A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 60 Table of Contents Chapter 62

Chapter 61

Crystal Jellies, March 19, 2058

The first time I saw a telescopic view of the L1 sunshades, I remembered standing in an aquarium watching crystal jellyfish. These tiny, delicate creatures were so beautiful I could scarce believe such miracles existed. I was transported. For a second, I was back watching those fluttering pink mauve miracles, but I wasn’t. It was a swarm of sunshades illuminated by brilliant sunlight. Here and there, the deep blue of an ion drive could be seen.

I thought of the sunshades and jellyfish that night when I looked in on Anna sleeping and the light caught her small pink face.

The next day I had a full schedule — classes in morning and afternoon, then an UNGETF conference and there was always work to do in the greenhouse.

In the middle of my afternoon lecture, Carman walked into the class and sat unobtrusively at the back.

He waited until all the students had left and then spoke to me across the empty hall. “Fascinating as always, doctor. I never would have guessed the succession of species at Chernobyl could be so informative.”

I watched him approach, feeling like the proverbial fly awaiting a spider’s tender mercies. “What can I do for you Carman?”

He stopped at the bottom stair beside the first row of seats. “Nothing, as far as I know.”

“Then why are you here?”

“You don’t have to be so cut-and-dried.”

“I have an UNGETF meeting to get to.”

“Oh, is that what it is. Would you like a ride?”

I hesitated for a second. Why had Carman approached me again? Did I want to be seen with a ConSec agent? Did I have any choice? “I’ll just drop these notes off at my office and be right with you.”

“I’ll tag along.”

“Afraid I’ll make a break for it?”

Carman held the door open with his foot and tapped beside his lens computer eye. “No. I just hate waiting.”

“The trick to that is to always have a ready store of problems to think about. Either that or carry a book,” I offered.

He did not smile.

My office was up one flight of stairs, but then we took the elevator down to the ground floor. It was just like in the videos. A big guy in a business suit, wearing a lens computer, leaned back against the fender of a black sedan. He looked me over and got into the driver’s seat without speaking.

As soon as I sat down, Carman said, “I thought you might like to know your brother is in the USSA.”

For a second I just stared at him in shock. It had been three years. I had thought Matt was probably dead. “Are you sure?”

“Oh quite.”

“How do you know?”

“We have DNA. He’s been selling a power generating bauble in Brazil.”

Alive. I sat back, my thoughts in a whirl. I didn’t trust Carman. Why was he telling me this? I doubted his motives were humanitarian. Was I bait? What was his game?

Then I thought of Edie. For one terrible moment I wished Matt were dead. I was appalled at myself. I wrestled with these feelings as the car approached the MacDonald building.

“Well, here we are.” said Carman when we stopped. “Have a good meeting.”

I stumbled out of the car in shock. I drifted through security and up the elevator. I couldn’t think of anything but Matt. Could I believe Carman? What reason would he have to lie? Wild fantasies ran through my mind. How could I know?

I was early. I sat at the conference table trying to focus on UNGETF business, but all I could think about was Matt, Edie and Anna. I had to tell Jon.

The meeting was mostly a report on tree growing in the African battlefields. At L1 they had just constructed their 176th sunshade. The second rail gun was just completed and the rate of construction would double. The EF1 lichen seeding project was going well. Reports of robust growth were coming in from across the North. Rhamaposa seemed oddly perfunctory. I didn’t wonder why. We are all allowed the odd bad day.

After UNGETF, I was glad my bike was still at the university. I needed the walk to think about Matt. I had been treating Edie like a sister for three years. I hadn’t realized how attached I had become. She was still my brother’s girl, but I wanted her. That was the uncomfortable truth I could no longer avoid. And what was I going to do about it?

I was late getting home, but they had waited to eat with me. Anna was in the front room playing with a doll and Edie was sitting sideways at the table reading when I walked in.

“I have news of Matt,” I said.

Edie put her padd down, a frown creasing her forehead. “Yes?”

“He’s in South America.”

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know. He tried to sell some gadget to the Brazilians.”

“Oh.” She cleared her throat, putting her hand to her mouth. “I hadn’t thought of him in a while.”

With the unfailing instinct of children to be where the action is, Anna came into the dining room. “What?” she said, her face a question mark.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” I said. “There’s news of my brother, your…”

Edie took my hand to stop me.

“Your boo-boo. That’s all.”

“We need some radishes for supper,” said Edie. “Run out to the greenhouse and pull some good ones, just the way we did last week. Okay?”

“Okay!” Anna took off in innocent enthusiasm.

When she was outside, Edie squeezed my hand and said, “She thinks you are her father.”

It was the perfect opening for me to tell her how I felt, but I couldn’t get the words out. Something held me back. I nodded in knotted silence.

“Her life will be complicated enough,” said Edie. “So, for now…”

I smiled and squeezed her hand back. “For now.”

Suddenly it occurred to me. “I have to call Jon.”

“After supper,” said Edie getting up.

The back door slammed and Anna ran into the kitchen, a handful of radishes dropping dirt and green bits.

“Whoa there young lady! Let’s take these outside and trim them.” I picked up a paring knife and bowl and took Anna outside. We sat on the back door steps, trimming the tails and tops.

She had to tell me all about choosing the right sized ones, which ones were hot, which she preferred.

“Put all of the tops into the compostor,” I instructed Anna.

She was a happy child, I mused as she ran to the barrel at the side of the garden and pranced back. Anna had two speeds — go-go-go and collapse.

“Come on. We just have time to wash up.” I picked up the bowl of radishes and opened the door. “Here. You can give those to your mother. Then come down and wash your hands.”

I went to the downstairs washroom and a moment later Anna joined me. She washed her hands chattering about her doll, Baby Jeanne.

After our wok chicken and vegetable supper with radishes on the side, we strolled around the lake path as usual.

I called Jon when we got back, but he was not home. I left a message.

As I was falling asleep that night, it occurred to me that telling Edie how I felt had completely slipped my mind.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

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Last modified October 8, 2013