Shadows and Shore Leave
by Brian Trent
It's challenging seeing Mom in only three-dimensions again.
She's already flinging open the painted green door to my childhood home as I step onto
her gardenyard path. She rushes down the stairs, auburn hair flying, arms outstretched.
"Darron! Oh, great stars!" She wraps me in an embrace that smells of basil, detergent, and
freshly-minced cilantro; the aromas temporarily overpower the turpentine stench of my fresh-off-the-clone-clinic body.
"Hi, Mom." I pronounce the two words carefully, remembering Lesson A-1 from the
training video on how to act on planetside shore-leave: If loved ones greet you, greet them back!
But why can't I see the back of her head? Where's the sat-view of the property, with us as
two friendlies on a green rectangle of gardenyard bisected by this narrow tarmac?
Mom releases me, tears running down her cheeks in glistening rivulets. "We were
counting the days! Oh, Darron! It's so good to have you home! For you to really be here!" She
claps her hands together in merriment too great to be constrained.
"It's not really me," I protest.
"It is you inside," she counters, and she steers me into the house, arm linked with mine as
if we're recreating a Victorian-themed holo-tour stroll in Hyde Park. The prodigal Rappelt
The inside of my childhood home presents itself in dangerous limitations. Tiled foyer,
cream-carpeted parlor, kitchen straight ahead. The remainder of the house is an unknown
darkness in my situational awareness. Memories stir, but it's been three years since I've been
back. A lot can happen in three years.
I smell lemons and cooking oils wafting from the kitchen. Odd sounds emanate there, too:
crackling skillet, bubbling water, and the mellifluous voice of the cookguide suggesting the pasta
be stirred again. Mom whisks me forward, and now Dad appears, bearing tongs and wearing a
greasy apron. His smile draws a thousand wrinkles. Dad isn't a hugger or kisser but he does both
now; his gray stubble like tiny knives against my cheek.
"Missed you, pal," he says, squeezing me until my cloned joints practically squeal in
"Missed you, too," I mutter, thinking: I should cry. I should wrap my arms around my
dear father and weep into his shoulder.
Instead, the strangeness of being cut off from the omnisquad has me feeling amputated
and reduced; like phantom-limb syndrome, nerves firing in echo of old connections. And why
can't I see Mom or Dad's blood pressures, heartbeats, thermoptic aspects? Where's the bloom of
house blueprints in my brain?
The kitchen is rendered in birthworld harvest hues. Green apples in one wicker basket,
red apples in another. A pie baking to golden-brown crispness in the oven while pots and pans
bubble and froth like the hastily-erected replovats in a xenobiology field tent, researchers
anxiously standing by for results.
"Close your eyes!" Mom demands cheerily, whirling away from me to dip a spoon into a
I frown. "What?"
"Come on, close your eyes!"
Perplexed, not seeing the end of this request but not wishing to disobey, I willfully clench
my eyes shut.
The panic is instantaneous.
I can see nothing.