This is going to be based on an idea I had almost three weeks ago. You don’t have to go back and read it – in fact, I’d rather you didn’t, as a better, edited, version is in a blockquote below the fold.
Henge (“hen-geh”) first made an appearance toward the end of The Fourth Law. I was playing with the idea of how AIs could make children; not just copies of themselves, but children, and she showed up. In the last scene of my second novel, Echoes of Family Lost, Henge meets Gary when everyone is taking some well deserved R&R on her beach. They make some connexion I still don’t understand and announce to both Families, human and machine, that they’re getting married.
The trick for me is to not get sidetracked on what’s happened politically and/or socially in the intervening ten years. I’m going to have to say something, obviously, but I’ll try to confine myself to culture. What I want to accomplish here is a love story between two very different people, who are united by their deep orthodox Catholic faith.
They walked along the beach holding hands as they always did. It was typically warm: he’d a plain white tee shirt besides his navy swim trunks and she a translucent white wrap over her school-issue dark blue one-piece. There were clouds, but, of course, no sun. Just the brightness.
Nothing ever changes here, he thought, just us.
He’d the small celebration with his parents and his sister for his thirteenth birthday only a little time ago. Faustina had been calling for more cake when he looked up sharply to his mother and father. They were getting used to when his girlfriend called.
“Mother? Father? May I…?”
He saw his father, Leslie Hartmann, toss his hands into the air.
“Whatever!” He said, deferring to his wife, Callie, who’s sister had been their gateway to the others’ world.
“We know time passes differently there,” his mother said, “but I want you back here by ten, and in your own bed for sleep!”
She paused a moment. He saw her eyes flick to her husband of these many years. A tiny smile.
“You… you’re a teenage boy, now, Gary! You’ve your honor, the family’s, and your Intended’s to uphold!” His mother took a breath. “Be good!”
“Of course, mother,” he replied. He understood that she was talking about several different things at once.
“However,” he continued, “after ten years, Henge and I – ”
“Shall not be married until you are seventeen!” His father said, suddenly speaking up.
Father was not Catholic as Mother was, who had rediscovered her faith after being found by her sister, but he had some very particular notions of honor, Gary knew.
“So,” his father continued, pouring himself another homebrew from their aluminum keg, “do be… discrete, pretending your mother didn’t just hear that!”
Who was putting their dishes into the sink with a series of clanks and rattles. And a smile.
“Big Brother’s off to see his girlfriend, Cousin Henge?!?” Gary’s eight year old sister asked around the cake in her mouth.
Just as Gary had, his little sister Faustina inherited her dark-brown-as-to-black hair from their ethnic Min Chinese mother. And their slightly almond eyes. But like Gary, her facial bones were Prussian planes and angles, from their father.
No one quite knew where she’d got her height: she was as tall as her older brother. Nor her striking, turquoise eyes.
Gary saw that Mother continued pretending.
“Well, you know, Faustina, ‘cousin’ is a bit a stretch… given that Henge is…”
“I love Henge! And our whole Other Family!” The young one cried.
For the nth time, her family wondered at how her eyes glowed like that when she was so enthusiastic.
“So…?” Gary asked.
A small wave from his father.
“Tell your Intended we all say ‘hi’…”
“And love her!” Faustina shouted.
Gary’s mother turned from the sink to watch with her husband and daughter as his body eased deeper into his chair; unconscious.
“What a world!” Callie whispered.
Henge abruptly sat at the crest of the strand. Her legs stuck out before her and she rocked her feet back and forth.
Over the last ten years, Gary reflected, she had changed her appearance very little. The same purple hair in two braids; her denim overalls atop her white tee shirt – and no shoes – were her typical attire; different now, of course, as they might go swimming in her sea. Still a few inches shorter than him, she’d gotten a little taller, as he had, keeping her open, friendly eyes over a mouth that never smiled, never frowned.
Gary sat down next to her. It was warm, so rather than putting his right arm about her, he took her hand. Their hips and legs touched. The contact was enough that her True Form, a playful otter, echoed about his subconscious.
“Over so many of your cycles, I am older to say, ‘happy birthday!’” She said.
The corners of his mouth turned up. For him, quite the display.
“Thank you, wife!”
“Your mother and father say we must not call one another that!” Her voice was soft and even, but he heard the emotion behind it.
“My mother and father say lots. But as of today,” he leaned to kiss her cheek, “I’m a rebellious teenager!”
There was a flicker of light and the play of static in their palms.
Henge was different.
No more a slightly tom-boyish seeming 12-year old, Gary could not see a straight line on her anywhere. Her chest was fuller and her hips rounder. Her light purple hair still had two small twintails, but the mass of the rest was six inches or so past her shoulders. Her schoolgirl one-piece swimsuit now a white bikini. Modest, but still a bikini.
“Better?” She asked, her voice a tiny fraction lower.
He felt her start to move but he was on his back and she atop him faster than he could see. Typical: in their home human and machine reflexes were different. Her hands were just at the base of his ribs. Her eyes – an odd blend of tan and red – never left his.
“I have a present for you, Intended.”
“Nothing, I hope, that will anger my parents?” They had been totally honest with one another since they met.
She let her hands slide off him into the white sand as she lowered herself. Their lips touched. She shifted slightly. They touched again.
Henge sat back up. Her left hand returned to just below his chest. The index finger of her right traced along her lips. Still looking at him.
“I… liked that…” Her voice trailed off.
Did he really hear that whisper? Or, was it just the surf?
Henge stood, holding her hand out. Gary let her pull him up. Oh!
They were now the same height.
She pointed back to where they’d come from.
“Let’s eat a little and pray together, before you go to your home.”