I’m a day late posting this due to computer trouble but here you go: Free Fiction Friday (on Saturday #^^#)
Meyari McFarland returns to the world of Mouse and Snake in a story of a mother’s love struggling to protect her child.
Banan had never been violent. She left that to Nakato, her daughter Rafah’s best friend, and her other friends. But the relentless attacks against Rafah both emotionally and now electronically had her contemplating violence on a grand scale. As Banan ventured into the electronic world of the net, she discovered that the threats to Rafah were far greater than a mere broken heart. If Banan didn’t get to the heart of it, she could lose not only her daughter but also her life.
Electric time is a dramatic cyberpunk story set in a decaying future where global warming has won and humanity scrapes along in a world falling to pieces around them.
By Meyari McFarland
Banan rested her fingers on the soft canvas, worn from deep green into a faded olive that revealed every oil and blood stain, that marked the door to Rafah’s bedroom. This stain was where Rafah had stormed into her room after failing to make her first bot walk properly. That one, long and jagged, dark brown splatters against the fading canvas, was where Linah’s blood had spurted when the sisters had accidentally wounded each other during childhood combat training.
And that bleached white spot was where Andrea’s blood had settled when Nakato beat her to a pulp for abusing Rafah.
She breathed in, long and slow, as anger burned under her breastbone. Their house swayed slighting in the wind, the scent of Rafah’s beloved cucumbers and lettuce filling Banan’s nose.
There would be salad tonight, Banan decided, a sweet and sour salad with three different sorts of lettuce, young cucumbers sliced thin and strawberries scattered on top. She would send Linah to get Orange Chicken from the Silver Dragon down web on the intersection Broadway cable and the 1100 zip line. Perhaps Nakato could bring something as well, though getting that girl out of her nest sometimes took crowbars and threats of death, especially when she was working on a new bot.
Crackles came from the lab, Linah welding, Banan automatically identified. Both of her girls had been too silent in the last few weeks. The nest was quiet, nothing from Rafah, nothing from Linah. Banan strained her ears and only heard wind quietly whistling through the web outside, rain drumming down on their nest so constantly that it faded into a steady, easily ignored, murmur. Banan flexed her shoulders. The sensation of a tiny spider-bot crawling up her spine increased as the silence went on.
“Rafah?” Banan called as she straightened her back and scratched gently at the door.
Banan sighed and unzipped Rafah’s door, peeking inside only to sigh at the sight of Rafah curled up in a ball on her hammock with every blanket she had wrapped under, over and around her so that she had a nest inside of their nest. She was almost entirely hidden under the blankets but Banan could just make out the curl of Rafah’s legs tucked close to her chest and the way she’d tucked her arm under her head so that she was as small of a ball as possible.
Her dark hair was tinted blue and red by the flickering images on the screen of her handheld. The little computer wasn’t linked into the house system but even from the doorway Banan could see that Rafah was reading. She suspected that she was reading through her email though the pinched, almost sick expression on Rafah’s face suggested that it was something else, perhaps test-to-destruction data on one of her robot designs.
Either way, whatever she was listening to was inaudible as the sound fed through Rafah’s glasses rather than through the handheld’s speakers. Banan couldn’t hear anything more than tiny tinny noises with a strong slow beat that reminded her of Rafah’s favorite dance band from childhood.
“Rafah!” Banan said more loudly this time when Rafah failed to notice her at the door.
“Yeek!” Rafah gasped and flailed against her blankets.
She twisted hard in the hammock, setting it to swinging so wildly that it jerked the walls of her bedroom and set the nest to quivering as if it had been struck. Rafah’s eyes were wide and her bottom lip already trembled as if she expected to be struck. Frankly, she probably did and that made the rage carefully hidden in Banan’s heart surge higher.
Banan caught the foot of Rafah’s hammock, stabilizing it so that Rafah wouldn’t fall out and hurt herself. Rafah shuddered and let out a long, low sigh while shutting off her handheld. She ran one hand through her shorn hair, fingers shaking when they found the ends by her jawline instead of halfway down her back as it had been before Andrea.
Andrea. Rafah’s former lover was the ghost haunting their lives that Banan couldn’t exercise. Yet.
Rafah’s room was much neater than normal. Banan didn’t frown, as much as she wanted to. Every scarf and tunic that Rafah possessed was properly hung up in her tiny closet by the round window that looked out on the web. The circuit designs and bits of tech that normally littered the floor of her room were gone, banished to the lab, and even there they’d been ruthlessly organized into binders and bins, secured against casual contact.
Even Rafah’s collection of comfortable shoes were lined up in a perfect row around the outer perimeter of the bedroom, a semi-circle that testified to just how much damage Andrea had inflicted on Rafah’s normally strong soul.
“Mother,” Rafah said, her voice too soft, too hesitant. “Is something wrong?”
“I wanted to ask you to make your sweet and sour salad for dinner tonight,” Banan said, giving the foot of Rafah’s hammock a little shake. “It looks like the strawberries are doing very well and you have more than enough cucumbers for it.”
Rafah’s eyes brightened and she sat straighter, pushing the blankets away as she tucked her handheld into its recharging pouch on the wall. “I can do that. We have plenty of salad greens.”
“Exactly,” Banan agreed with a smile that felt strained though hopefully it didn’t show too badly. “It does take some time to prepare so I thought I’d ask early.”
Rather than leave the blankets for bedtime, tumbled and comfortably waiting, Rafah stood and started folding them neatly. Banan’s frown was a thing with a life of its own.
It just wasn’t in Rafah’s nature to be this organized. She’d always been messy, from the time that she started crawling about the nest, finding every nook and cranny that she could hide in to get away from Banan’s abusive husband. Good riddance to that one, even if it had driven Banan and her girls in the completely unexpected direction of robot research and construction when Banan had trained to run businesses and translate documents across the world.
Neatness meant that Rafah’s mind was a mess. A messy room meant that her mind had calmed, straightened out until she could think and create and program her miraculous little bots to do things the land dwellers thought were impossible.
“Can I help?” Banan asked.
Rafah jumped, another sure sign that she was still lost in her mind, in the trauma that Andrea had inflicted, but she smiled and nodded. They folded the many blankets together, carefully stacking them on the floor underneath Rafah’s hammock. At least this was her narrow hammock, the one designed for one person instead of the big one designed for two. Banan wasn’t sure what Rafah had done with the one Andrea had bought for them to share but it was gone.
Hopefully she’d burned it or tossed it over the rails down to the sea below.
Their little kitchen was silent, too, though the silence quickly faded as Rafah went to her window full of hydroponics to gather produce. Converting one panel into windows that allowed the sun in had been a huge expense but Banan had never regretted it. The sunlight was a joy, even on days like today where the clouds hung high overhead in great black masses that steadily dropped rain over them.
Even with the dark clouds outside and the rain pouring down in rivulets over the glass, the window added much-needed light to their common room. Rafah’s greenery warmed the dark room, filled it with life that normally Banan only saw draped across the great girders, beams and cables of the web that supported their home. Their large couch, sagging in the middle from years of three small girls jumping on it, looked welcoming rather than forbidding. Rafah’s favorite lounging hammock, abandoned since Andrea entered their lives, slowly swung in gentle arcs as if trying to entice Rafah back into its rainbow folds.
As Rafah began chopping the cucumbers on their square foot of counter space, Linah emerged from the lab in an invisible cloud of welding fumes to see what was going on. Banan wrinkled her nose while Linah grinned and shrugged. She’d singed her hair again. It hung in choppy, uneven waves around her face, destined never to get beyond shoulder length without Banan forcing her to cover up, pin it back.
“Salad?” Linah asked. She didn’t respond to Rafah’s startled squeak and terrified expression.
“Sweet and sour salad for dinner,” Banan explained.
“I should go get Orange Chicken to go with it!” Linah exclaimed, flapping her hands towards the door, the kitchen and then her bedroom in some alchemy of meaning that only Linah understood.
She darted towards the bathroom, shedding welding jacket and gloves, thick wool shirt and heavy pants as she went, squealing with happiness the whole time. Banan groaned and rubbed her forehead while Rafah laughed as she went back to chopping up cucumbers. That should have been predictable. The only thing Linah liked more than riding the zip lines was welding together new skeletons for Banan and Rafah to use in their bots.
“Let me pick those up,” Rafah murmured, finger sliding experimentally along the edge of the big chef’s knife in ways that made Banan’s stomach roil.
“Nonsense,” Banan said firmly enough that Rafah stared at her. “You’re making dinner. Let your sister pick up after herself.”
Rafah frowned, biting her lip, only to break into muffled giggles as Linah, naked as the day she was born, dashed out of the bathroom and ran into her bedroom. She left wet footprints behind her but at least the scorched ends of her hair looked as though they’d been washed off, if not properly trimmed. Banan groaned dramatically in the hopes of proper laughter out of Rafah.
It worked for a few seconds though Rafah’s laughter died far sooner that it would have before Andrea. Banan pressed a kiss against Rafah’s cheek before going to gather up Linah’s clothing. The squawk of dismay when Banan tossed the smoke-scented clothing into Linah’s rigidly clean bedroom earned her more of Rafah’s giggles.
“Mom!” Linah shouted. “I’ll pick up when I get back.”
“I’m sure you will,” Banan replied. “Enjoy the zip lines, dear. Try not to ride them too many times before you get our food.”
Rafah giggled harder, head bowed over the counter as she cut up cucumbers. At least the laughter was back, however briefly. Banan went to curl up in Rafah’s lounging hammock as Linah dashed out of her room, dressed appropriately in a warm suit covered with a rain-proof hijab that hid her mangled hair. She threw on a rain poncho over the warm suit, pressed a too-quick kiss against Banan’s cheek and then ran out the front door with a whoop that made Banan smile.
At least one of her daughters was doing well.
Rafah’s laughter died back into silence again though she did work steadily on the salad. The lettuce was shredded a bit too fine and the care that Rafah took with hulling the strawberries, one by one by one, her fingers turning red from their juices, said so much about Rafah’s state of mind.
Banan linked into the house system. Cybernetic implants that connected Banan’s mind to the digital world activated, overlaying their little home with a complex display that showed every bit of equipment Banan and her daughters had installed in the home. The shining displays nearly obscured everything else, even Rafah’s quiet work in the kitchen a couple of yards away.
Rather than focus on their system, Banan reached out to the woman who was all but a daughter, Rafah’s best friend Nakato.
Silence answered Banan in the digital world as well as the physical. She sighed. It wasn’t unusual for Nakato to get so involved with her bot work that she failed to set up a welcoming message. Banan nodded and slipped further onto the web, her body relaxing into Rafah’s lounging hammock as if she’d fallen asleep.
The net bloomed around Banan, pulling her away from the physical world with Rafah’s quiet cooking and the faint, fading scent of Linah’s welding torches.
In its place, digital renditions of Banan’s senses asserted themselves. Instead of light from the cloud-muffled sun, Banan saw glowing light in a rainbow of colors for every node of the net stretching off into infinity. Her home was green and soft pink like the faint blush of a rose while the links outwards throbbed dark brown and black for the many layers of security that Banan had built around their home systems.
She could smell emails showering in on them, many with the rot of junk mail that would be automatically filtered and destroyed. Some were rich cinnamon and cloves, job offers for Banan, Linah or Rafah. A dancing stream of vanilla and mint scented emails that meowed like cats cavorted their way into Linah’s private portion of the system. Apparently her friend Kyle was on a cat kick again.
As Banan moved away from their system and followed the zip-line-like slide of the net towards Nakato’s node, programs and other people in the system brushed past her like damp spider webs drifting invisibly into her path. Two programs got through, brushing her with offers for sex in one case, bargain priced watermelons in the other. The people veered off, ghosts along the net on their own journeys with better things to do than interact with a stranger.
Nakato’s node was all but a fortress, spherical structure covered with fierce firewalls that sent out vicious spikes against intruding contacts. Banan approached confidently, letting one spike brush against her so that she could be recognized.
Lesky, the primary guardian AI of Nakato’s system, surged up out of the node to growl at Banan for a moment. As soon as it saw her, Lesky’s color lightened from threatening black into bright, beautiful blue the shade of the Pacific when the sky was clear, the sun was out and the wind so still that the surface of the sea was nearly smooth. Banan smiled, letting Lesky rub up against her like a bear or lion attempting to be a housecat as it scanned her and then recognized her for Nakato’s system.
*Working,* Lesky said, eyes shining up at Banan as its tail wagged. *Said no visitors, no interruptions.*
*I know,* Banan said. She petted the guardian’s head, noting that its warning messages were muted for her in particular. Lesky always had liked Banan, possibly because she’d helped Nakato with the initial programing. *That’s obvious. But has she eaten? It’s nearly dinner time.*
*No!* Lesky’s partner Vina bounced up out of the node to hop about on Lesky’s back. Where Lesky resembled a bear crossed with a lion, Vina was a kitten with a scorpion’s tail. *No food! No food! Nakato has been bad and will not listen to Vina when Vina says time to go eat.*
Banan laughed, petting Vina and shutting off all twenty-seven warning messages that Nakato had ignored rather than dealing with. *Then go give her this message, Vina. Mama Banan is waiting for an answer and if she doesn’t get one she’s coming over and spanking Nakato like she used to when Nakato was a baby.*
*Ooooooh!* Vina breathed, its eyes going extra wide before it dove off Lesky’s back into the node. *Nakato will listen to Vina now!*
*Mama Banan is mean,* Lesky said so admiringly that Banan laughed out loud.
Her laughter dropped her out of the net and back into her body. Rafah turned and stared at Banan with a worried frown. Banan chuckled and waved one hand at her, still amused at the sheer personality that Nakato always seemed to code into her bots and AI’s.
No shy, demure minds came from Nakato’s hands. All her creations were bright, bold and forceful about what they wanted. Even Lesky, the nicest of Nakato’s AI’s could tear an intruder into pieces if they weren’t recognized by the system. Nakato’s general attitude seemed to automatically wear off on her creations.
“Lesky thinks that Mama Banan is mean,” Banan explained to Rafah, laughter bubbling over the anger still simmering deep in her heart.
Rafah squeaked and then turned back to her salad dressing preparation with a whole new wave of giggles. A moment later Banan’s implants pinged with Nakato’s invitation to return to the net so that they could talk more directly. Banan slipped back into the digital world and laughed to see Nakato’s avatar had morphed to resemble a five year old version of herself rather than her current twenty-three year old body.
*Ah, yes?* Nakato asked so nervously that Banan chuckled. *I’ll eat. I promise! I’m just busy working on my newest project. It’s going t’be really amazing!*
*I’m sure it will be, dear,* Banan said as she grinned. *But I was hoping that you’d come over and eat with us. Rafah’s… hiding.*
*Still?* Nakato asked.
Her avatar morphed back into her true image, a six foot tall black woman with muscles that rivaled professional body builder’s. Apparently she’d shaved her hair off again. The poof of kinky curls that had grown until they drooped and swayed with Nakato’s every move were gone, replaced by bare stubble over Nakato’s rich, dark skin. She must be welding like Linah because instead of her normal working attire of a bra and panties, Nakato was wearing a proper shirt and pants.
*Still,* Banan sighed. She let Lesky press up against her with little messages of comfort and love. *Her room is neat. Tidy. She folded all her blankets and arranged her shoes along the wall, Nakato.*
*Damn it!* Nakato groaned. *Right. I’ll be over. Ah, well, after I get a bit cleaned up.*
*Nakato has not bathed in three days,* Vina said as she popped out of the node to glare up at Nakato.
*Bathe,* Banan ordered. *Vina, if she has anything that hasn’t spoiled that goes with sweet and sour salad plus Orange Chicken, make sure she brings it.*
*Vina will!* Vina exclaimed before darting back into the node.
Nakato laughed, rubbing the back of her neck ruefully. Banan chuckled and shooed her back into her node so that she could get ready. She gave Lesky one last pet, smiling as Lesky raised its approval rating for her by two percentage points, before sliding back to her body and their home system.
“Nakato is coming over?” Rafah asked so quietly that Banan barely heard the words.
“Mm-hmm,” Banan sighed. She stretched on the hammock before shaking her head in dismay. “She hasn’t eaten in at least a day and hasn’t bathed in three. Vina is quite upset with her.”
“Oh, no,” Rafah breathed, laughter hinting in the words without emerging. “I’ll make some extra salad and see what else I can make from leftovers.”
For the first time since Andrea had been arrested and hauled off to the mainland, Rafah started humming as she worked to expand their dinner. Banan let out a long slow breath, the anger fluttering and falling. Nakato always worked wonders with Rafah. If only the two could have fallen for each other Banan would be much less worried about both of their lives.
Find The Rest Of This Book:
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