(Note – This is Chapter 6 of the story. See chapter 1.)
People. Crowds of people crammed into Ryk’s tiny house, smashed elbow to elbow together. And what a house it was, or perhaps it would be better to say “what a house it wasn’t”. It had only the most basic furnishings and extremely limited automation. There were no robots, not one. No simulation equipment in any room. No environmental controls beyond “heat”. No scented breezes, just the smell of food and that sickening smell of people. People. Sweating, coughing, sneezing, sniffling. Breathing! To have to put up with the rot and decay known as death at the funeral was bad enough, but Jesk had to actually be with people, many of whom had the stupid assumption that they needed to hug him. “You lost your sister, poor man.” He did his best to keep his anger in check, but he had been at a low simmer all afternoon. Thara would pay for it when they got home.
Where was Thara? They had been separated soon after they arrived. He had been pulled aside to listen to some of Brey’s friends talk at him while Thara watched over Adi as she played with the snot-nosed kids of his loser sister’s idiot son. A few other kids where there as well, all germ factories. It had been over two hours. What had she said? And to whom?
Jesk first noticed Adi. She was on the floor, like a peasant, playing with several other kids. They had toys that weren’t animated. They had no electronics nor robotics of any type. There were no simulations involved and there was nothing that was genetically engineered. They were playing with dead, non-interactive things, as if it were the Middle Ages. And she was actually smiling and laughing!
And there was Thara, talking to a strange woman as their daughter played in the filth with the filth. She was smiling, like their daughter. It was a strange expression, not the plastic one she used with him. There were wrinkles around her eyes as she talked, and laughed and smiled. Her entire face was animated in a way that he had never seen.
Jesk felt his heart rate go up, the heat rise in his face.
“Thara, we are leaving immediately,” he said. Everyone in the entire house stopped talking and turned towards him. He realized he must have shouted.
Thara turned towards him. Her animated smile was gone. In its place was a stone-cold stare, the type his father used to give him when he had done something his father considered “wrong”. She did not look like the 18-year-old girl-child that she should have. She was older.
“Go ahead and leave,” she said. “Nobody is keeping you here.” She put her arms across her chest and leaned back slightly, a disapproving frown on her face.
Jesk sputtered a few words before finding his voice. “You and Adi are coming with me! Now!” He stomped his foot and began to shake a fist. “I said now! Ga-damnit, now!” His teeth were gritting. He stomped again. “Now!” He knew that it was a blood curdling scream.
Adi jumped up and cowered behind her mother, hugging Thara’s leg. His child, his flesh and blood acted as if she were frightened by him. His temperature went up even more. Thara had poisoned her mind!
“No, we’re not. We may leave soon, but not with you.” Thara’s voice was very soft and cool.
“But you have to! There’s a contract…”
“Ha! You are a fine one to talk about ‘breach of contract’.” Thara was not trying to hide the contempt in her voice. “But you are also wrong, dead wrong. Go read all of our agreements and the pre-nuptial again. Your lawyers did a good job of making them airtight. For one thing, the clause the says that I am not entitled to a penny of your fortune if I leave also states that you are not entitled to make a claim of any type on any children we may have. Not only does it state in black and white that you give up all custody of Adi, it says that you give up visitation rights and even the right to know where she lives. I made you resign that part of the contract after Adi was born, just to be safe. Everything I am doing is well within my rights and you can’t do a thing about it.”
How dare she! He had given her everything! She lived a life more luxurious than anyone as little as 20 years ago could imagine. No queen in history had what she did!
“But you owe me everything, everything!” He knew he was screaming and the spit and slobber came out of his mouth, but he didn’t care. These people were less than zero and he was right, always right, no matter what, and he had to win. Win above all costs. Never show any weakness. Never budge. Never give an inch. Never lose. Win.
“I do? I was in college when you pulled its loans, making it close its doors after over 220 years. I sold myself into prostitution as your whore just to survive because of that. I’m tired of that job and want to leave, so I’m quitting. Today. Now.”
Everyone was staring at him. There were frowns and nods. The rabble, of course, supported one of their own. Yes, he did pay her a salary, higher than all but 25 of his employees, but she wasn’t a prostitute, she was his wife! His beautiful, always 18-year-old wife.
“Have nothing to do with you. Do you think I’d destroy my health for you? As I said, my doctor told me that if I followed those treatments that I’d be a beautiful corpse by the time I’m 40 or 45 at the latest. I exercise constantly, eat right and understand clothing and makeup. Ten minutes in front of a mirror and I can make myself look any age I chose. Today I chose to look like the real me to honor my sister-in-law. You never give more than a superficial glance, you never noticed. As to you paying for it, all of the money went to buy your stupid steaks.”
“Yes, your $3000 per pound steaks that you eat three meals a day, very day. Since you never noticed us as you ate them, will us not being there be any different? Put one of your precious robots in our place to say ‘Yes, Honey’ and ‘No, Honey’. The robot will always look whatever age you want.”
His mind was blank. What was she saying? It was if he was in a nightmare and couldn’t wake up.
“But, but, but you can’t just leave!”
“Watch me. Adi, let’s go.”
Adi took Thara’s hand. People parted as they walked through the house and out of the front door. A Pod was waiting for them.
After helping Adi into the Pod, Thara turned and smiled, a smile that spoke of victory. “My name is Thara Smyth and I am free.”
Jesk stood and stared as the Pod disappeared.
This is the sixth chapter of the story “When the Elephant Bumps the Mouse House” based on the image by Marianne Sopala that was off of Pixabay. The larger story is in response to D. Wallace Peach’s February Speculative Fiction Prompt.