The Second Bridge, pt.11

Wow.  All this in five hours.  Sorry, folks, I’m taking tomorrow off or else I’m dead.

I’m hoping to see something that takes me off in a new direxion tomorrow.  11k words here is, I think, enough.  I am SO HAPPY things ended up where they are.  Sure:  I can go full Will Deonne and have Henge’s nanomaterials disassociate her into a drift of sand on the floor, but I don’t think I will.

Sweet Jesus:  what will their children be like?!

The growl from a stomach was loud enough to waken him. There was a faint red light of the dawn in the window facing east. Fausta had not moved from her place at the far side of the bed. Leslie stood and stretched.

“How’s things?” he asked. “Ouch!”

Something in his lower back twinged. Too old to sleep in chairs…

“She is less unstable than at her forming,” Fausta replied.

“Oh.” Leslie said, taking a step closer to the figure on the table. “I didn’t know things were so serious!”

“Neither us! We…” His eyes went up to her array. “My family has never been so young!”

The growl again. This time he could tell it came from Henge.

“Someone’s hungry! Is she awake? And where’s Dorina?”

“Here.”

“Yikes!” He took a half-step back as the genius’s ghost rose directly up and out of Henge’s body.

“What were you – ” As she turned to glare at him he shut up. From her hips down she was still a part of the other girl.

“I am processing information on a scale that as recently as a month ago I did not think I could!” Her eyes narrowed. “This project hurts, human!”

“Dorina…!” Fausta’s form barely said.

The irritated loligoth’s eyes moved back forward. A translucent arm pointed at some boxes on a credenza maybe ten feet from the foot of the bed.

“As you have heard, we must boot-strap her digestive system. The items there are carefully sequenced! Out of order or out of time,” her hollow eyes came back to his, “and you’ll kill her.”

“Me?! I’ve – ”

“…so tired…” Dorina’s form faded.

“Leslie?”

“Yes, Fausta?” He shook himself a little to try to wake up more.

“Henge’s first meal – literally – is due in four minutes. I shall awaken her. You go there,” she waved with her left, “and get Meal Number One.”

Following orders since he was seventeen, he did, but he wanted to say…

“Your family, except one, is fully informed. Your wife is fine and my Namesake is fine.” They read minds, don’t they?

“What about Gary?”

“He’s generally aware of your work here. But,” her arrays fell to the bed, “someone wanted their arrival in your home to be a surprise.”

“Good Lord!” He opened the clearly label Box #1 and found smaller boxes in it. Meal #1 was one of nine stacked neatly. Behind him he heard Fausta gently waking Henge. A groan of protest.

“Little niece! Breakfast!”

 

Leslie had been a little surprised to see Henge elevated forty-five degrees but his experience in hospitals and aid stations had been military wounds and accidents. Not… the newly made.

He’d been even more surprised when gauze around Henge’s eyes stayed.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“In simulations eyes proved very tricky,” Fausta’d replied, hanging another bag. “Chu, from Tribe Arpeggio, sold us a secret to making them. She’ll begin to use them this afternoon.”

The biggest surprise was when he opened Meal #1: a tin filled some gelatinous goo.

“Oh my God!” he cried, almost dropping it. “This smells like shit!”

“Astute of you, Mister Hartmann,” Henge whispered. “I’ve no symbiotic gut bacteria. Until those are established I am unable to digest any food at all.”

He bridled at that.

“I am not making my future daughter-in-law eat shit.” he said simply.

“Despite the smell, it’s not, really!” Her left arm came up and searched a moment for his. “And thank you for calling me that! Now… ahh!”

She held her mouth open.

Trying not to gag, Leslie took a small spoonful and fed it to her.

She swallowed quickly. Such big talk!

“Ahh…!”she said again.

 

Another disgusting meal an hour later. Meal #3 was a bottle of liquid. Fausta began an explanation of electrolytes and such; he was just glad it didn’t smell, too. After that, around ten in the morning, he’d been dismissed.

“Only for an hour,” Fausta’s tone brooked no dissent. Everyone in their family is taking this deadly serious. “Please use the toilet and find some food and return presently. Dorina says…”

He watched her face move to just inches from Henge’s. She stood back up.

“Barring complications, you may take her home this evening.”

For the first time ever: whether in their home or on a screen, he’d never seen his son’s Intended smile. This involuntary, human, reaxion split her face and lit her visage up like the sun. Not a romantic man, Leslie left before the pain in his chest became a coronary.

Being close-by the reactor that powered Knoxville, finding food from some street vendors was easy. Finishing a pastrami sandwich with swiss, he paused before immediately returning to their little aid station. No benches in sight, he sat onto the concrete curb and stretched his long legs out onto the asphalt. The late October sun was warm but the fall air was getting cooler.

Going steady up the ladder in the Army, then the country falls apart. Put together a protection gig in Bardstown to have that arrogant bastard Carrell pull it out from under me. A relo to Knoxville by way of central Ohio nets me an ethnic Min Chinese wife, adopted at the turn of the Century. Our son is born possessed by a renegade AI, who’s family we meet when unexpectedly running into my wife’s long-thought-dead sister in Huntsville, where one of those things says she’s in love with my son. Since then, those AIs have done something to my daughter. And now…

He leaned back, closing his eyes against the sun.

“And now I’m going to bring into my home something that has never existed on the Earth. Ever.” He opened them. “Someone who was willing to break her family and brave death just to be with my son.”

He stood and shook his head.

“I don’t know if this is a farce or heroic epic,” he said, pulling open the door. “I won’t let it be a tragedy!”

 

He’d come back into their room seeing Henge now at eighty degrees. Eyes still covered, her head was turned left to the flatscreen on the wall past where Fausta had stood. Leslie didn’t recognize the man dressed like a Catholic priest, but all in white.

“… not at all, thank you. Ah!” she kept her occluded face to the screen while unrolling her right hand towards Leslie. “This is my Intended’s father, Leslie Hartmann. His actions have saved tens of thousands of lives.”

Impressed but also glancing at his watch, the priest turned slightly to acknowledge him.

“She exaggerates – ”

“No,” the priest replied with a knowing smile. “She doesn’t! Good luck and God’s blessing too, Mister Hartmann!”

The image faded.

“Someone you know,” Leslie asked Henge.

“Pope Pius XIII? Yes. Like you, he’s a good man.”

He felt his eyes drift back to the now-black screen.

“Pope…?”

“Dorina,” Fausta boomed, stepping out from the corner of the room, “says it is time for her eyes. I shall remove the covering; would you be so kind as to lower and close the blinds”

“Sure,” he said, moving, “but why?”

“She’s never used them before.” Fausta gently rested her fingertips on the sides of Henge’s head. “This will hurt.”

“I hope it does. Otherwise I’m blind.”

Still so much to learn, he thought. The blinds were closed but there was still plenty of ambient light to see. Both curious and learning to be protective of who would be the newest part of his family, he walked to her bed opposite Fausta, who was just taking the last wrap off.

From his angle he could not see Henge’s eyes but he could see the tears that ran from them as she raised her hand to her aunt’s form.

“Fausta! So beautiful!”

Holding one another for a few moments, Fausta leaned back. Henge pivoted to Leslie.

His breath caught.

Nothing… nothing like what he’d seen this decade of years: the careful red-brown that took in everything and said not a thing in reply.

Burnished gold. The eyes of a lion.

She opened her arms.

“Father-in-law…?”

He gently took her into his arms. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed before Fausta’s fake cough that sounded like a bark.

Leslie leaned back. His fingers and that of his son’s Intended still touched.

“Meal number four. Now.”

“Yuck,” he said, moving to the credenza. The odd sound from Henge made him turn about.

She was laughing! The smile that reached her eyes shone like the Second Coming.

 

Number four was closer to the baby food he’d given his two children, both in form, texture, and smell. He and Henge both were relieved. He’d only just finished feeding her and tossing the tin aside when Fausta announced number five.

Another half-liter bottle. Whatever it was, the color was bright yellow.

“More electrolytes?” he asked Fausta.

“Yes. Plus.”

“Plus what?”

“I’d rather not tell you.”

Oh, kay. He opened it, found a straw and handed it over to Henge.

“Thank you, soon father-in-law.”

“You know,” he smiled, “for efficiencies sake, you could just say ‘father’.”

“NO!” Her shout shook the room. Even Fausta had assumed a defensive poise.

“Henge?”she inquired, her face flicking from window to window to door, again and again.

“Stand down, aunt,” Henge murmured with her head down. Back up.

“I apologize, Leslie Hartmann,” her voice was a study in tactful control. “I love my father that made me, Thaad, more than you can know. And, I love the Lord, who made him to make me, even more! I am sorry if I cannot make room for you in that word!”

Completely unused to human physical emotion, she was once again shedding tears from her eyes. Leslie went to the box of tissues by the door and tore out several. He proffered them to Henge.

“From now on, Henge, call me Leslie. Family’s pending, but we are… what’s that words Gary throws about…?” He looked up for a moment. Ah. “Storge. Philia. We’ve known one another for ten years. Are we not friends?”

“Yes!” She nodded her head so sharply her tears flew about.

“Henge?” Fausta interjected.

“Yes?”

“You’ve three minutes to finish your drink.”

“Mmmm!” She wrapped her lips around the straw and tried to drink it all at once.

 

An hour later Fausta held her shoulders while she stood. Leslie was two steps ahead of her.

Henge put her arms straight out to either side. One step. Another.

“Let go, Aunt Fausta.”

Her hands were now a half inch above the girl’s shoulders.

Another step. She barely windmilled her arms. Leslie took a step back.

Another for her another for him.

His back was onto the door. In three more steps she was in his arms. She turned her cheek to his chest.

“Please take me home!”

He looked up to Fausta. One short, sharp nod.

“Of course.”

 

Henge carefully walked back to bed while Leslie moved the Meal rations out to the back of his car. Unlike a real hospital, Fausta made the patient walk from the room all the way to where he’d pulled his little car out front.

“The hospital gown?” He looked to Fausta. She shook her head.

“Can’t help you. Take something from my… god-daughter.” He watched her lower jaw drop open in humor.

“Will you be over later – ?” He saw the single shake of her head.

“This time is no longer for our family, but yours.”

Leslie knew Henge was listening but didn’t care.

“Henge will never not be a part of your family!” he said with some heat.

“Of course! I think we are talking past one another again! In fact I’ll likely be back on your roof, tonight!”

Faster than he could see her arrays were less than an inch from his eyes.

“Or, maybe I’ll go hunting!”

He leaned back just a little and put out his right arm.

“Soldiers.” That would appeal to her, he thought.

She grasped his forearm.

“We are!”

 

They drove east. The four lane road narrowed to two. A thought came to Leslie.

“If you feel nauseous, tell me.”

“Nauseous?” she asked.

“Disoriented. About to expel what little you have in your stomach.”

“Oh.” She seemed to consider that. “No.”

He glanced at the clock in the car’s dashboard. 1604.

“Gary’s at his Brotherhood for another hour. We’ll be home in fifteen minutes. That gives us plenty of time for my wife and daughter to pick out something pretty for you.”

“I’d rather meet him naked.” She didn’t take her eyes from looking about.

Leslie did and stared at her.

“I think not!”

Her head came about and her unnatural gold eyes fixed his.

“Understood. Please let them dress me appropriately.”

A honk from a passing car had his eyes back onto the road.

“No worries,” he said. “My wife… will…”

There was the sound of running water followed quickly by an acrid smell…

Urine?

“What did I just do?” Henge looked down at the puddle on the car’s seat.

“What the… did you just piss yourself?!”

“’Piss myself’…” Her eyes came back to his. “Yes. I am older that I have done something wrong, father-in-law.”

Less than a quarter mile from home, he pulled over and stopped.

“You’ve never urinated before.” A statement.

“No.”

“Henge?”

“Yes?”

“In the next six to twelve hours, if you feel a pressure on your anal sphincter, please let us make you older about shitting in the toilet.”

Sitting in her own warm urine, she could still smile.

“I shall, father-in-law. But,” she waved at the seat and her crotch, “what shall I do about this?”

Another glance at the clock. Twenty-two minutes. He floored the accelerator.

Less than ninety seconds later they skidded into the gravel drive. He was out and around to her side in an instant.

“Don’t, please! I stink…!” She tried to stop him.

“Second Law: shut up until I put you down!” He hated himself for that but time was so short.

Her lion’s eyes never left his as he ran around their house to the sliding glass door to the deck. Pushing that open with his right under her shoulders he yelled.

“Some help here!”

Callie came out of the bathroom next to the kitchen, pulling up her shorts. With a tattoo of thumps, Faustina was down the steps.

“Is she… is she…! Oh, my G – ”

“COMMAND PUSH!” Leslie yelled in a way that everyone froze. “We’ve fifteen minutes before my son…”

A flick to Callie.

“My first son comes home to meet his wife! There’s been a little accident! She needs a shower and to look perfect in fourteen! I leave it to you two! NOTE! She’s unsteady on her feet!”

He set her down.

Both of her hands gripped his shirt.

“Thank you, father-in-law,” she whispered right before Callie scooped her up again and began a plod up the steps.

“You’re heavier than you look!” Callie cried, overjoyed to hold her new daughter.

He’d not showered for two days but there had been many times that or worse had happened. He didn’t know what upstairs shower they were using so Leslie went back outside. Shucking his piss-soaked clothes into a pile, he used a garden hose to rinse himself off. Using his hands to squeeze what cold water he could off, he went back inside and started upstairs. There was no-one home he could possibly offend.

He’d opened the drawer where he kept his jeans, but pushed it shut. Hearing the water from the shower stop he looked at his watch. Four minutes.

Wearing slacks and a short-sleeved dress shirt, Leslie tried to relax into a chair on their patio with two fingers of the local whiskey in a glass.

If the last forty-eight hours don’t deserve a drink, then, by God, nothing does!

He heard Gary’s bicycle at the front of the house the same time the giggling of the gaggle of girls in his house.

“Father?” Gary stopped once stepping onto the deck in the twilight of Fall. It was unusual for father to drink; the destruction of the fusion reactor…?

“What,” Leslie paused to take a drink. The gaggle was now at the bottom of the steps. “What have you heard in the last two days”

“Complete burn-out of Chise. The reactor is irreparable.”

“Correct.”

“You were there?”

“Correct.”

“I see.”

“Anything else?”

“No, father.” Gary lifted his head to the sounds from inside the house. “Is there?”

“Yes. Close your eyes.”

“My eyes, father?”

“That’s an Order, son.” Twice in one day. I’m an asshole.

“Yes, father.”

They opened the sliding glass door as Leslie stood. He waved them to silence.

They’d dressed Henge in a white camisole and some of Fussy’s old white shorts that were too small for her.   Rubber bands had her light purple hair into her expected twin-tails.

Her eyes lit up the night.

Not knowing how steady she was he took her right hand and led her forward.

“Your right hand, son.”

He raised it, palm down.

Leslie rolled Henge’s over and into Gary’s.

He opened his eyes.

I hope neither of them collapse, Leslie thought, blinking at his fortune.

“Y… You?” Gary asked.

A nod from her.

“Yes.”

Gary’s eyes went to Leslie, who nodded.

“I’ve been busy, son.”

He watched his son’s eyes go to where they would never leave.

Gary’s left arm came up as he gathered Henge into him.

“Beloved!”

“Beloved!”

 

Henge older

 

PS  Yes, her hair’s not light purple.  Sue me.

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