Tuesday May 17, 2185
Harper concentrated on the crash of the waves as she pushed back in her magnetic-suspension rocker, nudging the ground with the tips of her toes. Straight, black hair, inherited from her mother, fell across her bare shoulders. She closed her hazel eyes and focused on the sound of her breathing, then counted with the waves. Each one relaxed her more and more. Thick, wet air blanketed her skin. She eased into serenity.
"Harper's just outside, Matthew."
Loud, harsh whispers interrupted her meditation. Her eyes opened to the sound.
"I know, Aayushi. Dammit, this is important"
"What do you want? I'm sorry? Absolutely not.”
"I expected you to be faithful."
"I expected you not to hit Harper or me. And be sober every once in a while. I guess we're both disappointed."
Harper’s micro-mood stabilizer implant struggled to reign in her spiking emotions. Her heart accelerated, fighting back against the increase of melatonin. The moist air formed into a dank cocoon around her as her body sweat mingled with the humidity. She existed in a sealed balloon, and each breath reduced her limited, precious oxygen. The stabilizer notched up, making her a detached observer as her heart now slowed. The world around her became brighter and happier-looking. An artificial spike in endorphins took the edge off, but she wanted her edge. The stabilizer flipped into emergency mode and the artificial high overpowered her ability to concentrate until her mother's voice punched through.
"You're never here, Matthew. When you are here, you're drunk and violent. I've been waiting for thirty years on you.”
"I own a restaurant. I gotta go talk to people, keep them entertained, keep paying on this house somehow."
"You own a dive. And the 'people' you talk to there aren't people, Matthew. They're HPM."
The mention of HPM caught Harper’s attention. The Human Pride Movement tortured and killed models. The group had more weapons stockpiled than the Texas Rangers. She’d seen them at his bar, with their three-bar tattoos. Even through the haze she could envision the drunken patron telling her how they indicate “God, blood, and country - and no damn clones”.
“They're not wrong, Aayushi. We're being replaced!"
"You only think that when you're drinking, Matt. How many have you had? It's not even noon yet."
"Don't you dare, woman! How could you cheat on me with one of those shills?”
“Models, Matthew, not shills.”
Harper visualized her mother flipping her head back and forth with her perpetual black ponytail following the laws of the pendulum. Her mother. Cheating. The idea was laughable. Still, she would have congratulated the woman if she’d gotten the news in confidence.
"How could you cheat with one of ...them?!"
Harper heard the raw hurt in her father's voice. She couldn't stop smiling, still on her endorphin ride, but the goodness had gone out of it. The summer would be another prolonged running battle. She couldn't remember why she had expected an idyllic summer break before she started on her doctorate, or work, or whatever her future held. The spike ebbed just enough for her to understand how sad that idea was. Voices rose again and cut through her concentration.
"One of them? Listen to yourself. He's around, and you're not."
"I'll show you, bitch."
Harper's smile vanished. The stabilizer couldn't keep up. With willpower that she didn't realize she could muster, she forced herself to focus on the situation. Endorphins fought against her, telling her that everything was fine, and she should relax. She struggled to maintain focus and with slow, deliberate thoughts. Harper mustered up the hope that her mother could resolve the situation soon. Harper recognized the wavering in his voice as the tone he took on just before violence erupted.
With all of her conscious effort, she stopped the rocker and held her breath, working up the nerve to intervene. Each noise that escaped through the walls caused an involuntary seizing in her chest.
"What are you going to do? Shoot him? You don't even know where he lives."
"I'll find him. He'll come into Jarro sooner or later, and I'll be there."
There was a good chance the argument would wind down now that he talked about Jarro. Once he got the idea in his head, he'd be on his way there a few minutes later to get plastered drunk. Then one of them, she or her mother, would go get him. The unmistakable high-pitched whine of his proton rifle charging told her that this wasn’t going to end that way. Harper sprang from the chair, stumbling as the friction-less seat slid backward faster than she'd anticipated.
She ran to the back door and the voices get louder as she approached. Harper swung the heavy door open, and her eyes fell to her father. He stood with his back to her beside the living room couch. Her mother stood just beyond him, eyes wide with terror.
"Matthew, calm down and put that thing away. Think – your daughter - “
"How could you do this?! How could you cheat on me with one of them? I'm going to find him, and I'm going to kill him. You'll see – “
Harper made eye contact with her mother, though her father's back prevented her from seeing where the gun pointed. Her mother’s frantic eyes shot wider. The woman shook her head violently side-to-side and mouthed the words 'go' without sound.
Harper heard the whispering sound of a proton rifle discharge. Then the air pressure changed a millisecond before a sharp retort shook the entire house. A hole appeared in the right side of her mother's face. Her mother looked stunned for half a second before she slumped forward to the floor, knocking the weapon from her father's hands as she fell. Harper tried to scream, but the most she could muster was a wheezy gargling noise as her stabilizer stopped working altogether. A panic attack closed off her airways.
Her father turned toward Harper when she made the sound. He didn't seem to see her as he picked the gun up from where it lay on the floor and placed the barrel under his chin. She clasped her hands over her mouth as he charged it again. As he pulled the trigger, he seemed to recognize her, and tears welled up and streamed from the corners of his eyes. Recognition wasn't enough to change his mind. One more bang, and he collapsed into a pile on the floor in front of her.
Harper stood in the porch doorway, unable to move any part of her body. She felt a sunburn forming on the back of her neck. A warm breeze kissed her skin, encouraging her to relax. The sun primed her Vitamin-D pumps. Her mind flashed the images again and again. First, her mother's recognition of her, followed by that sickening look of surprise. Then the hopeless, tormented stare from her father. Two lives gone in less than a minute.
By the time the police arrived, her neck was on fire, and she struggled not to pass out. An officer in the League City Police Department's dark-blue uniform walked across the living room toward her, side-stepping the bodies. His curly black hair and healthy, confident smile reminded her of a classroom assistant who had asked her on a date once. That boy was built like a linebacker, whereas the officer had the build of a soccer player. He seemed nice.
He waved his hand in front of her face and mouthed what looked like her name. He stepped so close that she could smell his aftershave lotion. The man seemed to be yelling something she could not quite make out. The tenseness of her body dissipated enough for her to take a step backward away from the advancing officer, which stopped his screaming and made him smile instead. So she took another step and then another. The man turned her by the shoulders to face the porch where the wooden staircase led to the sandy beach. They circled the house to where several police cars and an ambulance huddled together. In silence, Harper ascended into the back of the ambulance. It seemed like something she should do. When she finished, the policeman stopped moving his mouth, so she guessed she'd done the right thing.
Sometime later, a paramedic slopped sunscreen and aloe onto her burned neck and muttered something else she couldn't understand. She heard words, but they wouldn't reconcile themselves into concepts. Harper laid her body down on a mat in the center of the van and closed her eyes.