Sons and Mothers
by Sergio Hartshorne
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
“Now I go home.”
They followed him to the dihedron. “Say, man,” Fred said, “what’s the future like, anyway?”
Wrassian looked at the inside door handle and sighed. “It’s the same as now, just that new people sit in the White House, and new and ‘better’ laws get passed. By the way: do you have a screwdriver?”
Mel cleared his throat and scratched his head. “I have a crowbar I found under the bridge.”
“That’ll do. Better even.”
Mel opened up his jacket and pulled out the tool. Wrassian took it from him and shoved the pointy end into an electrical socket to the right of the handle. There was a loud whining noise and then a shower of sparks, but nothing seemed to have changed. Wrassian nodded though, a cautious smile on his face.
“Um...” Fred started. Stopped.
Mel clapped Fred on the shoulder and stepped forward, his hand held out. “Take care now.”
Wrassian clasped hands with him and shook. The old man’s hands were rough and dry, like warm sandpaper. “Thanks,” Wrassian said. “For everything.”
He got into the dihedron and shut the door. The CPU had a message waiting for him. OUTER DOOR INCOMPLETELY SEALED. OXYGENATED FLUID NOT FOUND. OVERRIDE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS? The screen next showed Y/N. Wrassian touched Y. There was a powerful lurch, a flash of blue light, and then things started to go wrong.
* * *
The cold had been like a knife, stabbing into his bones. He struggled to move. The door seemed miles away and moving away from him, a point of light at the end of a dark tunnel. Somehow, he made it to the door before he passed out, punched the crowbar, and the door slowly fell off. There was a loud bang.
The air outside the dihedron felt so hot it was like the inside of a furnace. Strangely, there were lights flashing. Red. White. White again, all in rapid succession so that the effect made his head swim. He bent over. Vomited. Sucked in air. Vomited again. Again. Nothing came out after the last time.
He saw people rushing all around. He thought he saw Renata and Doug among them, but he couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t feel his extremities. He began to fall to his knees, but was caught by four strong arms, holding him up from either side.
There were two burly men in camo and ceramic vests, each one with a high-caliber handgun in a holster with a leather button clasp. The one on his right shouted into his ear: “Do you speak English?! Do you have any I.D.?!”
Then Renata had been there. Definitely and without a doubt. “Leave him alone, Slade! He’s my brother!”
The two men relaxed their grip, but still kept him off the ground. The one Renata had called Slade gently eased him into Renata’s care. She draped one of Wrassian’s arms over her shoulder and slowly lowered him to the ground. “He’s got frostburn on his hands. Probably his feet, too. We need to take him to Orion 1, ASAP.”
Slade’s companion got on his shoulder radio. “Squad 8 to pick up, O-ri 1 bound, yesterday,” he said.
There was a crackle of static, then a loud beep as someone on the other end began to respond.
“Owl Two here. Authorization confirmed. We’ll be there in five. The Canadians are still jamming our radar up north. Orion 1 is in the area and will wait for you before she pulls out. Strategic withdrawal is scheduled for T-minus 59.”
“What’s Orion 1?” Wrassian gasped.
Renata looked at him quizzically. “What’re you trying to say?” she said, then shushed him and told him to save his strength.
The soldiers were joined by fifteen others and they began making their way out of the building. The two in front were a fit-looking young woman with red hair and a wiry man with pale skin. They peered down the sights of their rifles and advanced at a quick pace that nonetheless left them time to scan every location where someone hostile could be hiding. They reached the open air.
Chaos reigned. Everywhere there was movement. More soldiers piled small plastic crates into bigger ones, snapping metal buckles closed as the big crates got full. But that wasn’t what took Wrassian’s breath away. Stretching away from about twenty feet away and looming for three football fields of massiveness was what looked like a strange hybrid of a tank and an airplane. It had treads going along the sides, but it also had enormous things that looked like anti-gravity engines as Wrassian once imagined they would look like in a paper of his that he’d never gotten a chance to publish. They were sleek rectangles that looked like they had organically sprouted out of the corners of the vehicle. There were four Gatling guns, two at the front and two at the rear. A large missile launcher bulked out of the space in the middle of the craft.
There was a wait of about hour, while the soldiers spoke to a harried-looking woman who came out of the vehicle, then the soldiers put Wrassian on a stretcher and carried him aboard.
Suddenly he understood why they were going through all the trouble to get one slightly eccentric civilian scientist out of a red-hot war zone. He felt a rush of rage. This was the best they could do with his blood sweat and tears? Go to war with a foreign power, maybe Canada? Build a magnificent, but no doubt cripplingly expensive flying fortress?
He must have been muttering some of this out loud because Slade said: “She’s not just a fortress. She’s got a full med-suite and a mini-factory on board. Yup, she can make tanks, jets, Apache 2’s, even amphibious assault vehicles. Lemme tell you, those babies have saved my West Texas ass more times than I can count!” Slade saw the look on Wrassian’s face. “Sorry.”
Wrassian’s last memory before drifting off to an uneasy sleep was of Slade taking a pack of Razzleberry gum out of one of his uniform’s many pockets, unwrapping, and then popping three sticks into his cheek and starting to chew happily.
* * *
Wrassian woke up in a hospital bed an indeterminate amount of time later. There was a loosely folded newspaper draped over the foot of his bed. He tried to lean forward to grab it but something stopped him. It was a plaster-polymer cast covering his ribs and chest. It had a little give, but not enough to let him perform the simple task of scratching his toes, if he’d wanted to.
He looked around, found the call button taped to his wrist, and pressed it once. This triggered a cacophonous klaxon. Immediately a nurse charged in, out of breath, followed by Renata and Doug.
The nurse seemed surprised to find Wrassian alive and well.
Renata tapped her on the shoulder. “It’s my fault,” she said. “I hacked the push-button alarm mechanism so that it would trigger the imminent patient crisis warning siren. I wanted to be there when he came to. I hope you don’t mind?” She added this last part in a voice dripping with honey.
The nurse brushed off Renata, checking in sequence a bank of indicators and vital signs monitors. After she finished, she shouldered past Renata without a word.
Renata handed the newspaper to Wrassian, who read the front page’s biggest headline: “War With Canada Ends in Armistice. Crowds Rejoice In Times Square.” The date was August 20, 2082.
“That was three weeks ago,” Doug said softly, eyes haunted. “My unit mustered out three days later.”
“Three weeks?!” Wrassian said.
“Yup. We almost lost you, but the doc says you’re stable now.”
“How come I can’t move?”
Renata kissed him on the cheek. “You had frostbite over 40 percent of your body. The bandages on your ribs and chest are there to keep you from tearing the skin grafts. It was grown from your own stem cells, you know. The war changed things a lot. It started a month after you left.
“Congress finally gave the O.K. for the use of stems harvested from aborted fetuses and adult donors. People on the far right insisted that people would start aborting babies right left and center just to sell the stem cells online. The Supreme Court weighed in and pronounced that bull, which everybody else already knew, but with the proviso that anyone who actually sold their own baby fetus’s stems would spend life in jail. Hence the Government’s DNA Tracking Database, which actually works pretty well, and we still have orderly elections, change of government, etc.
“Oh, and the feds took your research. The President was on TV. He said he felt terrible about it, but his agenda was necessary for national security reasons. But my lawyer said now that you’re back, they have to return your notes and data. In copies of course.”
“Ah, bull!” Wrassian said. “I’m just glad to be home.”
Doug clapped Wrassian on the shoulder gently. He squeezed, again gently. His forehead creased in earnestness, and he whispered: “You didn’t happen to bring back any of those brownies, did you?”
Copyright © 2018 by Sergio Hartshorne