Marla just didn’t understand. Bernie couldn’t give up his collection. He tried to explain it to her, but it was futile, he knew it.
“They’re not just collectables, Marla. Theyâ€™re history. I would think you would understand that. You buy for a museum, you should be able to recognize history.”
“These are garbage, outdated weaponry. And this, this isn’t even loaded.” Marla picked up a heavy, oversize pistol from its display rack. Steel through and through, not the light plastic models currently in service. “Is this suppose to be some sort of home defense?”
“That is a .44 millimeter Desert Eagle! You canâ€™t find that anymore!”
“Whatever.” She set the gun back down in disgust. “They aren’t history, they’re toys. You’re nearly thirty, Bernie. You shouldn’t be spending so much money on toys.”
“Why not? We can afford it!” They could. Bernie’s job as a sysadmin kept him up at odd hours, but it kept his collectionâ€”and his waistlineâ€”healthy.
“That’s not the point–”
“What other point could you have? I am decorating—”
“Decorating! Fine then! Why don’t you just put all our money into broken firearms, then?!?”
“Maybe I should! Better that than every shoe store in town!”
“Those pumps were a business expense!”
Bernie cell phone went off, just when he was about to say something particularly nasty. Work, calling him again, despite the late hour. Bernie told Marla he had to go, and she waved him off with a glare that told him that this wasn’t over.
That night, Marla found herself jerked awake by the sound of fighting in the living room. Suddenly, she heard a loud thud, and the fighting stopped. “Oh no,” she thought. “Bernie!” Gripping the Hiro Taninchi-autographed baseball-bat Bernie kept in the bedroom, she inched toward the door. The sight in the living room made her gasp loudly.
There was Bernie, holding the Desert Eagle in one pudgy hand and the dark shirt of another man in the other. The other man’s head rolled back, a bleeding cut on his forehead.
“Caught him trying to make off with our stuff. Bernie said. â€œProbably the same guy who ripped off the Whipplesteins down the street. Idiot should’ve known better than to come between me and my collection!”
Bernie proudly held up the gun for Marla to see. There was blood on its gargantuan barrel. â€œHome defense,â€ he said.
â€œI see youâ€™ve done some pruning,â€ Margaretâ€™s therapist said. â€œI like what youâ€™ve done with the branches around your sternum.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Margaret choked out. It had been a trial learning how to talk with roots entwined around her larnyx, but she had muddled through. â€œI thinkâ€¦I think I made a majorâ€¦breakthrough. Other day. On the lawn.â€
â€œYes? Say more about that.â€
Margaret grimaced, forming words that sounded rough and hard. She toyed with the braches that jutted out from her left elbow as she spoke. â€œOn the lawn. I wasâ€¦in the sun. At peace. Feeling the grassâ€¦at the sun. It feltâ€¦wonderful.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good thing, Margaret. A very good thing.â€
Margaret smiled at that, leaves tickling her cheeks. â€œWas thinkingâ€¦since had breakâ€¦though, I could getâ€¦a phone call.â€
â€œOr clothes!â€ The vines entwined in Margaretâ€™s hair shuddered slightly. â€œClothes? Iâ€™mâ€¦ready for clothes.â€
Margaretâ€™s therapist closed her book and folded her hands. â€œMargaret. You came here because you wanted to get away from all that. It was making you sick, remember? All the technology, all the information. It was overwhelming. It was making you sick.â€
â€œWhat would you do on the phone, Margaret? You can barely talk.â€ She reached out and stroked the branch around Margaretâ€™s collar bone. â€œI think youâ€™ve done some lovely work here, but youâ€™ve still got a long way to go. But you have made progress. Iâ€™ll talk to The Leader about giving you more time in the Orchard. You like working in the orchard, donâ€™t you.â€
Margaret had a great deal of trouble choking out a â€œyes,â€ so she settled for a slow, sad nod.
â€œThatâ€™s the spirit, Margaret. Thereâ€™s still so much of the modern world in you. But weâ€™ll cut it out yet.â€
The robot was no bigger than a diner roll, and had a tendency to shift on of its many stiff legs when it was processing. It was on the kitchen table now, and Megan lowered herself so that she was eye-level with it. It’s forward-motion sensor quivered when her face came close. One antenna moved to touch Megan’s curly red hair, but she swatted it aside.
“I could take your battery right out, you know,” she said. “Where would you be then?” Megan let the robot process that before continuing. She glanced at the clock–no time left. “And even if I don’t, I am not getting you that upgrade, not after this, so you might as well forget it. Just show me where you’ve hidden my keys so I can get to work!”
The robot did nothing. Megan stared daggers at its sensory antennae, but it only seemed to react to tick of the clock, and rhythm of her hurried breath.
I have a fine grandson named Lorenzo, and he and his mother and father came down to visit me. He brought his wonderful burnished helmet and beautiful, shiny aeroboard with him when they came. I felt very proud, and I thought at last I would be able to interest him in what I did professionally. We walked over to Daedalus Park, and I dare say he was suitably impressed and sputtered off, keeping clear of the couples on their hover-carpets and the small children in the Zero-G playspace.
As I was watching Lorenzo careen among the floating statuary and flora, a woman who can only be described as pinched approached me and told me I had to rein my grandson in.
Of all the planning Iâ€™ve done for this city, Daedalus Park is the one closest to my heart, having worked with the aeronetic engineers every step of the way, and pushed it through endless committees when everyone said I was mad. Now you see AeroSites all over, but I take no small amount of pride in stating that Daedalus Park was the first. And I do not remember any regulation such as this pinched woman mentioned, so I proceeded to ask her why I needed to bring the poor boy down to earth.
â€œBecause heâ€™s not allowed,â€ she told me, pointing. â€œHeâ€™s not allowed to do that.â€
At this, I threw myself up to my full height, and, as the author of this entire project, loudly and in no uncertain terms, said, â€œBy what right do you have to deny this young man the public air?â€
Some people wilt when confronted with my full not-quite-six feet, especially when backed by my formidable baritone. This woman, however, was far too strengthened by the imaginary authority in her veins, and proceeded to argue with meâ€”with increasing volumeâ€”exactly what could and could not be done in this park. So much so that Lorenzo came down from his whirligigs and whatever other complex maneuvers he does on that board of his, and said he didnâ€™t have to use the park in that fashion.
The woman tilted her head in satisfaction at this, which burned me more than I believe anything in the conversation had yet. I informed both the woman and my wonderful grandson that if he no longer wished to use this public air in the fashion it was designed for, then I would.
Naturally, the moment I set foot on the aeroboard, I fell off. But I did not let that daunt me. I continued my ham-footed attempts until the woman, disgusted at my flagrant mockery of her pseudo-rules, left in a huff.
I am told by his father that Lorenzo enjoys telling this story almost as much as I do. Though I believe he focuses on different aspects.
Carlos didn’t want to appear suspicious, so he stayed in a doorway three houses down from the corner. He tried to distract himself, thinking about the possibilities of using curry sauce in chicken Kiev, but he kept looking at the corner. Carlos wanted this to be over as soon as possible, so he wouldn’t have to worry anymore. Skott had said it was simple. Meet the girl–who Carlos would know as soon as he saw, Skott assured him–make the trade, leave. That’s it.
Skott didn’t mention that Carlos would be thinking about the worst-case scenario over and over again. By the time the girl showed up two minutes late, Carlos had already envisioned himself be arrested, convicted and eyed by a gorrilla of a cell-mate named “Big Beauford.”
Skott was right, Carlos recognized her instantly. “I’m Saki,” the girl said when Carlos approached. “Are you Skott’s friend?” Even in street clothes, Saki looked like she was wearing a lab coat. Poor girl was probably born in one. She was pretty, though, in that little Japanese girl way. Carlos like the way her faded-pink hair brought out her dark eyes from behind her glasses.
“I’m a friend of anyone who’s eaten my coconut and wasabi custard pie. One bite, and you’ll know why.” It was a standard line Carlos used around girls at parties; it was the only thing he could think of. Big Beauford was still weighing very heavily on his mind.
“Heh,” Saki said, without any sort of humor. “You’re funny. You got the chow mein?”
“Hot and fresh,” said Carlos, as he handed over the paper bag stuffed with Chinese carry-out containers. Saki opened one of them, appraising the scavenged processor chips Carlos and Skott had spent all of the afternoon ripping out of junked motherboards. “You’re looking at enough processor power to run a small defense grid, you hook ’em up right. I brought the chow mein, you got the egg-drop soup?”
Saki shifted the bag to her left hip and dug into the right pocket of her jacket, removing a small translucent-plastic pod. “Here. It wasn’t easy to get, but I got it.”
Carlos cracked open the pod. Inside was a blob of silver and black, slowly swirling with the slight shaking of his hands. Thin, straight wires stuck out from the goo, giving the it the appearance of a melted spider. This was the goods. Top of the line. Unhackable. Uncorruptable.
“I don’t know what you think you’re going to with that.” Saki said after Carlos had slipped the pod into his pocket. Her voice was low, a hurried whisper. “You can’t hack it. There’s no code. The programming is part of its structure. I know Skott is all about open sourcing everything, but this tech cannot be brought to the people, okay? It can’t be done. You’d have to be some sort of biologist to take it apart.–”
“Thanks for your help, Saki,” Carlos said, turning away.
“No!.” Saki thrust the word so hard against her clenched teeth that Carlos felt her saliva on the back of his neck. “Tell you what you’re going to do with that! You owe me that much, after what I’ve been through!”
Carlos’s posture softened when she grabbed his arm. Her hands were so small; delicate for a lab monkey. Carlos found himself imagining what else she could do with those hands. “Everything comes apart, Saki. That’s what biology teaches us. It’s how it comes together that makes it work.”
“But how could it possibly–”
“Because biological components aren’t just stacked like blocks, they’re mixed in specific amounts. They’re recipes. And any cook worth his salt will tell you that any recipe can be simplified or improved upon.” Saki looked at him blankly behind her thick glasses. Skott would approve of this, surely. This was bringing enlightenment to the people, wasnâ€™t it? “Here, why don’t you come back to my place. I’ll explain everything with some curry sauce and a handful of dill.”