.........MUTANT RAIN FOREST ISSUE........JUNE, 2016
Illustrations above by Shasta Lawton.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

MEERGA

by John Shirley



art by Will Ferret





1. Housewares


   “I don’t have time to arrange for a driverless to pick you up, Ryan,” Murray said.
   “Dad, hey what: You could send one, on your way, just link in, shit.” The boy was looking at him steadily, with something closer to disgust than defiance. Not such a boy, perhaps, Murray thought. Ryan wanted to go see his girl friend and he had that primeval flatness in his brown eyes, that stony lack of expression that teen boys got when they were strategizing getting laid. But he had his mother’s skin, the color of a latte, and her long slender hands. Murray ached, when he looked at the boy’s hands, and thought of his wife, and the suicide…
   “You can see Tarina tomorrow,” Murray said. “It’s not that easy to get a driverless in here, they’re booked up this time of day. Eventually I’m going to buy a personal driverless. But not right nowand I can’t afford a lifter—”
   “Nobody’s asking for a fucking helicopter.”
   “Come on, grant me a modicum of respect here, boy, don’t talk to me like that.”
   “You won’t let us ConVect—”
   “You want to go under tech that far, you do it when you move out. You know what I think of that. And don’t roll your eyes.”
   Murray turned to go. “Wynn could drop me off.”
   “Don’t have time, it’s the opposite direction.” He felt dishonest saying it. She was only a few blocks the wrong way.
    “You just don’t want me to see her.”
   That was partly true. And Murray tried to stay honest with the kid.
He paused at the door, turning to Ryan. The door waited to see if he wanted it to open or not. “No, I do want you to see her, I like Tarina. I just don’t want you to go see her when her folks aren’t home. And when I’m not somewhere around. That’s the understanding I have with her old man. He sent me a bunch of facers and made himself clear.”
   “They are at home.”
   “I mean—they’re almost always under tech. That’s not home. Being in that state…”
   Ryan cocked his head, crossed his arms. “You’re going to see a woman. But I can’t.”
   Murray was startled. “It’s part of the study, Ryan, it’s not—” 
   “You told Wynn you were thinking of bringing her home.”
   “What?” He stared. He couldn’t deny it. “I told you not to vultch me.”
   “I didn’t vultch you, you left your screen on—”
   “And you read what was on it. That’s skulky too. It’s just as bad…I have to go.”
   “You going to make a bid for that girl?”
   “A bid? No! You don’t know what you’re talking about! It’s the study, that’s all it is. Jesus Fuck. Okay now Wynn’s car is honking, out there. Got to go.  I’ve got timers on all the faces so you’re going to have to do your schoolwork on the tablet. Dinner’s already prepping. Eat without me but I won’t be home late. We’ll figure out a time for you to see Tarinaprobably tomorrow. Or the next day.”
   He could feel his son watching him as he turned to the door. The door realized he wanted it open before he’d finished turning, and it was open for him and he went out to the driverless where Wynn waited in the back seat…
    
       
2. Just Down the Street


   Ryan put up the hood on his jacket. A thin, warm rain fell; the suburban streets were dark with it, the sidewalks reptilian gray. It wasn’t the real Connecticut monsoon yet. Maybe just a hint that it was coming.
   He had only walked down his own street once before, when hed gone along with Dad on the neighborhood Greet. The Greeters had a strollbot rolling with them; the bot had licensing, and the drones left them alone. Even the houses didn’t react to them. It had been boring.
   This wasn’t going to be boring. He knew that and it scared him a little. Two thirds the neighborhoods on the Eastern Seaboard were HiSec; it’d gone that way quickly after Home Brethren blew up the dikes protecting Atlantic City.
   Ryan walked on, realizing he was maybe more afraid, out here, than he’d ever been in his life. Afraid of the houses. And when the Defense Panel opened above the garage door of the lime green ranch style house on his left and the gun muzzle thrust out to point at him, its warning light flashing…he valued boredom again.
   “Do not approach the house,” said a genderless voice from the garage. The warning was followed by a steady, baleful beeping sound. It was a wordless warning, but even clearer than the voice’s message.
   No quick moves, hodey. Ryan turned and walked slowly away from the house, into the middle of the street. Then he pivoted slowly to the left and walked down the street toward Tarina’s…
   The gun tracked him; the light kept flashing red. He kept his stride steady. Only his heartbeat sped up.
   A car was coming up behind him, chiming a soft warning, but he didn’t  move out of its way. He knew the car would stopthey were always self driving in this area. The car pulled up and its polite, digitally reproduced female voice said, “Waiting to safely pass. Please move slightly to the left.” He angled just enough to the left so the car could pass on his right. He glanced at is as it went by. The sedan was glittery  purple, low slung, almost silent. No one rode in the  front seats. In back, a  middle aged couple—both spiky haired, much tattooed—were entirely focused on their conversation. Then the woman looked at him, probably startled at his closeness to the car.
   He hoped they might offer him a ride, drop him off in front of Tarina’s house. But of course they didn’t. They didn’t even roll down the window. They just cruised by, staring.
   The car left Ryan behind, and he took three more long stridesand then heard the soft hum of the first drone. He could feel and smell the oily wind of its rotors.
   He glanced up, saw the double-oval of the UAV about thirty feet over his head:  in outline like a giant pair of sleek eyeglasses passing over, rotors spinning where the lenses should be. Apart from the flight mechanism the entire drone was a camera, nano-inflected coating taking in his image, transferring it to the chip, transmitting to a human monitor in some distant place.
   “Pedestrian,” the drone called, in a mellow voice, somehow no less threatening than house voices, “you are remaining too long in the street.”
   He angled toward the sidewalk. When he stepped up onto the curb  another panel opened above another garage and another gun thrust out and tracked him. Another red light strobed. Another computer generated voice warned him. He kept going, heart pounding, trying not to run.
   He glanced at the ranch style homes on his left; the bigger split level home across the street on his right. All the windows were set for opaque. The people inside, like the houses, were turned away from the outer world. Most of them were home, he knew, since most people in a neighborhood like this telecommuted, or rented out their biocogs. When they weren’t telecommuting, they were probably under tech. No one had bothered to build a fence. It was superfluous; the houses were so hard to get into that owners who came home drunk in a driverless cab sometimes spent an uncomfortable night in their own driveways. The house knew not to shoot them, but most still required a second identification protocol before they’d open.
   When you were under tech you wanted the protection. You were too vulnerable without it.
   The drone was still following, its shadow a shape like dark glasses on the sidewalk. After a few more steps it spoke to him, a little more insistently this time. “Pedestrian in proximity, please turn on your street licensing. Please call a strollbot. Please identify your home.”
Ryan called out his name and home address.
   The drone seemed to ponder. Then, “Please turn on your street licensing.”
   “I haven’t got any on me. Or a strollbot either.”
   “Your personal information isn’t verifiable at this time. Please stop walking until verification.”
   “No, sorry,” Ryan said, trying to keep his tone even. A negative stress analysis could get him arrested. But he was only a half block, maybe less, from Tarina’s house. “I’m almost at my destination!” he added.
   “Your heart rate is elevated, is there something we should be concerned about?” the drone asked.
   “No!” he told it, walking a little faster. It was that house on the left, right on the corner…
   He ground his teeth, shivering with anger at his father.  They could have lived in an area without a HiSec Contract. But Dad said he had to be careful, because people invested in meergas were pissed off at him and some were in investor cults, which were known for violence.
   So what. Dad could get another job, he could study something else, he didn’t have to piss people off…Really unfair…
    “You’re hurrying now, is there something we should be concerned about?”
   “No!”
   “Please stop for discussion.”
   “No I don’t have to! I live on this street! Look it up!”
   “We are not equipped with voice identification. Facial I.D. is inconclusive. Please stop for possible temporary detention—”
   “No! I’m just going to see my friend on the corner! She lives around here and so do I! I already gave you my fucking address! I’m just going to four-five-five Willow Row!”
   “Hey kid!” came a different voice from the drone; an annoyed, weary older male voice. The human monitor. “Stop, for crying out loud! It’s no big deal! They send a car, they call your old man,  hodey takes you home, no harm no foul! Won’t take more than an hour! Walking around like that here is too dangerous!”
   He knew the monitor was right. Neighborhood security detention was nothing much. You sat in a waiting room, you watched television, your dad picked you up. A little exasperation all around and it was over. They wouldn’t hurt him and it wouldn’t take all that long.
   But…he was going to see Tarina. That’s how it was going to be.
   He was angering the house on his left. It had opened a panel under an opaque front window, as well as over the garage door. Two sets of lights flashed alternately red and orange…
   The next house was Tarina’s. The door knew him and he had the access code, if her dad hadn’t changed it.
   The drone started warning him in the automatic voice again, saying it might be forced to drop a taser net if he didn’t stop, please stop…
   But it was only about thirty-five steps to her front door…
   Now: Just run.
  Ryan jolted into a sprint, trying to confuse the devices with sudden motion and a sharp turn, cutting across the corner of a lawn to get into her front yard faster. But the lawn was in front of the angry house, and the grass was artificial, slippery, so he fell, skidding, on his stomach. He heard a loud thudding report that echoed down the street as something kicked him in the left hip.
   Shouldn’t have crossed that house’s lawn…
   The angry house was reciting the Home Protection Bill, and the laws that gave it the right to do what it had done. It sounded so distant, now, as if the voice were coming from another street…
   Shaking, Ryan got up, feeling as if he were lifting an enormous weight on his hip. He lurched forward, hearing the monitor’s voice from the drone. “Kid—just get back down and lay still! Don’t try to get up!”
   But he was taking another step, an iciness spreading through his left leg, as he stepped onto the bark dust verge of Tarina’s front yard. He didn’t look down at the wound. He was afraid he’d fold up and start vomiting if he did. He just went through a haze of growing numbness to the door, tapped the code and, along with facial recognition, it was enough. The house had guessed he might come.
   The door opened. The house smelled of old sweat, of unflushed toilets, unwashed people. But he went in, legs and stomach lurching, hoarsely calling her name…
   He could feel blood running warm down his leg, twining his ankle.
   “Tarina!”
   The dusty hallway and front room were empty. Wasn’t she home?
“Tarina!”
   He stumbled down the hall. Something  ran along the ceiling, clinging to it, watching him. He felt it confirm his features with its laser, a warm lick across him.
   “Tarina!”
   Her parents’ bedroom door was opened. The floor was all cushion, wall to wall, no furnishings. All three of them were there, Tarina and her Mom and Dad, lying on their backs side by side. Her dadround bellied, bearded, in yellowed underwear, wired, with tubes in his arm and at his crotch; her tall skinny momtubed and wired, hair lank on a pillow, stertorous breathing. Tarina was in pajamas; her shaved scalp had grown dark stubble, her thin cheeks were sunken. Her lips were parted, half-open eyes flicking in REM movements; her arms and legs twitched in dreams. She’d given up waiting, and gone under tech.
   Poised directly over all three of them was the inductor, like a hood over a gas stove, communicating with their interfaces and biocog chips. He felt like it was feeding on Tarina.
   He took a step toward her, then heard a wet pattering sound, looked down at the scored-open flesh of his left hip; a bit of bone showing pinkish white; shotgun pellets in pockmarks. Runneling blood…a puddle growing around his leg…
   He went to his knees, and that seemed to open a door for the pain. He hissed when it rippled through him, and let himself fall across Tarina, his whole lower half throbbing with hurt. He could smell her, and her parents, quite sharply. His other senses were fading.
   “Tarina…”
    She didn’t respond. Why was it so dark in the room? And darker.
     
                       
3. Non-standard Meerga   

                                  
   Murray sat at the desk, in the little glass-walled office the meerga company had loaned him. He was watching the video on the desk top. Nothing much of interest in this interview with a standard meerga. She was beautiful, chirpy, and dim witted, as they all were.
   He went back to the first video interview with Addy Creske and his wife Scalia. Both were tall, blond people—Addy’s hair was lush but short. Hers was long, but the fine strands on them both seemed identical. Probably they’d had the same gen-en cosmetic styling done. The Creskies were a tanned, fit couple, late fifties but looking late thirties. They’d had all the cell renewals. They both wore white, though Addy’s suit was more a cream color. Scalia wore a linen pants suit, with a low cut blouse. She had long sculpted fingernails, sparkling intricatelysomething about the zodiac. Scalia’s teeth were perfect and shiningly white; so were Addy’s. His nails were colored, too, in a sort of glossy dull-gold that matched his designer choker.
   “We did have some reservations,” Scalia was saying. She spoke through a smile; it scarcely varied. “The study had overtones of…”
   She looked at her husband for support. “Hostility,” Addy suggested.
   “Yes. Hostility. An assumption that we were inhumane. But we treat meergas very kindly. We’re never inhumane. We don’t sell them to anyone who won’t treat them well—they have to sign a contract to that effect. We have to be able to monitor them. We don’t sell them to sadists. Everyone has to have a frontal lobe scan before they can buy a meerga.”
   “The origins of the term meerga—kind of insensitive?” Murray’s voice asked—he’d interviewed them from off camera.
   Addy shrugged. “It’s from Mere Girl, as that was the original name for the company, and we did assign them numbers, Mere Girl one, two, up through a hundred three. Some people were bothered by that. They were mixing up human girls with ours, in their minds, so we went with our own inhouse slang, meerga, and no one seems to mind…”
   “And  now you’ve given them names instead of numbers.”
   “We give them each a name, yes.  Numbers are used only for filing. We actually give them a selection of names and we watch how they react and we give them the one they seem to react to best. We’ve just started using Molly and Thumbelina.”
   “Thumbelina? Okay, well—the genetic engineering of these girls—”
   “We don’t like the term girls with respect to our product,” Scalia broke in, her voice brittle. “We prefer meerga, or ‘peep pets’.”
   Murray’s voice, on the video, was harder to hear than theirs. “They’re pretty thoroughly human, in most respects. They’re…I mean, low IQs don’t exclude a mentally handicapped girl, born in the conventional way, from being called a human. A human girl.”
   “Their DNA is so very designer modeled,” Addy said, with a patronizing smile. “They simply can’t be considered human. They’re genetically engineered pets. On the exterior they look like beautiful human models.”
   “They feel like it too,” said Scalia impishly. “I mean—if you stroke them, play with them, they feel like a beautiful human girl. They have such incredibly lovely skin. It’s literally a work of art.”
   “But—doesn’t it ever disturb you that, looking so human, they’re used almost entirely for sex?”
   Scalia blinked. “Well. They can also be trained for simple serving. Just, you know, carrying trays of canapés, that kind of thing.”
   “They’re also great decorator pieces,” Addy put in. He seemed quite deadpan serious about it.
   “—but at the very least it encourages people to think about women as sex objects alone. Mentally handicapped ones in this case.”
   “I don’t think of human women that way,” said Addy blandly. “And I use the product. So does my wife! We love our pets.”
   His smiling wife nodded enthusiastically.
   “They’re illegal in most countries. Doesn’t that suggest that the majority of people are repelled by them?”
   “You see?” Addy shook his head sadly. “Hostility. We’re completely legal in the USA.”
   “A special law had to be passed and the campaign contributions from Creske Labs were—”
   “It’s not your job to get political here, is it?” Scalia interrupted, still smilingbut smiling in a puzzled way. “You’re doing a scientific study. To give congress cover, really, that’s all.”
   Addy looked at her warningly. The remark about congress had been awkward.
    “Do any of your customers ever feel odd about having sex with a person who’s only about four years old?”
   “They’re not a person, in the human sense,” said Addy stiffly. “They’re meerga. They don’t even look like human children—except in the growers, when no one sees them but the technicians. When they wake up, they look exactly like adult women and men. They’re simply not human. They’re a special category of human-like pets. That is, pets that appear human. But aren’t.”
   “Pets men have sex with.”
   Addy waved dismissively. “And women do too! Have you seen our male selection?”
   “Yes. I have.” The males—the meerbaswere even more distasteful to Murray, perhaps because he was the father of a boy. “But if they’re not human—why do some men marry the meerga females?”
   “They don’t, in this country. That’s something that happens with a few people in the United Muslim Republic. We can’t control every last thing they do with meergas when they get them there. Meergas cannot have offspring—so I don’t see the harm of having some sort of silly marriage ceremony, if it’s not illegal to ‘marry’ a pet in their country. But they all know they’re not people. They leave them in their wills to their children! The meergas can live to be more than two hundred, and stay pretty for most of that time, before they start aging—that’s a valuable commodity.”
    “What about the cast-offs, the ones you guys put down at birth? Less pretty?”
   “Happens with pet breeding,” Addy said, shrugging sullenly.
   Murray hit pause, freezing Addy in his shrug, and fast-forwarded to the images of the girl who insisted on calling herself Meerga. She wouldn’t say why she called herself only Meerga. Murray suspected it was a kind of statement of solidarity with her duller sisters.
   Her official name had been Salome. Then one day she’d refused to be addressed by that name. Refusal was unknown, among meergas. But soon she began to make demands, and refused to eat, demanding they first give her a room of her own, and something to draw with. Demands too were unknown among Meergas.
   They’d planned to have her put to sleep, of course, but their biotechs had wanted to observe her first, run some tests, see what had gone wrong. Then the Murray’s study became aware of her, and made its own rather indeterminate determination. Her skull was normal—that is, normal for ordinary human beings. A standard meerga’s skull seemed normal externally, but was mostly porous bone, inside, down to a brain less than half the size of a typical human’s. Meerga’s brain was the size of a conventional human’s and, if anything, she was a genius by conventional human standards.
   The biotechs suspected one of their subordinates had tampered with her growth patterns. Certainly someone had given her extra mental imagery through the inducers. It was standard for them to be placed in inspection units already knowing how to speak; to arrive there housebroken and prone to cleanliness and with a basic sense of cosmetic style and a hairtrigger for heterosexual arousal. They were also given a variety of specialized skills, most of them inputted through direct cerebral induction. But someone had put too much data in a brain that should never have been as large as it was. Mutation was presumed–but perhaps an artificially induced mutation?
   There she was, in the video with some of the other girls, treating them like pets herself, stroking their hair, smiling lovingly at them, giving them sweets from her food tray—treating them like toddlers, really. The other meergas were clearly little more than imbeciles. Passive, gently playful imbeciles—imbeciles who were potty trained, who showered; who brushed their teeth and could learn simple massage, and songs. They all had perfect pitch. But they were essentially imbeciles. All but Meerga.
   Meerga was intelligent, compassionate, empathetic—no one had modeled empathy for her, until the study, but she had always had it—and there was a good possibility her IQ was higher than Murray’s. She wasn’t quite ready to take the test yet.
   He fast-forwarded to a video of Meerga drawing on her walls. Intricate designs. They were naïve landscapes, very neatly done, with perspective. Things she’d never seen in person.
    “Murray.”
   He started to hit the off switch on the screen, then realized he was being foolish, and smiled up at her. “Meerga. I was just looking at your art.”
   She stood shyly in the doorway, Beth Ganset standing like a fond aunt behind her.
   Meerga was tall, willowy, blond, blue eyed; not one of the bustier meerga models. She wore sun-yellow pajamas, and slippers. She refused to wear the  diaphanous outfits that were used for sales presentation. Any refusal was unthinkable for a meerga—but that one had stunned the trainers.
   “Hello Meerga. Beth.”
   Almost as old as Murray, Beth Ganset wore a white doctor’s jacket and the wrist scanner. Her horn rim smart glasses and bobbed hair made her seem more medical, somehow. Murray was a PhD psychologist; Beth was a psychiatrist, crucial to the study’s funding. She was about a head shorter than Meerga, and had to look past the girl’s shoulder to be seen by Murray. “She wanted to talk to you, Murray. Is now okay?”
   “Sure. How’s her schoolwork going?”
   Beth chuckled. “I cannot keep up with the girl.”
   “I’m not surprised. She’s scary smart.”
   Meerga raised her eyebrows. “It’s scary?” She seemed faintly alarmed, though her voice remained soft, lilting. It was designed that way.
   “No. Just an expression.”
   “What are you up to?” Beth asked him, nodding toward the screen.
   “Trying to decide if the initial video interview should go in the study’s final report, amongst other things. Come on in, you guys, don’t hang about out there…”
   Beth shook her head. “You guys talk. I’ve got to get back to checking  brain volumes…”
   “Anything new there?”
   “Nope. No one else like Meerga so far.” She waved goodbye and walked off, murmuring to her smart glasses.
   Meerga came in. She looked at the chair across from him.
   “Have a seat, Meerga.”
   “Thank you.”
   She sat down. Her movements were sensuous, graceful. She was designed that way, too.
   He looked in her crystal-blue eyes, and saw a seamless mix of intelligence and puzzlement. “You always look a little puzzled,” he said, gently. “What are you puzzling about?”
   She tilted her head to one side and thought about it. “It’s more confused than puzzled. When I look at you, and Beth, and the trainers, here, and I look at the other girls…”
   “Beth and I explained how you were all gestated. The lack of parents, the profit motive here, what money is…”
   “Yes, I understand all that.” She fluttered the delicate fingers of one hand.  Her fingernails were innately colored a pearly pink. They were always perfectly shaped, without a manicure. If she broke one, another grew. Otherwise, they had stopped growing.
   It was all in the study. Which was coming to an end.
   “I’m confused about why I’m more like…like Beth. Than I’m like the other girls. I mean, the way I think and talk.”
   “Beth explained mutation to you?”
   “Yes. You think it’s that?”
   “We’re not sure. But it’s something along those lines.”
   “But I am like the others in some ways.”
   “You’re very different in important ways, Meerga. You’re not suited for—well,  I think it’s all a mistake, really, to sell meergas. Completely wrong. But you especially…don’t belong here.”
   “Not sure I belong outside. I don’t know. Haven’t seen much.”
   He nodded. “Not so far.” They’d only let Beth take Meerga to the park. She’d shown real excitement on seeing the trees, the pond, the ducks, lifters flying overhead. It was an excitement she never displayed in the training centerexcept just a little, when she was given new reading on her tablet. The encyclopedia download lit flames in her eyes. “Beth told you we’re working on taking you out of here—and I think we’ve almost got it arranged.”
   Her eyes widened—it was a beautiful effect. “Really?” She frowned prettily. “But the Creskes won’t allow it.”
   “They won’t have a choice.”
   “And—the study is ending?”
   “Oh yes. Just a few days more. They’re going to be glad to see us gone. I was hoping the study would push congress into making this place illegal but…” He shook his head. “The preliminary report didn’t seem to impress them.  A lot of congressmen own meergas.”
   “What if someone buys me before you can get me out?”
   “I…had a discussion about that, yesterday, with Addy. He says it won’t happen. You’re…” He didn’t want to use the word defective. “You’re not the kind of product they sell. He says the study can take charge of you, if we pay costs.”
   Her lips parted. She seemed to stop breathing for a moment. “I can go with you?”
   “Um—yes, with us. You can stay with one of us, and we’ll find somewhere you can…someone to adopt you.”
   “I want you to adopt me, Murray. I want to live with you.”
   His mouth went dry. “…Ah.”
   “And I’d like to have children. Someday.”
“What?” He’d thought Meerga was clear she couldn’t have children. And did she mean with him?
   “I mean,” she said, “I’d like to adopt a baby someday. A normal baby.”
   “Oh! Someday you probably can. First—”
   Murray’s screen chimed. URGENT CALL lit up. He touched the screen icon. “Yes?”
   “Dr. Stathis?”
   He felt a chill. “Yes.”
   “This is Meredith Kinz at Hartford Central. We have your son Ryan here. He’s been shot. He’s lost a lot of blood...”
   
                                  
4. Cell Repair


   “I know: ‘It’s been a month, so get out of bed,’” Ryan said, his voice listless. He was sitting up in his bed, looking at the tablet in his lap.
   The tablet, Murray knew, was looking back.
   “I didn’t say anything like that, Ryan.” Murray stretched, and yawned. He had slept in too. He’d managed trousers and a t-shirt, but he was still barefoot.
   “I was going to get up,” Ryan murmured. “It doesn’t hurt much to walk now…Just not sleeping that well.” He still hadn’t looked up from the tablet.
   “I’ve got a prescription for you from Beth, for that. But you can’t start being dependent on pills.”
   “Okay, hey.”
   When I was his age, I’d have said Whatever, Murray thought. It was saying the same thing.
   Murray cleared his throat. “Actually–I came in to ask if you want to have some coffee with me.” He’d never known Ryan to take an interest in coffee, but he thought Ryan might like the man-to-man inclusion of the offer.
   Ryan tilted his head—but kept looking into the tablet. “Um…I don’t like coffee. Makes me anxious.” He shrugged. “I like hot chocolate.”
   “I want to try hot chocolate,” Meerga said, coming in. “They didn’t give it to us at the training center. No hot drinks. I think they were afraid we’d burn ourselves.” She wore jeans with a hole in one knee, and an oversized sweatshirt, and dirty white tennis shoes. Yet she was impossibly attractive, even dressed like that.
   And now Ryan looked up from the tablet—at Meerga.
   “That place we went by last week, when we walked in that park,” Ryan said tentatively. “They have hot chocolate. If we can get a driverless to pick us up, and…”
   His voice trailed off; his eyes got a little glassy. He was probably thinking about Tarina.
   “Did she call?” Meerga said.
   Meerga had an eerie way of seeming to read minds. But Murray thought it was just her precocity—and her gift for observing people.
   “No.” He glanced at the tablet. His voice was hard to hear. “She went back under tech soon as her dad let the ambulance guys in...”
   “How do you know?” Murray asked. “You were out cold.”
   “I talked to Sharma…her cousin.” He nodded at the tablet. “She went to see what was up. They’re all three still under tech. More than a month later…”
   “I see. Well. Let’s get a driverless, and go get some hot chocolate. Actually I think I’ll have a mocha.”
   “Is that place safe?” Meerga asked, looking at Murray.
   He felt the usual inner shock when she looked at himher frankness, her openness, her almost diabolically sculpted beauty. “There’s some auto security around the coffee shop, but it’s nothing like in the residential areas. We’ll be fine.”
   “I’m not going to do anything else stupid,” Ryan said, looking at her a little resentfully.
   But he couldn’t keep any sullenness in him, long, when he was looking at her. After a moment, a dreamy smile ghosted the corners of his mouth…
   I shouldn’t have brought her here, Murray thought. How could he not become sexually obsessed with her?
   She never seemed to flirt with the boy. When she looked at Murray, though, sometimes—he thought she was trying to convey something. Which worried him almost as much.
   But she needed the home. Beth’s place was really small. And she was helpful; she wasn’t intrusive. She had social skills that should’ve been beyond her. Some other residence could be found. But she was so attractive he was afraid for her. He had arranged for her entry into the wide world; he had to take responsibility.
   Murray took a deep breath. “I’ll call a driverless.”
          

5. Embraced


   “Ryan’s been home from the hospital for a month and a half, Beth, the nerve damage has been repaired and…well, he has a small limp but really, he’s healed up well. It’s just—I guess it’s the thing with Tarina. He has some form of PTSD. He’s hardly sleeping, at all. I don’t know…”
   He was talking to her from the screen in the extra bedroom he used for an office. Beth listened to him a little like a psychiatrist, but there was intimacy in it too. They’d dated, recently, and sometimes he thought about asking her to marry him. She might well say yes. He wasn’t madly attracted to her, but she was a kindly, intelligent woman, she was his good friend, and she liked Ryan. The boy was merely polite to her, though.
   “I don’t have to tell you to be patient with him,” she said. Then she smiled. “But be patient with him.” She hesitated, then added, “There are some very clean antidepressants now. Almost no side effects.”
   “Right. But…I’d rather not go there if we don’t have to.”
   “How’s he getting along with Meerga?”
   “Oh—he adores her. What boy wouldn’t?” He laughed softly.
   “He doesn’t do anything to…”
   “No, no, he knows she’s really only seven years old.”
   “When I was there for dinner I thought she was…gazing at you, sort of.”
   “Gazing?”
   “I mean, she may be somewhat emotionally fixated on you.”
   “We’ve pretty much adopted her, after all.”
   “You know what I mean…”
   “Well…Yes.”
   Two nights ago she’d knocked on his bedroom door…
   “Doctor Stathis?”
   “Yes, Meerga?”
   “Am I disturbing you?”
   “No, I was just watching an old movie.”
   “Can I watch it?”
   
Oh…” He was lying on his bed, watching a very old movie indeed. Early Fred Astaire. What was the harm in watching Fred Astaire with her? “Sure.”
   She came in, wearing a slip, her bathrobe and slippers, and sat down cross-legged on the bed beside him. On the screen, Fred and Ginger were gliding across a shining ballroom.
   “Wow. They look happy,” Meerga said.
   “Sure. But really, Ginger was probably hoping desperately that this was a final take because her feet were killing her.”
   Meerga laughed, apparently getting the joke. She looked fondly at him. “You’re sweet to let me watch this with you.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks.”
   She put a hand over his. And she was gazing at him.
   He looked at her. “What’s up, kiddo?”
   “I’m made for men…”
   “You’re going to school and you’ll be going to go to college. You’ll meet men. In twelve years or so you’ll be legal to…do whatever you feel like with them. I doubt you get much resistance.”
   “But what about you?”
   His heart was pounding. But he managed to smile dismissively. “You’re something like magic, Meerga. But that part of your magic, I will always resist. I’m too old for you and…it would be wrong for about ten reasons. I’d rather not recite them…”
   They watched the movie a little more. He knew she was crying, silently, as she watched it. He didn’t look at her. Then she squeezed his hand and left the bedroom...
   “Yes,” he said now. “But she’ll get over that. I don’t encourage her. You can ask her about it if you want.”
   Beth shook her head. “I’m sure she’s safe with you. I wouldn’t hold it against you for just being tempted that way. You’re only human and she’s…designed.”
   “Right. She is very thoroughly designed. But I’ve got it under control. I was actually thinking you might be able to help me out with that temptation thing. I was hoping we could have a weekend, you know, just you and me.”
   Beth’s quick smile was as genuine as a sudden light in a dark room.  “Yes! That’d be great! Only, we should bring Ryan and Meerga, get them each a room. She’ll see how things are. And…so would Ryan.”
   They talked a little more, and then hung up—and Murray had a sudden urge to check on Ryan. Just have a quick look in on his son. Who was so like him, in some ways.
   Meerga had been spending a lot of time with Ryan. Hadn’t he heard her footsteps, padding by, earlier, on the way to Ryan’s room? He hadn’t thought about it, then…
   “Oh Jesus,” he murmured.
   He got up quickly, went down the hall—and hesitated, his hand on Ryan’s bedroom door. He could smell her natural perfume. She had been here, at this door.
   You have to know…
   Murray opened the door, and froze. She was there, in the shadowy room—and she was in bed with Ryan.
   “Meerga?”
   She stirred. Murray went closer, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. After a moment, he could see she was lying on top of the comforter. Ryan was under the blankets, turned away from her. She had her arm draped over Ryan, spooning against him like a mother with a child. Or like a comforting big sister. He remembered the way she’d been with the other girls, at the training center; he remembered she wanted children.
   They were both asleep. He hadn’t given the boy his sleeping pill, but Ryan was breathing deeply, and smiling in his sleep.
   Murray felt a sick tautness go out of him. He felt better than he had in months. Maybe years.
   He left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.





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Archive of Stories
and Authors

Sanford Meschkow's
INEVITABLE

Sanford Meschkow is a retired former
NYer who married a Philly suburban
Main Line girl. Sanford has been pub-
lished in a 1970s issue of AMAZING.
We welcome him here on the FREE-
ZINE of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's
THE RECIDIVIST



Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's
THE MEMORY SECTOR

Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking currently
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movies within the comfort of an Insane
Asylum. Search for his science fiction
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the Flesheater's World section.
The Memory Sector is his first
appearance in the Freezine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Owen R. Powell's
NOETIC VACATIONS

Little is known of the mysterious
Owen R. Powell (oftentimes referred
to as Orp online). That is because he
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Noetic Vacations marks his first
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Edward Morris's
MERCY STREET

Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for
the Pushcart Prize in literature, has
also been nominated for the 2009
Rhysling Award and the 2005 British
Science Fiction Association Award.
His short stories have been published
over a hundred and twenty times in
four languages, most recently at
PerhihelionSF, the Red Penny Papers'
SUPERPOW! anthology, and The
Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. He lives
and works in Portland as a writer,
editor, spoken word MC and bouncer,
and is also a regular guest author at
the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.

Gene Stewart
(writing as Art Wester)
GROUND PORK


Gene Stewart's
CRYPTID'S LAIR

Gene Stewart is a writer and artist.
He currently lives in the Midwest
American Wilderness where he is
researching tales of mystical realism,
writing ficta mystica, and exploring
the dark by casting a little light into
the shadows. Follow this link to his
website where there are many samples
of his writing and much else; come
explore.

Adam Bolivar's
SERVITORS OF THE
OUTER DARKNESS


Adam Bolivar's
THE DEVIL & SIR
FRANCIS DRAKE



Adam Bolivar's
THE TIME-EATER


Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
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David Agranoff's
A PLANET OF YOUR OWN


David Agranoff's
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE


David Agranoff is the author of the
short story collection Screams From
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His contributions to the punk horror
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already established him as a bright
new writer and activist to watch out
for. The Freezine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
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ecological imbalance. David's latest
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novel called Hunting The Moon Tribe,
already out from Afterbirth Books.;
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[Deadite Press, 2010]; and
[Deadite Press, 2014]

Daniel José Older's
GRAVEYARD WALTZ


Daniel José Older's
THE COLLECTOR


Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
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the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
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When he's not writing, teaching or
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Johnny Strike's
AS YOU WISH



Johnny Strike's
NIGHT FLAMERS



Johnny Strike's
THE HOMELESS MUTANTS



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Paul Stuart's
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Rain Grave's
MAU BAST


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Icy Sedgwick's
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Blag Dahlia's
armed to the teeth
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G. Alden Davis's
THE FOLD


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