“Did you say something Mr. Glucorde?”
He turned his head and found himself staring up at his doctor—Dr. Hooten, a woman with the bedside manner of a servodroid.
"How are you feeling Mr. Glucorde?" she asked without taking her eyes off the various monitors she surveyed. "Can you hear me all right?”
"Why does everyone want to know if I can hear them? Of
I hear you. You don't have to yell.”
"I'm not yelling Mr. Glucorde, but sometimes when the body shuts down like that, it can affect certain implants."
"Yes," she said, turning to look at him for the first time. "That's what happened. One of your artificial kidneys malfunctioned and when your nano sensors discovered they couldn't correct the problem, they shut everything down. The trouble is, some of your artificial organs are so old their technology doesn’t interface properly with the nanites that regulate your system. It's like sticking a self-heat packet into an old microwave. They both have the same function but together they're counterproductive."
"What if I'd been driving? Those damned nano bugs could've got me killed."
A nurse walked in, smiled her nurse-smile at him and handed the doctor a pad.
, as you say, saved your life Mr. Glucorde," the doctor said as she read the pad. "Besides, you shouldn't be flying. Your medical-"
"I said driving,
flying! Are you deaf?"
"You shouldn't be driving either Mr. Glucorde." The doctor stood. "Now we've given you a new kidney, one which will exchange information if you will, with the dominant nanites. As for your remaining, outdated organs, I hesitate to-"
"So when can I go home?"
"Why, you can go home right now Mr. Glucorde. Your hearing and vision seem fine, but if you experience any problems with those implants have someone bring you back in. Just promise me, no jitterbugging for a week."
"You're a funny lady, Doc," he said as she walked out. "Except the jitterbug was already extinct when I was born."
* * *
He detested flying—especially the takeoffs and landings—but as the Medvan descended he caught a glimpse of her. The sight relaxed him. She was parked out front, looking as resplendent as the day he bought her.
Now, when exactly was that?
He couldn't remember what year it had been, though somehow he could still picture the place. Too bad they didn't have an implant to boost his memory.
He ignored the medtech's dry insistence that they wheel him up to his front door like a sack of potatoes. Instead, he made his own way slowly over to the car. By the time he reached it the Medvan had taken off.
"She's as good as new." It was Cecilia's boy, Steve. “Glad to see you are too,” he opened the hood and Ben felt a prick of jealousy. "The problem was your water pump, Ben. I don't know how long it was in there but it was rusted through. Don't worry though; I fabricated a new one–one that won't rust. I altered the design a little so it should–"
"I don't want some fancy new pump. I just want the same old kind I've been using for years."
"Sorry Ben but they don't make pumps like that anymore. They probably haven't for decades. I don't know where you managed to find the last one."
"Junkyard," Ben replied gruffly.
"Well, anyway, she should drive fine now," Steve said, closing the hood.
"Didn't mean to sound ungrateful. I appreciate all the work you do helping me keep her in shape."
"Don't worry about it. I know she's more to you than just wires and pistons. But I'm afraid I’ve got some bad news. I've been transferred to our corporate headquarters in Osaka, so I won't be around to help you anymore. I'll miss it. I love working on this old relic. It's probably the only one of its kind still running."
"Yeah," said Ben, "we relics have to stick together."
Steve chuckled and said, "Looks like you've got company."
Ben turned and saw a hovering aerocar.
"I'm going to get going. Best of luck to you, Ben."
“Thanks for all your help Steve.”
The aerocar landed and both hatches lifted. Out one side popped a little pixie of a girl. She had on a pink and white T-shirt and white shorts revealing skinny legs.
"Grampa Ben!" she screeched and threw her arms around him.
He held on just to keep his balance as she hugged him with puppy-like zeal. She smelled of lilacs, or some kind of flower he thought. He felt the silky smooth skin of her arms and the soft pressure of her breasts against his stomach. She was a tiny thing, not more than five-two or five-three he figured.
Truthfully, he didn't recognize her. S
was familiar about her–that light red hair, the slightly upturned nose. He was sure she looked like someone he had once known.
"It's so swanking to see you again Grampa Ben."
Someone else emerged from the aerocar–a young fellow carrying two small bags. He was neat-and-clean and oddly serious-looking, except half his head was shaved nearly bald, with a tattoo of a featureless mask under the stubble. The other half had a full shock of wavy blond hair. The odd-looking young man stopped a few feet behind Amber.
"Grampa Ben, this is Shon. Shon, this is my great-great-grandfather, Grampa Ben."
"Jell to face with you Mr. Glucorde," the boy said formally. But even as he spoke his eyes were drawn to the car. "Scan this, Am. This is
swanking," he said, as he circled it. "Must be at least fifty years old–a real museum piece."
"Hmmph! It's a lot older than that boy. This is a 1965 Ford Mustang."
"You're jacking me? Did you file that Am? This ob is more than a hundred years old."
"Sure, Grampa Ben's had that forever. I swoon for the color."
"Acapulco Blue," Ben said, and as the words left his mouth he was brushed by a vivid recollection. The woman with the red hair. He remembered now. She’d looked like Amber. How could he have ever forgotten her? The lapse angered him. Through the disgust with his faulty memory he saw her clearly now. He recalled the time he
d taken the car to have it painted and how she
d insisted on that color because its designation reminded her of their trip to Mexico. From then on, it was never just
. It was the blue-blue of the clear blue water off the beaches of Acapulco.
"Does it actually pow'up?" Shon reached out and tentatively touched the car as if its metal skin might come to life.
"If you mean does she go–damn straight!" Ben growled; his fragile reminiscence shattered. "She'll blow the Turtle Wax off that contraption of yours."
oh never mind
. It's fast, boy, real fast."
"You'll have to take us for a ride Grampa."
"Sure, sure. But right now I've got to go inside and take a nap. Just got myself a brand-new kidney you know."
* * *
From the senseless void where he slept, consciousness returned and he groped for the control pad. As the bed elevated and his vision and hearing returned on cue, he recalled fragments of a lingering dream.
He was young again. He was running—running as fast as he could. Not chasing or being chased, just running; the sheer freedom of it was exhilarating. The dream shifted and he was driving his car, a young beauty in the passenger seat, her red hair flying wildly from the air stream of the open window. He couldn't see her face but remembered her laugh and the engine
s sound as it accelerated. He had felt a chill. A familiar, disturbing sensation of being overcome by cold. It had driven him from his dream and back to reality.
Now he heard another sound–not from the dream–a real sound. The sound of lovemaking. Unmistakable moans of pleasure, labored breathing, a rapturous cry–sounds he had not heard in…he couldn't remember how long it had been. He realized it must be Amber and her fellow.
Why not? They were young, full of life. He wished he still could but he hadn't been able to for a long time. The drugs were
with his nano bugs and he refused an implant. He imagined it would be as much fun as poking somebody with a stick. Yet he still had the inclination–dry and dusty as it was.
He waited a while after the sounds of passion ceased, then made plenty of noise of his own before he came out. He found Amber and Shon sitting at his dining table. They'd made a meal out of what they'd found in his fridge and were going at it with youthful exuberance.
"Hi, sleepyhead." Amber jumped up from her seat and kissed him on the cheek. She was all aglow, bubbling over with enthusiasm. She almost made him feel guilty about being such an old curmudgeon. Almost.
"Are you hungry?" she asked. "I hope you don't mind–we helped ourselves. We were fammed."
"I told you to make yourselves at home, girl and I meant it."
"It's swank and plenty Mr. Glucorde," spoke up Shon. "Ease-on and face."
speaking English, aren't you?"
They both laughed.
"I'll eat later. I'm just going to have some juice. You two go ahead and finish, then I'll take you for that ride I promised."
"Are you sure, Grampa Ben? You
d better eat something."
"Don't be trying to mother me girl," he said, admonishing her with his finger. "You don't have the wrinkles for it."
The refrigerator door slid open at his touch and he chose a plastic container. He steadied himself as his vision blurred momentarily.
Must not be awake yet,
"How long you two planning on staying?" he asked as he filled a glass.
"I don't know Grampa," Amber replied hesitantly. She glanced at Shon with a look that said there was a disagreement. "We haven
t decided. We don't want to impose for too long."
"Hell, girl, I don't hardly ever get any visitors. You both stay as long as you like. I'm sure you'll get bored with an old fossil like me long before I get fed up with you,” he took a drink from his glass, frowned, and made a noise as if to spit out what he'd swallowed. "Damn! Tastes like metal. They can put a man on Mars but they can't make a decent glass of lemonade. I don't envy you kids–having to live in this screwed-up world."
"Screwed-up?" asked Amber.
"You know," Ben replied, "
, made into a mess, disgusting, like that juice."
"Some of us won't input the mess," Shon said. "We're going to change things."
," said Amber, censuring him.
"Good for you." Ben poured the remaining juice into the sink. "I was all fired up to change the world when I was your age too. Yeah, we thought we could stop a war by singing songs and handing out flowers. We found out the hard way the world didn
t want to change. Maybe you can do a better job of it."
* * *
"This is swanking Grampa Ben." With the wind playing through her hair and a big smile on her face, she reminded him again of someone. Though at the moment he couldn
t remember who. "I've never gone so fast this close to the ground.”
"After all these years, she can still move. It's starting to get a bit chilly though, we'd better roll up the windows."
"Yeah, like this,” he cranked the handle on his side until the window closed. Amber followed suit.
"You control this automobile real jell," Shon said from the backseat.
"You mean for an old man don't you? Well this car and me, we've been together a long time. I can remember driving her to the Grand Canyon with my son when he was still little, crossing the Hoover Dam late at night when no one was around. It was eerie–like we were the only people left alive in the whole world. It’s funny how I can remember that, when I can't even recall what I had for dinner last night,” he glanced to the side momentarily, trying to remember and then capitulated with a shake of his head. "You've heard of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam I suppose?"
"Sure, Grampa, we input a virtual trip last summer."
"Virtual? That's not the same as being there. You need to see it firsthand." Ben paused, lost in thought. "Now what was I talking about? Oh yeah. We've got a connection, this car and me,” he clutched the gearshift as if to demonstrate. "I can feel by the vibrations of the tires and the surge of the accelerator if everything isn't just right. There's a rhythm to driving her, an awareness. It's like making love. Yes sir. She
s an ode unto herself and every street
s another stanza. Heck, when it's my time to go, I want to be buried in her."
"You're jacking us, aren't you Mr. Glucorde?"
"I'm as serious as a heart attack."
"Bizarrama? You mean like that half-a-head of hair you're wearing?"