Awful day. Cable modem has failed. Too hungover to bang wife in the AM. Cooking last turkey of the season and something’s wrong with the propane system. Kill me.
At least there’s this.
A half mile from their house the two kids convinced Fausta to shut off her motorcycle.
“You seek to use me to surprise your parents,” she said while pushing. Her jaw dropped slightly, like a wolf’s, revealing her shark-like teeth.
“Hee hee!” Faustina laughed.
“So you were delivering something to the Oak Ridge Labs,” Gary asked, trying to get their conversation back on track.
“Indeed,” Fausta replied. “With Savannah Colony getting their port reopened it was thought best to come up their river and over the mountain passes, rather than the roundabout way of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers.”
“Were you a courier or security?” Faustina asked.
“Yes.” A typical answer for her. “Ah: your home! It looks just as we’ve seen in your memories!”
What would have panicked most humans was normative for the Hartmann siblings.
They were close enough to use their wifi.
I’ll go ahead and see where they are! His little sister dashed off with her bike.
“She has changed much; and will more,” Fausta said.
“We… Father and I, are trying to show her her limits.”
Dad’s in his shop in the outbuilding! I’m with Mom in the kitchen!
Gary passed this on to Fausta.
“We shall only briefly hold the element of surprise…”
“Father hates surprises.”
“Then let us see your mother first!”
As they walked up the hill to the house and around to the back, Gary had an idea.
“Fausta? Will you bear me on your back, as you did all those years ago, at Huntsville?”
“Of course!” The eagerness in her voice was obvious. She knelt down while Gary clambered onto her. She put her hands back and under his thighs and stood.
“Do you think Grandfather ever forgave me for suggesting you two sleep together?” Gary asked into her right ear.
“Orloff was a complex man, Gary, but yes, I think he did before his end.” She ducked down to enter the house.
His sister had maneuvered their mother so she faced away from the patio door.
“Mother?” Gary called. “This followed us home! May we keep it”
“Just what animal this time have you two,” she began, turning. “Fausta!”
Callie Hartmann ran to hug their unexpected guest. Gary’s leg dangled as Fausta wrapped her right arm around her.
“How is it,” his mother happily cried, “that you’re always stealing my men!”
About thirty minutes later Leslie Hartmann came in from the patio.
“Time till dinner?” He asked.
“About twenty minutes! Finish the fence supports?” Callie asked.
“Yeah. Got most of the sawdust off me. I just need to – ”
There was a peal of laughter from Faustina, upstairs.
“One of Fussy’s friends dropped by.” Gary saw his mother take great pains to not move her eyes from the rice cooker.
“That’s fine. Let me get cleaned up!” Rather than going upstairs, he moved toward the half-bath just off the kitchen. Gary saw his mother’s shoulders relax.
A quick tattoo of feet coming down the stairs announced his sister.
“Where’s Dad?” she whispered.
“Bathroom,” Gary replied.
“Eeee!!” She ran back up the steps. “C’mon, c’mon!”
Another series of thuds back down followed by the slow creak of each deliberate step as Fausta followed. Gary glanced up from the book he was reading –
It fell from his lap as he stood.
At the tone of wonder in her son’s voice, Callie came out of the kitchen. Her hand flew to her mouth.
“Dear Lord!” She whispered.
“Friends, please,” Fausta turned her head to the left and looked down. “You are embarrassing me!”
“What’s all this…!” Leslie came out of the bathroom, drying his hands on a small towel, wondering at the odd quiet in his house. He saw their guest, just at the base of the stairs. “…then.”
He tossed the towel aside. There could be no mistaking who it was – her ‘eyes’ – but he’d never imagined her…
He walked over and extended both his hands. Fausta gave a stiff bow before taking them with hers.
“Be welcome in our home!” He said quietly.
She smiled without showing her teeth.
“Thank you, Leslie!” Her hand went to her chest. “You will always be in me!”
“Ewww!” Faustina cried. Leslie ignored her.
“I’ve never seen you in a dress before! You are beautiful!”
She shuddered and looked straight down at her feet.
“That’s not how we warriors talk!”
“A good warrior,” Callie came to her man’s side, “fights when they must. They also should revel in times of peace. Did you make this?”
“Please,” Fausta said gruffly, finally raising her head. “I only know how to break things! I picked this up when our ship passed through Panama. They called it a pollera.”
“It reminds me a little of Mom’s Hungarian folk dresses,” Callie said, speaking of her adoptive mother.
Largely white, of cotton and wool, a series of bright red, orange, and green floral patterns graced it across Fausta’s chest, hips, and calves. Sleeves came to just below her elbows, covering her composite scale mail body armor.
“The corona?” Gary asked, pointing at the wreath of grass and flowers in her polyester hair.
Fausta let her right hand gently touch her namesake’s face.
“Once I’d brought this in from my saddlebags, my…”
They watched her great form shudder.
“…my god-daughter ran outside and made me this from what’s in your gardens.”
“God-d… dau… awwww!” Faustina began bawling and buried the waterworks of her face into Fausta’s elegant dress.
Gary watched their mother gently peel her daughter off their guest and onto her.
“I know you don’t eat, but will you please join us for dinner?” She asked, barely keeping Fussy upright.
Gary set the table while his mother finished up the curry for dinner. His father was in his chair in the living room talking somewhat heatedly with Fausta about something to do with the reactors at O.R. Faustina was curled up in her godmother’s lap like a cat; a look of pure joy on her face.
She is our honored guest, so at Father’s right… he continued with the place settings. In – for him – a burst of playfulness, he added sixth, to Fausta’s right.
I miss you, Beloved.
Do you even know why my aunt is there?
“It’s just a little unusual for you to freeze like that, for over a minute, even when you’re talking to Henge.”
“After all these years, she still surprises me, Mother.”
“Your father and I do, too! That’s a healthy relationship! Go tell the others dinner’s ready!”
He took the few steps to the Living Room.
“… maintaining the fusion reaxion for more than five seconds has proven impossible!” He heard his father argue.
“You must make it twelve. You must. Dorina will provide the latest information.”
“What do you mean, ‘we must’? We’ve power enough from the fission reactors – ”
“Yes, Gary?” Fausta turned her face to his.
“Eszunk; dinner’s ready.” He replied.
Faustina’s eyes flew open.
At table, even though not a follower of the Way, Leslie began: “Bless us, O Lord…”
Fausta helped to pass the food around and no one said anything about her empty plate.
“Who,” she asked, pointing to her right at the place setting, “is this for?”
“For symmetry,” Gary said from the left of his father’s place at the head of the table, “we needed another. Without being rude, three of five of us know she’s there.”
His father sighed as his mother laughed. She let her hand touch the plate.
“My future daughter-in-law!” Callie smiled.
“For a horny teenager, my brother’s got a loooong three years ahead of him!” Faustina said, taking more curry. She knew the rice would just make her fat.
“We’ll see,” Leslie said.
For the second time that day their house fell totally silent.
“WHAT?!” His sister screamed, leaping to her feet.
“Every rule,” Gary watched as his father’s right hand took Fausta’s left while his eyes never left Mother’s, “has exceptions.”
“But… but…!” Faustina stuttered.
“God-daughter?” Fausta wondered.
Gary watched his sister’s contorted face relax like butter in a warm pan. She blinked her wet eyes.
“Make me lots of nieces and nephews, Brother!”
“We will. I promise,” he replied.
“To go with your little brother!” Fausta spoke up.
A third, rare, silence.
Callie dropped her head.
“There’s that,” she muttered.
“Callie?” Gary heard the octave drop in his father’s voice.
She looked up and held his eyes.
“I tried to tell you last night after we,” her eyes flicked to their daughter who so easily got upset by sex talk, “right before we fell asleep.”
“How far along?” They didn’t talk about it, but he knew Mother miscarried three years ago.
“And here,” his father said, putting his fork down with great deliberateness, “I’d just thought you were fattening up for winter!”
A baby brother! Faustina shouted into his mind.
Yes; be still and silent! This is their time!
“You’ve been to the doctor?”
“Everything seems… fine?”
“Yes!” Callie began to weep.
For a human, Gary was surprised how fast his father could move. His chair was pushed back as he took Mother into his arms.
“A son?” He kissed her face, hands.
“I really didn’t know,” his mother glanced at Fausta, “until just now!”
Their guest bowed from her chair.
“My apologies if I have said too much.”
“For God’s sake, Fausta!” His father said with some heat, “our family wouldn’t exist were it not for you!”
Leslie turned back to his wife.
“Please take it easy! For his and our sake!”
Gary met Faustina’s eyes across the table.
Will this one live?
Likely. You want a baby brother?
Yes. You’re a bully!
I kid! You… you’re going to go to her. Very soon. It will be nice to have someone else to take care of!
You admit that you, my kid-sister, takes care of me?
He watched the slow blink of her turquoise eyes.
You’re a freak, Brother. You don’t see what we do: Pavel damaged you. And Henge is flawed. What we do see is that like two fractured puzzle pieces, you two fit together.
“We don’t know what or how,” Faustina suddenly spoke aloud. Her parents turned from having their moment. “But we all want to see what comes next!”
“What – ?” Callie began to ask. Fausta waved her right hand slightly for her to quiet.
“Shhh.” She amplified very quietly. “Let us love one another!”