“I would like my pottery given to the Centre for Arts. They have a wonderful program that my friend Cheryl has been spearheading, and I think that my work may be a satisfactory guide to Early Government era ceramics. My books, those that you or Regina don’t want, may be given to the library.” Michael’s mother in law was a tiny woman that stood barely as tall as Michael’s abdomen. While he was average height in the modern world, his mother in law was from an entirely different age. Although she had seen two centuries pass, Michael’s mother in law looked surprisingly young; due to at least three dermal replacement surgeries, a dozen bio-mechanical additions, and an unknown amount of other medical treatments, she appeared about thirty or forty years old. Her mind was more computer than tissue, and while she hadn’t become as cold and logical as other cyborgs, she was not terribly warm either.
“Mother, are you sure you want to do this?” Regina called from the stairs as she descended them, looking splendid in a gown made of a shimmering cloth that Michael only knew as “the expensive sort.” Regina was nearly breathless as she dramatically fell into her mother’s arms. She was the youngest of Michael’s mother in law’s ten daughters, only twenty years old and the product of the Government’s “Better Children Through Genetic Planning” program. As such, she was genetically engineered from her mother’s DNA spliced with that of various donors as selected by the Government.
“I’m sure, my sweet child. I have seen too much in this life.” replied Michael’s mother in law with practiced precision. Seventy percent confidence, twenty percent love, and ten percent uncertainty. “I know being without me will be hard on you. We have been very close over the years, but I have grown weary of the world, even one made as special as this one has been by your presence.” Michael listened to the sweet sentiments his mother in law was spilling into his wife’s ear. He knew that she was just saying what his wife wanted to hear, and it frustrated him. He knew the real reason that his mother in law was going to the center on Chapel street; she had run out of money to keep her life going.
“Please, don’t tell anyone,” she had pleaded, “I know I can trust you, even more than my own sons. You have always been loyal and true.” It had been two weeks ago since she told Michael the grim news. It was that same afternoon that she told him that she would like him as her attendant. He had agreed, but under the circumstances that he and Regina be named as sole heirs to what remained of her estate. Grudgingly, Michael’s mother in law agreed.
“Mother, when you meet with the Father in the next life, please give him my love.” pleaded Regina tearfully as her mother held her close.
“I will tell the Father that you love him dearly, and that you’ve grown into a beautiful woman; I will tell him that you are loyal and true, just like the Great Ones that built our society.” replied Michael’s mother in law with a mechanical warmth in her voice. Michael was old enough to know that it was the calculated machinations of the computer inside of his mother in law speaking. He knew that no purely biological creature would spout such reaffirming gibberish.
“I love you Mother!” cried Regina, embracing her mother tightly for one last time. Tears flowed from her eyes as her face was slowly transformed into a mask of pain and grief. Michael calmed his grieving wife as best he could, clasping her on the shoulder and pulling her into a hug.
“You will see that they treat her well, won’t you, darling?” She looked at him with pleading eyes, as though somewhere within her she believed they would toss her mother off a bridge in the country to let her drown.
“At times like these, we must remember that the Government always does well by us. They will make her passing comfortable and quiet.” Michael hated saying passing instead of death. He hated hiding the reality of the situation from his wife, but then he remembered that he had promised that he would protect her always, even if it meant being untruthful. “They will assure her passage into the next life.” He tried not to snicker, as he didn’t believe that the Government issued passports would instantly allow someone into Heaven. He maintained a straight face, reminding himself of his wife’s pain. He also reminded himself of the machine in his head, and remembered that he must not give in to its cold logic.
When Regina had cried herself into a fatigued stupor, Michael brought her into the bedroom to let her rest comfortably, insisting that he would take good care of her mother. When she fell asleep, Michael felt exhausted from the emotional trauma. He would need to calm down before he went to sleep, but first, he would need to take his mother in law to the center on Chapel street. When he descended into the foyer, he saw his mother in law looking through one of the boxes she had marked for destruction. She had a photograph in her hands, which sent Michael reeling. He hadn’t seen such a relic in person.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asked.
“It is a photograph of my husband.” she replied sadly.
“Do you want to take it with you?” Michael asked, feeling foolish for asking. He knew that the Government wouldn’t allow a museum quality relic to be destroyed in a cremation.
“I want you to have it.”
“But it should be in a museum,” complained Michael. “Were you going to let me destroy these things? It would have been wrong to do so. They are priceless treasures.”
“Yet they are mine to do with as I may, and I want you to have this.”
“Because you are a good man, and he was a good man. I want him to be remembered.”
“But a museum would allow so many more to remember him.” said Michael as his mother in law picked at a section of skin at the base of her skull. After some effort, and Michael’s assistance, she produced a paper thin disc from the drive in her skull. The disc bore an embedded title, J.L. Kandor, which was the name of her first husband.
“With my memories of him, you will know him better than anyone. I want you to learn from our life together. You and he are so similar, I think that you would like to know him as I knew him.”
“It would feel wrong.” Michael replied, “Though I will keep it safe. And I will be sure to look at it, if only once.” Michael’s mother in law smiled a thin lipped grin.
“It’s time to go.” she said, and the two left into the brisk autumn night.
The center on Chapel street was full to bursting with people from a thousand different lives. Michael felt a heavy air of depression fall over him as he gazed at the wretches that had come to die. A dozen homeless men, drunk and stinking of urine were crowded in one corner, cheering for one of their own.
“Jake! You’re gonna tear down Heaven’s Gates and let all the Devils in to play!” one cried out loudly as the others laughed boisterously. A young priest called for their silence and continued helping a small child recite her prayers. A parade of young women, all of them appearing the same at a glace, were herded by, lead by a burly orderly in a dirty smock.
“I didn’t expect so many people.” said Michael’s mother in law, fear in her voice. Michael wondered if it was her talking, or if it was the machine in her head trying to preserve itself. “So many lives.” she said, trailing off, her grip on the suitcase she brought with her tightening. She saw the homeless men lift up their friend and let out a cheer as a voice from the loudspeaker called for Jorgen Jones.
“Leave a few angels virgins for us!” yelled one that stayed behind as the others helped their friend through a door at the end of the hallway. Michael watched as they passed through the door. He watched as it snapped shut behind them and sealed away their drunken reverie. A lump formed in his stomach and boiled up into his throat. He was so disgusted, he felt as though he would retch. As an hour passed, the room emptied slowly. The priest remained behind, watching the little girl pass through the door at the end of the hallway alone. His eyes revealed that his heart was breaking. He sat beside Michael and asked if he wanted any prayers.
“I don’t. Well, maybe for strength. This place is hard to be.” he responded, less eloquently than he would have liked. The priest noticed that Michael’s mother in law was sitting across the room with her suitcase on her lap.
“You are here to help someone else?” he asked in a professional, impersonal tone.
“Then I’ll give you a prayer for strength.” said the priest as he started reciting a chant in a language that Michael understood little of. He thanked the priest and the priest moved on. Michael’s mother in law stood up and approached the priest, asking for a prayer. The priest sat with her and started to recite prayers.
“Hey man, are you going in?” asked a man dressed in a shabby suit that was the hip thing to wear a year ago.
“No.” Michael replied coldly.
“Too bad. I’m going. I got my passport, I got my suitcase, and I have my prayers in line. I’m kind of excited, you know?” the man was nearly trembling, his smile wide.
“You are excited to die?” Michael asked bluntly.
“Yeah! Who wouldn’t be? There’s room in Heaven, friend. The President said so, just last week. ’We need to march proudly into the next horizon; settle the Heavens and keep the enemy at bay!’ Man, I even bought a house! Imagine that man! A house! I even have a wife over there. It will be so much better than here.” the man’s eyes gleamed with near madness. Michael thought that the man was stoned, maybe on drugs given to him by some cult leader. He just shook his head as the man raved about his rewards.
“Captain Marshal Camp.” called out the loudspeaker. The man in the shabby suit sprang up, excitedly skipping to the door at the end of the hallway. When the door snapped shut, Michael noticed that the man forgot his suitcase.
Michael’s mother in law walked over to Michael and sat down next to him.
“I don’t think I’m really ready for this.” she said sorrowfully. “I talked with the priest, and all I could think of was poor Regina. She’s still just a girl. How could I be so selfish?” Michael listened patiently as his mother in law went on and on about how lucky she was to have a loving family, and how maybe she wanted to die naturally. Michael picked up her suitcase and gave her a smile.
“Let’s go home then.” he said, still suspicious that it was the machine in her head talking. She took Michael by the arm and leaned on his shoulder.
“I feel old, Michael. But I think I still have something to do. I think there may be another horizon for me. The priest warned me that if I have just one more thing I want to do, that I should leave. I do have one more thing I want to do.”
Michael didn’t ask his mother in law what she wanted to do. He simply let her lean on him as they walked out of the center on Chapel street.
“Lakota Skylark Kandor.” called the loudspeaker.
“Mrs. Lakota Skylark Kandor.” it called again, yet there was no one to walk through the doors at the end of the hallway.
“Father Sean Reading.” called the loudspeaker…