behind the curve of the earth. He’d be on the ground six hours before it managed to catch up. He took another sip of champagne and his implant scrolled a message in his corneal display warning him his blood alcohol was at .016. If he had another glass he’d be turned away at customs and refused entry to the Caliphate. It was irritating to have his AI in nanny mode but safer when he was working. Some people hardly show any signs they had been drinking at that blood alcohol level, but Ted knew he had little capacity for alcohol and would be pulled aside for testing. His clients would bump his per diem back if he had to sit in customs until he dried out or even worse get stuffed back in another flight and not be able to pin down the source of the rumor he was tracking. He’d even get stuck with paying his round trip fare if he was sent back.

His clients spent big money on rumor futures and trend insurance. Especially terror and organized crime futures. The street talk was about a genotype targeted infertility plague that would cost five figures in ransom for the antitreatment, or six figures plus if they refused to pay and had to reverse engineer and counteract it themselves. Three of his clients were in active pharmaceuticals, and one was a protection mob that didn’t want some upstart horning in on the limited market for medical ransoms. Corps only budgeted so much for employee protection before they saw direct action as being the better long term investment. Given two adversarial deals they were as likely to spend their discretionary funds on wiping out the older threat they knew better than the new threat that would require research. Ted looked at the odds of that happening and discretely shifted some of his personal investment out of medical coercions and into natural disaster futures from behind several proxies.

The weather and volcanic activity had been on a flat trend for nine years and he figured it was time for a upswing. When he plotted it against historic cycles and sunspot activity he was even more convinced, even though his assessment was contrarian.  That’s where you made the real money; bucking the herd and being right when you did so. He took a small sip of the Champagne making it last if he couldn’t have a refill. There were no alerts popping up, but he checked zinc futures in depth and his bets on the Super Bowl. Zinc was sweet and he still had faith in the Packers. At least enough not to throw the bet away on a buy back. All that took less than thirty seconds so he still had almost five thousand long seconds to fill with something before his flight touched down in Manama.

Tomorrow was his four hundredth birthday, and he was feeling sorry for himself. He was making it just fine day to day. If he stopped working right now he projected he could retire for another hundred years, probability ± 12%, before he had to work again. Trouble was, in a hundred years all his skills and knowledge would be obsolete if he didn’t stay on the treadmill. He’d have to find a new line of work or take a downgraded retirement like his mother. Once you did that almost nobody ever came back to the real world. It wasn’t that he was burned out. Far from it. If anything he was bored. Last time he’d taken vacation he’d come back to work after three days before he went nuts. Sitting on the beach, watching the surf with his link down he’d lasted as long as it took to suck down one Margarita before he  started running extrapolations on his implant to predict the pattern of short and high waves. He hadn’t tried really cutting himself off completely – shutting not only his link, but also his implant for about twenty years. Last time the sensory deprivation had unnerved him so badly he’d taken several days to recover from the experience.

If he didn’t want to retire and wasn’t unhappy with his work what did he want? What would make him happy? It had to be a challenge and he suspected it had to be soon, or he would succumb to the primary source of morbidity in today’s population – suicide. He’d seen enough agents and traders who should have been happy falter just a bit to where you thought they were just down for a couple days, and then you’d hear they were gone.

Perhaps he should have taken Sandra up on it when she proposed to him. He checked memory – one hundred seventeen days since she’d broached the subject and he thought about it every day. He’d said no quickly, but that hadn’t put her off dating him. They’d spent a two day together just a week ago. If she was seeing – or pursuing – anyone else he saw no evidence of it. He talked to her pretty much daily. He talked to several hundred people a day normally, keeping networks alive, but she was different. He didn’t need to talk to her and took time anyway.

His immediate thought at her offer was they didn’t have enough in common. Not enough for a life together. They’d never share the same work. He’d met her in the diorama club. Most everybody collected something, and with the trend for professionals to invest in large houses, how well your collection was displayed was as important as the pieces themselves. You needed to fill the empty rooms with something or it looked silly.

He primarily collected tools and displayed them in a twentieth century home workshop. She collected turn of the twenty first century home appliances and kitchen items and displayed them in a 1998 home kitchen. They both had museum quality displays that had won prizes. Maybe that wasn’t enough upon which to base a life on together, but even her job was interesting when it was her explaining it. He’d never had any interest in the law before meeting her. Pretty much everything he’d done with her had been fun because he was doing it with her.     Maybe her offer could be renegotiated… Ted thought of her contact code and let the link form through ship com. He expected vision and sound but got text messaging…

LawyerShark:  Hi Ted

TeddieBeah:  I miss you Sandy

LawyerShark:  Rough day?

TeddieBeah:   No more than usual – but I’m asking myself some serious questions…

LawyerShark:   Work?

TeddieBeah:   No – yes – maybe – personal life more – I’m not happy.

LawyerShark:   I’ve known that for awhile

TeddieBeah:   Do you miss me?

LawyerShark:  A little – but we’re not joined at the hip  : )

TeddieBeah:   You offered something more permanent.

LawyerShark: Yes – you didn’t think long before saying no…

TeddieBeah:   I’ve been regretting that – because I have been thinking about it every day. Is there a reason you went to text? Bad hair day? (evil grin)

LawyerShark:   I’m on the Moon. The trans. delay drives me nuts with real time video. I’d show you how much I miss you if you were here.  ; )

TeddieBeah:  LOL – safe to say from a million miles away…

LawyerShark:  The Moon is closer than that.

TeddieBeah:  Always with the legal precision – call it poetic license.

LawyerShark:  U R a snoop not a poet.

TeddieBeah:   Hot job? You didn’t say anything about a lunar trip last week

LawyerShark:   Hot enough to pay 3x for a direct lift ticket instead of an orbital transfer. More than that is too hot to put in an IM.

TeddieBeah:   Your job is more exciting than mine. Dinner when you get back?

LawyerShark:   Maybe….Are you considering a counter-proposal?

TeddieBeah:   More like a hostile takeover…..

LawyerShark:   I’ll think about it too. Maybe a limited contract? Five year – no kids?

TeddieBeah:   Renewable if both agree?

LawyerShark:   Any contract can be renewed if both agree…YOU might want to change the terms before five years – one year to start maybe

TeddieBeah:   Dinner  when you are back and talk about it if you still want to then?

LawyerShark:   Back to Toronto in two days – mid-day Thursday.

TeddieBeah:   Back to Atlanta tomorrow – Meet Harrington’s on the Chesapeake for dinner?

LawyerShark:   Reserve a room – two day maybe? –  and a sailboat if the weather is fair?

TeddieBeah:   Yes and yes – I’m clear to do that. Bye then – rip into them Shark…

LawyerShark:   Don’t worry – there will be blood in the water – bye………

A thought closed the link and he stared out the window not really looking at the scarce splashes of light on the dark planet below. It was the high Asian plains so there was still little to shine into the night sky. He was thrilled at the idea of marrying Sandra and scared to death at the same time. He’d been married once in his first century and even in the fog of time distance he still remembered it had been bad. He’d been very young and stupid, and his mother had been hard on the girl giving her hell at every turn.

He’d tried to explain to her that his mother had never approved of him either, but she saw every slight as a battle to be drawn out and won. Sandy wouldn’t put up with it. She’d give her some hell right back. Ted learned even before leaving home as a young man to simply ignore his mother’s complaints and go ahead like nothing had been said. Four centuries later it still worked. At least now he’d learned enough to ration her to one call a week.  His brother Harold had tried to explain the sheer necessity of that to him for almost a century before he adopted the practice.     Harold had a family and his mother would have them in a constant uproar if she called daily – or  more. He had only himself to be put in an uproar, and felt obligated to take her calls for years. Finally his doctor had laid down the law and protested he could not counter the anxiety the woman produced, not even with drugs. When faced with being pushed into an early rejuv he couldn’t afford he finally got a spine.

Now if she called again the same week he refused the call. It had only taken a few hundred tries before she realized he, the good son, meant it just like Harold. She still was simmering over the time last century he had visited Triton to write a series on their mining industry. She honestly had no clue why they could not just chat back and forth normally at that distance. He’d given up trying to explain it. Damn sure she wasn’t going to give Sandy a hard time or he’d cut her down to a call a month – see if he wouldn’t. In four centuries almost anyone can manage to grow up. Even a mama’s boy.

There was a slight feeling of dislocation, an almost unperceivable tug forward that made Ted look out the port. There was a faint golden glow standing away from  slight flare of the lifting body shape. He pulled his harness he had never taken off nice and snug. If anything happened it probably would be of no use, but old habits are hard to break. Finally there was a soft chime and the cabin crew announced what he had already noted – that they were in approach for Manama. He wore long sleeves and an embroidered hat in respect of local sensibilities.

He accessed his translator service and made sure he had the latest local slang, names in the news and current events for the district of  Bahrain and the Greater Caliphate. He looked enough like the locals to fit in well. He’d had his hair and moustache trimmed in the local style, and his white shirt was sewn with the proper shape of collar and double front pockets with plaits currently in style. He carried his documents and a few other necessary items in a small belt purse instead of a western wallet. Not that he was going to try to pass for a local. He just wanted to be as little off-putting as possible. They would know he was a North American as soon as he opened his mouth, but at least they might not tag him as Jewish and as an investigator so easily.

* * *

            The medical supply firm which he approached in Manama, supposedly to buy a compact gene sequencer should pay it’s sensitive people more. Fifty thousand EuroMarks and a ticket to Yemen had been sufficient to get a copy of their customer list going back six months. The young woman who supplied the list had called in sick the next morning and plead a family emergency was taking her home. It should take her employers several days to figure she wasn’t coming back. Yemen was conveniently beyond her employers ability to summon her if her male relatives forbade her to return. By the time they had any desire to really press the point they’d have greater concerns.

The one address on the customer list which stood out was a user of agricultural equipment, not medical devices and systems. That had been the smoking gun he was looking for. Other investigators were already pursuing that anomaly and Ted was done with this case and speeding home, still headed west by a coincidence of available connections, losing a day to circumnavigation, which would cut into his per diem. That was ok, in his work that averaged out.

* * *

            Sandra wore tailored tan pants in the current loose style, with scarlet piping along the seams and edges. A safari jacket with a padded shooting shoulder showed a matching scarlet lining at the collar and cuffs. Not only unusually modest, but it had enough body he suspected it was armor. A wise precaution considering some of the places she traveled. She enjoyed explaining the padded shoulder’s function and seeing people’s discomfort. But she didn’t constantly try to tweak him, just the majority of the so mundane public she regarded as fools. The host at Harrington’s remembered them although it had been at least a year since they’d been in. Even if it was just hospitality software he appreciated being remembered. They declined companionship and entertainment and accepted a table in the public area. Both of them enjoyed the feeling of being in a group even if they didn’t want the adventure of meeting strangers tonight. They had entirely too much of a private nature to discuss.

The scallops were marvelous, faintly browned on the edges, with just a hint of Sherry. The fireplace near their table was real, not simulated. Every once in a while a waiter would add a piece of wood so the reality of the extravagance was not lost on anyone. Ted skipped the wine after a few sips wanting his faculties for the proposal. Sandra had it recorked and sent to their room after the entree.

Ted plowed ahead with his proposal, wanting to resolve it so he could either enjoy the rest of their date or wallow in his misery. It seemed to amuse Sandra and she accepted his proposal for a year, signing it electronically with an almost absent minded indifference before they even had dessert. By the time they retired to their room the court had recognized their contract and they were man and wife. He would have carried her across the threshold, but she declined teasing he would hurt himself or bang her head on the doorway. If she wasn’t a traditionalist it still felt like a honeymoon.

They both traveled so much in their work it didn’t matter which home they favored. Both of their homes were investments and they determined to keep and use both of them, rendezvousing in whichever was handy to meet. A few more changes of clothing and some toiletries were all the move either needed.

* * *

            Next week, Ted was in Singapore, Sandra was off somewhere in secret. What he didn’t know he couldn’t accidentally divulge. Business over for the day he was looking forward to his mother’s weekly call. Usually it was strained. He’d try to tell her in a simplified way she could understand what he was doing in his profession. Even though they got video and the extravagance of printed out news papers at her retirement community he could tell she didn’t really understand what he told her. In her mind governments still told corporations what to do, and hazard futures were immoral because you were betting that bad things would happen, and profit from them if they did. He’d tried to point out death insurance let you profit from a predictable bad thing with little effect. At least this time he’d have good news to tell her about marrying Sandra. He was sure she’d disapprove of some detail, probably that she had not taken his name, or keeping both houses. She disapproved of his massive house for one person before. She was proud of the fact she was content with four hundred cubic meters, and didn’t see why one person needed any more. The fact she had no ground or air car, no need to entertain large groups, no hobbies that required room, and the retirement village served all her meals didn’t matter. Her unit did have the luxury of a snack kitchen where she could prepare pop corn or even sandwiches if she didn’t want them delivered from the community kitchen. She had an exaggerated idea of the independence this gave her.

He was relaxed in his hotel, soft music playing when she called. The picture that came up was just flat not a holo. He wondered if her phone died if she could even buy another 2D now. The people at her retirement village were such fossils some probably used audio only.

“Where are you Teddy?” He could see her examining his background, looking for clues. She still had glasses, not trusting any surgeon to ‘mess with her eyes’, and refusing the modern deep rejuv that would alter basic genetic defects instead of just rewinding the clock. Ted wondered if they still made butterfly glasses with rhinestones or if those were the same pair she’d had forever.

“What does it matter Momma? My number connects you to me wherever I am. I’m in Singapore tonight. In a hotel room that could be in New York or Berlin. They’re all the same.”

“Traveling is not good for you. You never eat properly traveling. I hope you have some prunes or something to keep your bowels moving.”

“Believe me Momma, if the hotel didn’t serve safe nutritious food they’d be out of business in a week. It isn’t like the old days when you were growing up. You can’t hide anything like that today. I check to see if there are any complaints on the net before I even make a reservation. And they have a beautiful gym. I swam laps this morning before I had breakfast and went out for business.”

“I called on your birthday last week but I couldn’t get through.”

“Did you leave a message for me?” Ted gently prodded.

“You know I don’t talk to a machine. I’m your mother not a phone salesman. You should take an extra message on special days.”

“Yes Momma, taking a deep breath and staying calm, but I remember when Harold let you call special days too. You called everything on the calendar. The high holidays and the new year, the legal holidays and the commercial ones like grandparent’s day. My God Momma, we’re Jewish and you called on St Patrick’s day, Valentine’s day and Christmas!”

“It don’t hurt to fit in,” she protested. “That’s why I named you boys like I did. There are too many won’t give you the time of day if your name sounds Jewish. I was being practical.”

Ted wanted to tell her that was out of date too. Here in North America it almost was, but last week in the Caliphate it would have been worth his life to wander around the back streets marked as a Jew.

“Momma I have some good news that will make you happy,” he said, ignoring the previous argument.  “Sandra asked me some time ago to marry her and after some thought I brought the idea up again last week and she accepted.”

Ted could hear the deep sigh clearly. “Is she a nice Jewish girl Teddy?”

“Well, I don’t know Mamma. We never talked about religion. I’m not sure if she has any strong religious opinions at all. What does it matter Momma? I haven’t seen the inside of a synagogue for a couple hundred years myself.”

“It matters to me. And I wonder what sort of a wedding you will have. Do you think I want to go in some church and see you married with a big cross hanging behind a preacher?”

“Momma, we’re already married. She affirmed my contract and registered it with the court before we were even done with dinner. We never considered having a big formal ceremony and inviting people.”

“That’s not married,” her face went into that mask he knew too well meant she didn’t approve. “That’s a business merger.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I thought you’d be happy for me.” Ted decided now was not the time to tell her it was a one year renewable contract.

“Is she from a good family? Are they people of substance or did she marry you for your money?” she asked suspiciously.

“The financial part of our agreement says we keep our financial affairs separate. That’s what most couples do now Mamma. I have no idea how much she makes, but she has made partner in a very well regarded law firm. Most firms pay their partners well and add a bonus of fifty or sixty million a year for even the newest partners.” Ted knew that would sound like a lot of money to his mother. “She has a beautiful home in Toronto nicer than mine, and a small flat on the moon. We are keeping both houses. I don’t know much about her parents except they are younger than you. She is only in her second century and they were only in their fifties when they had her. They retired early too. They live in Armstrong.”

“That’s the moon, isn’t it?”

“Yes Momma. The sector that lives under American law.”

“But she’s Canadian?”

“I…I don’t know Momma. I’m not sure where she was born. She might have multiple citizenship or declared herself extraterritorial. A lot of lawyers do that so they can’t be accused of bias. It doesn’t matter much unless you are living off  negative income tax.”  That was a sensitive subject because his mother’s savings had not kept up with inflation, and she was more and more dependent on the distribution.

“Whatever,” Momma said in slang mode that was almost four centuries out of date. Every year her usage got further from the main stream so he was almost translating their conversation to understand it. “So when can I meet your new wife?”

Ted kicked himself for not anticipating this. He imagined she’d want to screen her, but not ask for a physical visit. Maybe he could manage her away from the idea…

“She’s working Momma. I don’t even know where because her current assignment is a secret. She should be done in just a few days and when we are together again I’d have her screen…er, call you.” That would cost him an extra call, which she’d try to keep asking for once he yielded a bit, but better than a trip.

“A call is not like seeing someone face to face. Are you ashamed to have her see your mother? Are you afraid I’ll be old fashioned and embarrass you?”

Yes, he thought, but didn’t dare voice it. The way med-tech was going they could both be around another four hundred years, and if he had kids she could get a court order for visitation more generous than anything he wanted to grant. He had no desire to emigrate to the outer system to avoid her. He liked living on a planet with skies and real gravity.

“You know traveling doesn’t agree with you,” he reminded her. “If you’d only let me get you a decent holophone. You can’t tell the image from the real thing.”

“You can’t hug a holo. Besides, I want to see how this girl lives and what sort of person she is to take care of my son.”

He bit off telling her he could take care of himself just fine and he didn’t marry her to take care of him. It would have been wasted. It had been sixty years since he’d taken her outside her retirement village. The last time he’d taken her on public transportation and she’d asked out loud  in her booming voice, “What the hell kind of freak is that?” when she saw a gene altered gentleman. She had to have seen them on TV, but maybe she thought they were special effects not real. The judge although noting such behavior was the norm when she was a youngster, and that she choose to be isolated in her period retirement home, had fined her fifty thousand dollars and told her not to come out in public if she didn’t learn what was acceptable behavior. Ted was sure it didn’t mean anything to her because she never stood before the judge in a physical courtroom. The hearing was done on com and the money never left her hand – it was just numbers that changed in an account she never looked at anyway.

“Maybe I should bring Sandra there. Remember how much trouble it was last time you traveled?”

“I want to see how this Sandra of yours keeps her house and what her taste is. I have to buy you a wedding present yet. It’s just across the lake to Toronto. Why don’t you bring a car? You’re always telling me you make plenty enough money. Surely you can afford to hire a car. Martha my neighbor I play cribbage with hires a car and driver every Christmas to go visit.”

“I’ll do that, Momma,” he relented, seeing no way out, and dreading a present that would need stored and hauled out for displayed if she came to visit again. “When Sandra gets back and we are both going to be at her place I’ll give you a call.” That satisfied her and he was able to wind it down and terminate. His usual post-Momma headache pounding, he got some analgesics out of his case and washed them down with mini-bar vodka. They hit like a ton of bricks when washed down with the booze. A car was a better idea, an extravagance he hardly ever bothered with for himself, but much cheaper than a fine for insulting strangers if she blurted out some inane observation again. Much cheaper if the judge saw the record and noted her previous conviction. He did maintain a license for air and ground. No need to take a chance she’d insult a driver.

The rest of the week went slow. The impending visit hanging over him like a sentencing hearing. He wrapped up his work sooner than he expected. He didn’t realize the cloud hanging over his head was so visible. One of his sources he expected to bribe had spilled his guts for free and seemed anxious to be clear of him. The man thought he was the object of the smoldering resentment on Ted’s face. The normal TeddieBeah looked like an angry Bruin this week. He got twice as much work done radiating anger like some sort of beacon. When he was able to retreat to the comfort of his own condo in Atlanta he signed himself off as unavailable for assignment. He did that so rarely that there was no objection.

A long run on the track and a comfort food breakfast at the community dinning hall of grits and real eggs helped soften his mood. He walked home to his workshop and put on some calming music. He’d displayed his workshop at the Pittsburgh convention in the spring. And taken the second prize losing out to a fellow who had a 2010 garage. The fellow had deserved the blue ribbon easily. There were no hard feeling over it. He wasn’t that competitive. The first prize diorama had not only a real 2006 Jeep but all the working tools and instrumentation to maintain it. The fellow even had some exotic tools like an arc welder that took special license and certification to own just as side items in his display. There were numerous extra details such as period containers of auto body products like polish and wax. As a fellow exhibiter he’d been invited behind the rope and even sat in the Jeep talking to the owner. The fellow had a video of him driving the manual control vehicle on a private ranch road out west. He’d joined half a dozen other auto owners there for a vacation and traded rides. They had all managed to pilot the behemoths around with no radar or computer controls and not bump into one another. That was amazing when you read how many thousands of wrecks had happened every single year back when auto controls were not mandatory. It made him wonder why they had been called automobiles back then when they really were not automatic at all.

His own display was a woodshop of the same period. He had class A through C power tool operator licenses for drill press, router and power saw. His Dewalt saw was an original antique with a cast iron table and a old 115 volt motor he had to run off a step down transformer. Because the man held the same certificates he’d allowed the Jeep exhibitor to cut a block of walnut with his help, and route his name on the face. The fellow had been really tickled. It took a full two days to ship everything back from Pittsburgh and set it back up at home again. Unwrapping each tool and hanging it on the peg board just so. He’d started a project of boxes before going to Singapore. He’d had the wood on order for over a year. Real Oak not simulated. They were glued up with mitered corners and he’d flock the inside when they were done. The lid was topped with a bought wood knob. That was his next acquisition – a lath for turning that sort of thing. A couple hours cutting and assembling and his frayed nerves were much better. He wished he had been born of an era one could do this sort of work for a living. He knew a CNC machine center and robotic handler could do in seconds what had taken him hours. But there was a satisfaction you couldn’t get by rendering it on a screen and having it returned completed to your hand with no effort.

Between the comfort of his own home, and soothing time at his hobby, by the time Sandra was back home he could join her and was able to calmly ask her to meet his mother. She didn’t seem put off despite his warnings that his mother was a caricature of herself, a twenty first century New York Jewish Mother in full plumage. He carefully warned her what subjects were sensitive and needed care or avoidance. In their home she rarely wore more than a sports bra and baggy shorts. Sometimes nothing at all. His warning to be modest was laughed at and she finally chased him away saying she had to get ready and he should calm down and go pick her up.

The guard at the retirement village checked his ID with more care than he’d received at classified government installations. He was directed away from the residence wings to the recreation and enrichment hall. He rolled over with the electric taxi motor in his nose wheel. It was too close to bother to lift and the elaborate landscaping looked like his fans would damage it.

As he parked he figured out the gardeners were not professionals but residents doing the flowers beds and sculpting the hedges as a hobby. He had to admit the results were impressive. Every bit as much a labor of love as his woodworking.

Walking through the doors was always strange. The furniture, the lighting fixtures, everything was dated like walking on a period movie set. Even most of the residents had on older fashions. He wondered who made them. Surely the originals were long worn out. It almost felt like the color should drain away from the scene and leave it sepia like an old faded photo.

His mother was sitting dressed for her outing and enthroned in a lounge chair like a queen for a day. She had on a suit with a straight skirt and a handbag that belonged in the Smithsonian. Her shoes were utterly impractical. He was glad they weren’t marching around an air terminal. Not to mention such shoes were considered kinky sex toys now. A fact that would horrify her. She even had a funny little hat pinned on her hair. Thankfully she was not quite old enough to consider a pair of gloves necessary for a public outing. Ted wasn’t sure by how many decades she had missed that custom. He could remember seeing them in flat movies that were not too far behind her era. A hard sided suitcase at her feet announced that she considered Toronto an overnight trip. He wasn’t about to correct that with the circle of cronies in pants suits and blue jeans inspecting him to see if he was worthy to remove their queen.

“Momma, you look lovely. Ladies,” he acknowledged, and bowed gallantly to the hostile audience. He snatched up the suitcase before she could force him to engage in chit-chat with her minions. “We’d best go,” he suggested adding a little white lie. “There’s rain coming soon and I’d rather have clear skies to cross the lake.”

“Oh you’re taking an air car,” one of her purple pant suited retainers said with obvious distain. “I always get queasy in those things.”

“It’s a five hour drive to go around through Buffalo,” he explained. “On auto it’s rarely more than twenty minutes straight across.”

“Don’t worry,” his mother patted her companions knee. “Teddy’s father always flew us about back when it was all manual. He was a as heavy handed and clumsy as a flier as he was with everything else,” she said , winking. “and I survived that too.” They all exchanged smirks and seemed to share a private joke in which Ted was left out. He was happy his mother stood up and they could flee the circle of harpies.

They taxied out of the security gate, Ted being more certain now that blowing the flowers  lodged flat wouldn’t go over very well. He turned into the slow lane, turned it on automatic and control granted them an immediate rolling lift. It was a glorious pretty day and the windows darkened on the sunny side as they lifted into sunlight. Downtown Cleveland was a bit to the west on their left and they could see the Canadian side before they had cleared the near shore. There must be a lot of traffic today for them to be slotted so high. This was Sandra’s flyer. His was in Atlanta. He only used his locally and always went commercial between their homes. He thought his mother would comment on it, the mauve interior with plush fabrics obviously not his taste. But she seemed oblivious. The noise increased subtly as the car switched from lift to forward acceleration. In just a couple minutes the pattern of waves in the water below was falling visibly astern. There was a slight vibration to the slipstream that said they were pushing the Mach, then the nose dipped almost imperceptivity and the noise faded back so conversation was easier.

“Sandra’s condo is in a rather large community just like mine,” he tried chatting up his mother. “They average about three thousand occupied units. Quite a few families. Some people like it so well they stay and just buy out a different floor plan when their needs change. That way they keep the same kitchen and services package. My place in Atlanta has private garages, but hers has a community parking deck. That’s not much of a burden because her car here,” he patted the dash, “is smart enough to go park itself.”

“Does she know any of her neighbors then?” her mother seemed actually interested.

“Oh yes, She had a little party back before we were married and there were two neighbors there. One an artist lady who works in physical media, and an older gentleman who is retired now, but used to work in banking. I gather quite a few meet each other for tennis and chat in the exercise rooms and pool.

“Is that it?” Momma asked. A sprawled clump of buildings loomed close in front of them. They were on a long shallow dive aimed well below the horizon straight at the complex.

“Sure is. We should be down in five minutes.” He let the car stay on auto but laid his hands loosely on the yoke – just in case. A stab with his right thumb would override and put them on manual. Then he’d better have a very good reason to explain why he did so to control.

Sandy’s car was a luxury model and wasted a few grams of fuel making a gentle transition to hover and touched down so lightly they couldn’t feel it. They knew they were landed when the turbines spooled down to silence. As they walked away the car taxied away to park itself silently.

The landscaping was not nearly as impressive as his mother’s building. Security however was just as tight. Momma seemed a bit put off, but didn’t complain when she had to press her hand flat on a glass panel for the guard. She did wipe it first with a frilly hankie. The guard watched from a holo screen, unsurprised. The people in this complex went in an out a great deal more than a retirement community, and he had to cover several entries. There would have been much more of a delay if Ted hadn’t cleared all his momma’s information ahead of time with security.

Ted hoped the inside would impress her. Her retirement home was old fashioned. It had hallways like a hotel. The sort of building the current generation would dismiss as a rat warren. Here the residences opened on a common courtyard in groups of eight. It was a domed area like a little park, with a short passage at two corners to other courtyards. Even that was wide not a hallway, with benches and art to break it up. They only had to walk to the far side of the first courtyard to reach Sandy’s door.

“Hello, we’re home,” he called for his mom’s benefit when they stepped in. He’d dropped a message on Sandy’s implant when they landed, but he knew from experience his mother would find it spooky if they communicated silently. Something smelled good, stronger than he was used to. He was nonplussed when Sandra came out of her hobby room wearing a costume she used for exhibitions, but she took over hugging his mother and chatting away so she never noticed his confusion.

“That’s your show getup.” Ted IM’d her so she’d read it off her heads-up privately.

“Ted take your mother’s things down to the blue bedroom,” she instructed ignoring his message. “I have just a couple things to wrap up in here and we can have a bite. Would you like to step in my kitchen for a moment Mother Weis?”

“Oh, Just call me Sara,” his mom said in a buttery voice he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Don’t be juggling my elbow,” Sandra instructed him by implant as he walked the suitcase down to his mother’s room. “I can’t trade IM’s or audio and not show it to where she will figure out we’re talking around her. I’ll give you audio but just listen,” she warned him.

“My goodness, I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seen a young woman in a shirtwaist dress,” his mother gushed.

“Do you like it? There is a lady in the building who can make clothing from your measurements for almost any period. Here, sit at the table and I’ll finish up and take this in the dining room.”

“Why don’t you just serve us here dear? I’m sure there is plenty of room and it seems so much more intimate.”

“If you’d like. Here, I have a pad and table cloth for this table. I’m ever so careful of the enameled top.”

Ted came back to find the Sears table which he knew to be insured for seven hundred thousand dollars actually set for dinner with antique Corelle and almost priceless real glass tumblers. The smell he’d noticed coming in was now identified by a loaf of bread cooling on the sideboard. He wondered briefly if Sandy faked that, putting an unsliced loaf in a warm oven, but the bread fit too tightly in the antique loaf pan. She’d actually baked bread in her oven.

They were going to sit and eat with her best collection pieces. He was scared to death. One mistake could ruin a piece that might be insured, but that didn’t mean a replacement piece could be found. It might take years for one to come up at an auction.

“Sit down Ted. You look like you need a drink. Would you like a little wine?”

Ted pictured himself holding a glass of red wine over her antique Irish Linen tablecloth. It would be like holding a grenade with the pin pulled. “No, please, just a glass of water would be fine.” He sat on one of the chairs carefully. He’d never sat on one before. His mother and Sandy babbled on about roast beef and new potatoes and he eased the chair up to the table careful not to stress it. They hardly knew he was there.

The beef was tender as could be. That was fortunate, because he was afraid to really cut hard with his knife. He knew it was silly but he could see the precious plate splitting in two under his cut. Everything he did was awkward – calculated – and when Sandra insisted she would serve dessert in the TV room he was relieved even though he had never heard they had a TV room. He’d gladly follow anywhere they wanted to go to get away from the terror of damaging something.

The TV room turned out to be Sandra’s office. It did have the biggest wall screen in the house. To his relief they didn’t screen anything though. Sandy had the screen on an environmental channel with great herds of African beasts on a dusty plain. He knew his mother was disgusted with most modern  entertainment, but she was content talking away with Sandy. She seemed genuinely interested in her work. Sandy was relating a case she had tried on Luna and if the legal details were beyond his mother she approved that way Sandy had made sure the scum who had committed fraud was brought to sure justice. Finally his mother started yawning, and Sandy insisted on showing her to her room.

“I’ve had such a good time,” his mother said getting up. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a good visit with Teddy.” Ted just smiled. He hadn’t said a thing for hours.

“You just speak my name out loud if you need anything,” Sandy told her giving her a hug. The house AI will call me if you need me. I have to be up and away early, but I’ll have the community kitchen lay out a nice breakfast for Ted and you in the morning.”

“Oh, that too bad. But I’m glad we had this evening.” If he’d done that to her his mom would have given him hell for ducking out on her. He was amazed. Sandy had her wrapped around her finger. He just sat still, scared he’d do something to spoil it as they walked down the hall. Momma didn’t even say good night, busy chatting away with Sandy.

* * *

            “You are amazing,” Ted told her when she returned to their room. “I’ve never seen anyone tame the savage beast like you. I’m so relieved that is over and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

“Oh she’s nothing. She’s a sweetheart. I’ve had experience with much worse.”

“I’ve met your mother,” Ted objected. “Both your parents are very modern people. I can’t imagine them giving you are hard time like my mother, or being an embarrassment in public.”

“No, not my mother, my nonna, my granny.”

“You’ve never mentioned her. What’s she like?”

“She was born in 1930. It was the Great Depression worldwide. There was no work and no money so her family had to go back to the Italian mountain village where they had roots to survive on the family farm.”

“That’s even before my mother’s generation.”

Sandy nodded agreement. “Then when she was almost thirteen the Fascists took all the men away from their village as unreliable.”


“World War II – what they call the First Atomic War now. So she got involved with the resistance, the partisans. She’d quite proud she learned to handle a rifle as well as a man and shot or blew up a few Nazis herself.”

“That’s – remarkable.” Ted had never held a real firearm.

“So after the war the family came to America. She did too many jobs to even start to tell and ended up in a nursing home in 2027 when she was ninety-seven years old. She was frail but sharp mentally. Of course I wasn’t born yet. My parents hadn’t had their first rejuv even. I have pictures of her in the nursing home. She was the stereotypical Old World grandma in all black with the button up kidskin shoes and a head scarf. In 2032 she had her first rejuv. It took really well, and her next one was even better. To look at her today she looks about like a natural sixty. A very robust sixty. And she dropped the period clothing so you’d never notice her in a crowd. She’s likely one of the oldest people alive today, coming up on her fifth century.”

“So she’s a handful? Does she live in a period retirement home like my mother with people her age?”

“Not at all. She lives in a regular community on Sicily and she climbs on the shuttle any time it strikes her fancy and goes to visit my folks in Armstrong. As far as a handful…If I tried to handle her she’d give me her beady eyed look and tell me not to teach granny how to cut hay.”

“So, Italy, she…I mean your family must be Catholic right? Have you told her you married a Jew? Is that a problem?”

“Not at all. When I screened her she said any people the Nazis and Fascists hated so bad couldn’t be all bad.”

“Does she uh…get in trouble out in public like my mother?”

“No, if she makes a point you can bet she can defend it or it can be taken two ways. She has implants and has declared herself extraterritorial. She cave dives for fun and keeps a shuttle certificate current for orbit to orbit and airless landings. She said if you have a backbone and can drink like a man, we’ll have her blessing.”

“Backbone? Oh…” he hadn’t heard that usage in awhile. “Well I better lay in a supply of Sober-Ez  if we ever visit her.”

“That might be a good idea Dear,” Sandy said giving him a peck, and calling the lights out. “She’s coming to meet you this weekend.”

“Dear God,” he whispered to the dark.


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