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Fiction #36
(published April 19, 2001)
1K+1 Astral Nights:
Cycle 1, Packet 3
translated by David Erik Nelson


Distro'ed Nanobot, this here killbot, she looks to be all steal and hydraulics, but she's really my first wife. She wasn't always, you know, military hardware. When we were married she was actually pretty cute: short, muscular, red hair. You know, if you like that sorta thing. And no slouch in the brains department, either. She was a biochemist— a really great one. Right out of college she landed a cherry job at a biotech firm doing, you know, immoral terminator-seed kinda stuff. I never really understood it.

But, so, I'm a mathematician, right? We're not rich, mathematicians, and she got pretty sick of living in a tiny four-room crackerbox behind a racerback track. We got divorced. She moved to a penthouse and got this Spanish boyfriend/personal-trainer. But whatever.

So, eventually I got remarried to a lady I loved twice as much as my first wife. She loved me for who I was (a poor mathematics professor at a piss-ant university) and I loved her for who she was (a waitress and sometime-sculptor.) We happily lived our happy, little, meaningless, dirt-poor lives. We had a son. It sounds lame, but it was great.

And then I write the ole, um, Waitress Zone Communication Protocol, right? Every half-wit in a cubicle snatches it up as the solution to their distributed network intra-comm problem, and the next thing I know I'm touring all around the country, getting paid two grand per lecture, fielding basic questions about a basic protocol. And then there's the licenses and patent and— well, suffice to say, before I know it my wife and kid are living in a fine suburban split-level that we own outright and I've seen four times. You know how it goes.

So, I'm hopping between the coasts babbling about Traveling Salesman this and Bridges of Konigsburg that, every script kiddie in the industrialized world is cracking 1024-bit encryption keys using a thousand zombied computers and my lil protocol, and my wife's hands are more than full around the homestead. One day, while I'm in a jet plane going from City X to City Y, my sister shows up at the door, like a gift from Good Sunny Jesus, all ready to pitch in.

I ever mention that I don't have a sister?

I finally get home from my conference tour, and my best beloved and sweet pea are nowhere to be found. What I do find is a typed, unsigned "Dear John" letter, a dog and a puppy. Between the grief and my allergies— I'm crazy-allergic to dander— I'm on the floor before you can say "vague sense of loss"— bawling and sneezing and hacking and shaking, lungs locked by the double punch of asthma and grief. I pull myself together and make some phone calls. No one's heard word-one from wife and kid and no one wants a couple of mutts. I get pooch A and pooch B into the car and, for lack of a better place, dump them at the pound.

Coming back to my house— my big, empty house— my lungs are looser but I still feel like a peanut shell. My neighbor— who I've met maybe once before— comes up to ask what's wrong, and I tell him about the wife and kid and how I don't even know where they are.

The guy asks me if my sister has any idea, she having been here for the last couple weeks and etcetera.

I say "sister?"

He says yeah, short, muscular, red hair . . .

to be continued next week . . .

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