Pro-prologue

I’m sure there’s a word for something like that.  I’ll shoehorn this intro-short into the front of WWE somehow…

I’ll have a little banner across the top front cover that says “A sequel to Echoes of Family Lost” and include the same in the descriptor of the Amazon page.  If someone wants to buy it anyway – and Lord knows I bought dozens of SF/F books as a kid, not knowing they were halfway through a series – then what’s below the fold should give them enough traxion to get into the story.

Need a good copyeditor?  Monica is your gal.

After leaning his bicycle against the north side of their house, Gary Hartmann walked up the three steps of their east-facing wood deck and opened the French door into the living room.

“Back from your Brotherhood meeting, Gary?” his mother, Callie, called from the kitchen. “Your birthday dinner’s in about forty-five minutes!”

“Thank you, mother,” he replied in his toneless fashion, kicking off his shoes. “I’ve some homework.”

That was unusual enough that she moved away from the stove to look at him.

“Homework? Oh!  That teenage transition thing!” she realized.

He nodded and went up the stairs to his left. It had become an organic tradition in the Brother- and Sisterhoods to have someone turning thirteen write an essay about their family, to take stock, as it were, and count their blessings before deciding to act out or up.

He took the first door on his left into his bedroom. Leaning his battle rifle against the supports on the wall, he moved to his small desk and moved the mouse, waiting for his laptop to wake up.

My family… Gary thought. Father, Leslie, was an E-5 in the US Army, a part of the 16th Cavalry, stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky when the Breakup began, just about fifteen years ago.  Ordered to use his light armored forces to fire on starving civilians in nearby Louisville, he led one of several mutinies that saw he and his troopers for a few months in Bardstown, Kentucky, the heart of bourbon country.  They were shaken out of their reverie when John Carell and his wife, Anna, came through that area taking nuclear plant parts back to Knoxville.

Gary almost smiled at that. Mister Carell remains an amazing liar.

Carell and father led their force to a dot on the map just east of Columbus, Ohio, to glean more parts from a tiny prototype fission reactor. They got their parts.  But he also got –

“Hot! Dammit!” he heard his mother yell from the kitchen, downstairs.

A twenty-year-old adopted Min Chinese girl, Callie Barrett, marooned with her friend’s family as her’s had been cut off on a trip to Japan when the US economy collapsed. They’ve told me it wasn’t love at first sight but after only five weeks she did decide to be his, following father to Knoxville and starting her life over again, for the third time.  I wonder if I have courage like that?

They married and joined what was called the Society: the military and technical unit that was trying to use little fission reactors to reboot modern, Western civilization in the Tennessee River valley.  Their motto of “we control the lightning” is reflected in the small looped-lightning tattoo they all have on their chests.

Gary paused to stare out his window.

And three years later, I came along. Already a part of another family, though no one knew it at the time.

Months before the Breakup there had been a series of technological breakthroughs regarding quantum computing and nanotechnology. Two companies – both in Japan – took the lead in developing practical applications to those breakthroughs:  Tohsaka, writing codes in Hamamatsu, and Somi, building androids in Osaka.

One of those self-aware codes from Tohsaka went insane: convinced its – his – brothers and sisters were going to murder him.  He, Pavel, hid in the massive cores of the Oak Ridge National Labs, just outside of Knoxville, and ended all signal in or out of that area.

He also changed us, Gary thought, idly brushing his right hand over the back of his neck. An etherial parasite, giving him access to the minds of the infected children but also giving us the gift to see right into the webs.

I always just thought of him as a friend. A little undernourished and his house was ratty, but still my friend.  Gary reached up to pull an atlas down from the books above him.  He flipped a few pages.

It all came out when mother and I talked our way into Society’s mission to Huntsville, former Alabama. They were going to set up a pebble-bed thorium reactor.  And just then, who came rattling into the little surviving town on a wagon from a point far from the west… Lily Barrett, mother’s younger sister.

Prompted by her dear friend, Ai, and supported by Ai’s family – the rest of the Tohsaka machines – Lily was accompanied by an old man, Orloff, acting as her guide, and a combat android inhabited by a part of the mind of Fausta.

In less than three days my sickness, Pavel’s involvement, and my cure were effected, he thought, closing and returning the book. My friend was eventually cured, too; that time he tried to show me his memories of father and Fausta attacking him had me sick enough to go to the hospital. Machine memories are… different.

A few days later, Dorina, a sister of Ai and Pavel, and likely the most clever of all of them, managed to briefly move the minds of the Barrett and Hartmann families to what looked like a beach in their ‘world’ for what tasted like a barbeque. The beach was a recent addition to their home, made by the newest machine:  a little girl with purple hair and a taste for blue denim overalls.

“I’m Henge,” she announced to him. He heard ‘hen-geh.’

“I’m Gary,” he’d replied. Neither had moved.

“He’s sick right now but my friend Pavel helped to teach me how to swim,” he said with a small wave at her sea lapping her beach. “Play with me?”

“I can’t swim.”

“I’ll teach you,” he said, taking her hand and leading her to the water. Oddly, an image of a playful otter echoed in the back of his mind.

She was so pretty!  Gary recalled, blinking quickly at the recollection.  And I just reached out and touched her. Where did I find that courage?

In my eyes, Henge said, whispering into his mind.

Beloved, he thought back.  How have you put up with me all these years? 

Because I love you, Gary. Now, shouldn’t you be writing all this down for your Brotherhood?

Of course. He leaned forward and held his hands above the keyboard. Stay with me a bit?

Yes.

There was furious thumping of feet running up the steps and the door to his room was flung the rest of the way open.

“Big brother!” his little sister shouted. “Dinner’s almost ready!  Stop looking at dirty pictures and come on downstairs!”

She was gone. Gary sighed.

“I guess I have to put Faustina into my paper, too…”

Henge laughed into his heart and mind.

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