The Second Bridge, pt.3

This morning, I was preoccupied with thoughts about fusion reactors.  At my lunch, I tried to catch up on where current tech was for their development.

As I was getting ready to leave DayJob, I realized that was stupid and that my characters were talking over drinks in a bar.

Where that went… I’d no idea.  The last half of this short – who’s Tracy? – was just shown to me.

Leslie Hartmann leaned back in his chair, taking his eyes from his friend and co-worker, Jim Stanton. Half-way between where they worked on the reactors in Oak Ridge and the much-reduced, but recovering city of Knoxville, was a hole in the wall tavern by the name of Schrodinger’s. It’d been open since Leslie and his combat team had followed John Carell home after their adventure into central Ohio. An adventure that landed them valuable fission machine parts for Carell and…

And a wife, for me.

“Your non-answer is your answer?” Stanton asked.

“I don’t distrust them, Jim,” Leslie worked on his reply. They were, after all, an integral part of his family. “But we, I, honestly, don’t and can’t know anything about them.”

“You think Chinon came up with all this on his own?” He watched Stanton take a drink of his whiskey.

“Of course not; he’s smart, but no one could carry in their head all the things we’ve been building.” He turned his highball glass in a small circle. After what Callie ghosted into his ear that morning, he did not want to go home drunk.

“Is it so bad, Jim? To build a fusion reactor? Rumor is the one in China works.”

His friend brought his drink down hard enough to make a small splash.

“China! An entire huge country builds one! So why us?” Stanton half stood and waved about. “Why our little city-state?!”

He sat back down.

“Ever since what that S.O.B. Pavel did to my sister’s girl…”

Leslie heard the dark muttering.

Jim’s niece had been one infected by the ethereal parasite. They’d all been removed just about ten years ago, now, but little Tracy had been one to not fully come back to herself. What few older doctors were left in Knoxville said either ‘autistic’ or ‘idiot-savant.’

Five years ago, Leslie, through his son and his son’s Intended, demanded an answer.

“Please give us time.” Was their answer.

He’d been furious. His rant, about the Machines poisoning the mind of little girl, had been coolly watched by his son. When he’d finally wound down, he’d snapped at his son.

You taking their – her – side?!

No, father. But I shall visit Tracy twice each week. If she knows she has a friend who will pray with her, she’ll be okay… I think.

I’d fled the house after that. Now he took a drink of his whiskey. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so stupid in my life.

Leslie knew he could twist their conversation to the reactor’s tech, but that’s not why Jim had asked him to stop.

“Their Laws generally keep both of us – human and machine – safe.” He finished his drink. “It’s the outliers that are a danger.”

“Tracy is NOT SOME DAMN OUTLIER…!” Stanton began to shout, standing again.

“Should my son not visit her?” Leslie asked under the yell.

His friend collapsed into his chair.

“No… no.” Leslie watched him rub his face with his hands. “Sorry, Les. Sometimes I just don’t know where the world’s going!”

He stood. Leslie did as well.

“Let’s get home to our families! I’ll settle things here!”

“Thanks, Jim. See you!”

He’d made it to the door when Stanton called out.

“Les? Tell your boy: thank you.”

“I will, Jim. ‘Night.”

 

Around 2300, panting, his wife, Callie lay next to him.

“That was certainly longer than usual!” She murmured while running her hand over his chest. “Not that I minded!”

She put her head onto his shoulder. Leslie pulled her closer.

“Just getting older and thinking about our kids.”

He felt her stiffen at that.

“You… know?”

Huh?

“Know what?” He felt her relax.

“Oh. I thought maybe one of our other family told you.” She whispered.

“Told me what?” He felt his eyelid dropping.

He heard his wife say something but he was already asleep.

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