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Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 18: The Other Side
Start at the Beginning of Gruldak - Serialized Science Fiction That's Free to Read Online
- Gift of the Gruldak, Introduction, Linked Table of Contents, and First Chapter
Do you like teeny, tiny robots, bizarre aliens, monsters, and misfits? Why not read the first installment of Gruldak? This serialized science fiction novel is free to read online.
Chapter Eighteen, The Other Side
Part of what made integrating Kevin Bob's memories so difficult was that I had completely different memories that occupied the same time frame. My sense of chronological order had been weak from about age eleven on but the Gruldak tweaks to my brain had since fixed it. If I hadn't been trying to figure out how to save the world with two sets of diverging memories I might have appreciated it more.
While Kevin Bob remembered going to bed in Guido and waking up walking out of a transport booth, I remembered waking up in Guido, having a shower and eating a nice breakfast out in the dome.
The solid stone table was positioned near Guido so we could all converse at mealtime. That morning, it was laid out with a selection of fruits and vegetables, most of which I did not recognize. A few yards away a cluster of four deep blue spider robots with bodies the size of beagles were carefully lowering a stone object into a hole they must have made earlier.
"Guido, what are they doing?"
"Building a fire pit," answered Cap, wiping his dusty hands on his pants as he sat down on one of the chairs at the table.
"Cap told me about campfires so I thought we should have one," said Guido.
The robots had finished placing the fire pit and were carefully scooping the soil they'd removed into bags.
"So we've already decided to slip my mind into someone departing from Hong Kong and I've memorized a bunch about today's Hong Kong," I began, sitting across from Cap at the table.
"It's ready to go already," Guido said, "I've made the alterations to your original pattern and the Gruldak sent some technical advice. The custom bots are in place and ready to disable the disintegrator. "
"So when are we sending, er, me?"
Guido replied, "How about right after breakfast?"
"Uh," I said, pulling a plate of what looked like little avocados with pull tabs on the top toward me.
"C'mon, boy, the sooner the better," said Cap as he grabbed an odd-looking blue fruit from the table.
"I just have a feeling we're missing something."
"It's just jitters, Kevin," he said, "don't over think it." He bit into the fruit with gusto.
"We could keep preparing for years and still miss something," Guido said.
Setting his fruit on the table, Cap took one of the avocado things from the plate in front of me and opened it with its pull tab which split it neatly in half lengthwise. He pinched out one of the yellow-green segments inside and popped it into his mouth, chewing with his eyes closed. Handing the rest back to me, he swallowed and said, "Try it; it's good."
"I don't know if I can eat."
Cap asked, "What's actually bothering you?"
"My... Kevin's wife and kids are still alive. What if I... he runs into them?" I asked, setting the thing back on the plate.
"Now that seems mighty damned unlikely to me," he said, "Eat your breakfast; I designed those for you, you know."
I picked up one of the odd-looking segments and bit into it, expecting it to taste like maybe avocado and orange because it sort of looked like both.
It was smooth and creamy without being squishy. It spread rich, savory flavor notes across my tongue and it released a fragrance so delicious I closed my eyes involuntarily and sighed. It tasted like an avocado.
"Cap, that's the best avocado I've ever tasted," I said around the next section that I'd stuffed into my mouth without even thinking.
"Actually, it's the best avocado Cap ever tasted idealized, accelerated, and nutrient enhanced," Guido said.
"It's got a zipper, too," said Cap helpfully, opening one of the odd little things for himself.
"If you lay the skin down on topsoil in-side down and water it, another bush will grow," Guido added.
"That's amazing," I said, stuffing the last segment into my mouth and washing it down with a swig of water from a very light and thin blue cup.
Reaching for another I asked, "Why didn't anyone think of that before?"
"I've always wondered that, boy. We've had genetic engineering since the twentieth century and the people never did much with food crops that wasn't just cosmetic except make them grow pesticides and resist herbicides. They wouldn't have needed either if the plants were engineered to be robust."
"I guess they didn't want them taking over," I said, eyeing a blue fruit speculatively.
"They could've engineered them not to take over. Heck, they did engineer grain to not produce viable seed," Cap said, wiping his hands on his pants and standing up from his place.
"What about Golden Rice tm? Wasn't that super rice with some kind of vitamins in it?" I asked.
"As far as I recall, the nutritive modifications pretty much began and ended there. Nobody bothered engineering crops that would grow in the desert or plants that grow like weeds but provide a payload of complete proteins and diverse phyto-nutrients. "
"I wonder why not?" Guido asked.
"No profit in it," Cap replied.
We sat munching quietly for a few minutes before I said, "I guess we should do it then."
"Huh, uh, oh yeah, the insertion," Cap mumbled.
"Already done, Kevin," Guido announced brightly.
Standing and nearly knocking my chair over I said breathlessly, "But I should have been involved!"
"Your part was already done, my friend," she said.
I had to admit there really wasn't much way for me to be involved with the actual pattern insertion. It was all carried out by tiny robots light years away anyway. I still felt a bit put out.
"Relax, Kevin, it'll be OK," Cap murmured, guiding me back into my chair with a steady hand on my shoulder. I hadn't even noticed he'd come around the table.
More small spider robots had appeared out of nowhere and were clearing away the breakfast food and dishes. Cap snagged a glass of water just before a gleaming metal appendage could claim it and placed it in front of me.
"Pretend it's catnip tea, boy," he said and dragged a chair over beside mine, sitting in it gracefully.
I picked up the cup and rose, shaking my head when he looked at me with lines in his forehead.
"I'm OK. How 'bout we go inside and sit on the sofa a bit?"
"That sounds like a great idea. You know Guido's got the 'bots growing some catnip somewhere over there," he said, gesturing vaguely to one of the gravity-defying walls in the distance."
"Is it special catnip? Like the avocados I mean?"
"Nope, it's just excellent catnip."
We walked companionably to our new place of stillness, where the three of us enjoyed silence together. We sat and relaxed in Guido's embrace. She'd made her couch much more plush and comfortable and we sank in just the right amount for each of us.
She asked, "Would you like a massage?"
"That's very kind, dear, " Cap said, "but what I really miss is TV."
"Then check this out, boys!" she exclaimed from the wall across from the couch.
The faux paneling had become a viewscreen upon which human figures scampered about, looking weird and acting strangely in ways I couldn't quite put my finger on.
"Very nice, Guido," Cap praised.
"Uh, it's... It's, uh, nice." It was actually pretty creepy looking.
"I know, it could use some work, but I grew the screen there. I know I need to work on content," she said, sounding a bit disheartened.
"It's beautiful , " I said. Actually it was incredible, seeing as it was a moving image created purely from her imagination.
"Don't lie, Kevin," she said, sounding like a sulky twelve-year-old.
Minutes ago, I'd been stressing over a copy of me bumping into an ex we'd never met. Now I'd hurt my apartment's feelings. No, I'd hurt Guido's feelings and she didn't deserve it.
"I'm sorry, Gwee, you're an amazing artist. What you do inside yourself and designing plants with Cap is astounding. This is something very cool."
"You're a very talented woman," Cap said, "I've never met anyone with more creative genius."
"Oh, you guys make me want to blush," she said, turning the screen a rosy pink that slowly transformed into a gorgeous sunset.
"Kevin, I think we've been played."
"I don't mind," I said, blinking in surprise as Guido's breath blew gently across us and the clouds on her screen bloomed with oranges and pinks as the sun sank slowly to the horizon.
We sat there still, only Guido making any sound at all beyond breathing and she was chirping like countless tiny frogs and crickets calling out for love amidst golden evening light and cattails. She made the tender evening cry of mourning doves and I felt a tear run down my cheek. Cap took my hand in his as the last beams of light gilded the underside of fluffy clouds. "She's a wonderful girl, our Guido," he whispered hoarsely.
Squeezing his large, strong hand in my own, I solemnly said, "Thank you for making us this home inside you."
"You will always have a home inside me, both of you," she replied.
We sat there quietly for a few more minutes, sniffling. Eventually, Cap's grip on my hand loosened and his fingers slipped from mine.
"Guido, what are we going to burn in the fire pit?"
"Silly boy, if I can grow avocados with zippers, I can make a little firewood."
"Kevin," Cap said, "There's something you need to know."
"Kevin left a lot more than a wife and kids down there," he said, clearing his throat.
"What do you mean?" I asked, fear settling in my stomach with the avocados.
"You... Kevin has a lot of kids."
"Uh, I suppose," I said stupidly.
"Kevin, there are thousands," he mumbled.
My brain stuttered, then raced. I'd sort of known this before. After the Great Pandemic, there were more women than men in the world and many of those male survivors were rendered infertile. In a few years it came to be the duty of every fertile human male to help repopulate the planet.
When I hit puberty, Grandpa scheduled a doctor's appointment for me. A male doctor gave me a plastic, screw-capped cup and a tablet with a paused video, the subject matter of which I'd only ever watched in the privacy of my own bedroom.
A few days later, Grandpa showed me a message from the doctor on his tablet. Every week thereafter, I filled three small, refrigerated, postage paid drone containers a week from the time I was fourteen to my last remembered weeks on earth and never thought twice about it.
"Oh, frack," I said.
Continue Reading with Chapter 19, Seeing Is Believing
- Gift of the Gruldak, Chapter 19: Seeing Is Believing
Rejoin Cap, Kevin, and Guido as they learn more about what's going on back on earth.