Living Planet

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The Curio bowed to my husband, as it did every day when he returned home.  I rested my eyes on him, and took a deep breath.  “Dinner is ready.”

He smiled, “I’m starving.” 

Jordan, our eldest, sat at the table but did not eat.  His iOptic flashed pages of lecture, flickering from one to the next at a speed he could only recently process thanks to his new student implant.  Victor cut his tofu steak into uniform triangles before raising a piece to his mouth.  I swallowed half my glass of Chianti. 

“Did you hear the latest TeleNex?” 

Victor raised an eyebrow, “No.” 

“Susan Middlefield and her family are gone.  The word is something untoward happened with—” I paused, and glanced at our Curio.  It stood in the corner, black tilted eyes fixed on the floor.  “With their help,” I finished. 

Victor grunted, “Happens every day.  People have trouble isolating themselves from the Curio’s.  It’s like those beast-men on Earth, the ones that married their dogs.” 

“I doubt Susan wanted to marry her Curio.” 

“Stranger things have happened.”

“But I wonder what did happen?” 

My husband looked me in the eyes for the first time in weeks, “There’s nothing to worry about my dear.  The Curio’s are safe.  I should know.”  He pushed his plate away, “Trust me.”

 

I rested my hand on Jordan’s shoulder and he jumped, iOptic flashing a golden brown deep within his pupils, “Spying on your little sister already?”

He nodded, and went on to his room.  I followed, cast a look at Gloria to see her asleep, thumb firmly between her lips.  The Curio sat nearby, her eyes unblinkingly fixed on the baby.

Jordan pressed his face into the processor near his bed, and then slipped under the covers pajama clad, bathed, and brushed.  The iOptic counted down from one hundred, when it would initiate the sleep cycle.  I kissed his forehead and ran my fingers through his hair, “Sleep well.”

“Mom, why didn’t I have a Curio when I was a baby?” 

“They had to be created first, and then tested.  We had to be sure that we weren’t bringing back something dangerous.”

“But they’re not real Martians?  My friend Ian says they lived here before we did, and that they want to take the planet back.  That’s why people are disappearing.”

I smiled, “That’s just schoolyard gossip.  We created them; most of what the Curio’s are come from Earth.”  I kissed him again.  “And those disappearances?  Those families just went back.”  I swallowed hard and squeezed his hand, “Trust me.” 

Jordan smiled just as the timer hit zero, and his hand fell limp in mine.  I left the dim room to check on Gloria.  She still slept, radiating a heat that seemed to have left me since she was born.  I stared at her for a long time before turning to the Curio, “Wake me if she needs anything.”

The Curio looked at me slowly, and nodded.

 

Victor patted my hand, and then gave me a quick, dry kiss on the cheek.  “I’ll see you in a few days.”

I crossed my arms over my stomach, “You still won’t tell me why you have to go?  You’re supposed to be there for Gloria’s baptism.” 

Victor sighed and rolled his eyes, “It’s an emergency.”

“Does it have to do with the disappearances?” I would not admit it in front of my son, but the Curio’s and the rumors that surrounded them gave me a cold feeling.

My husband gave me a sharp look, and glanced towards the neighbors’ homes, “I’m not at liberty to say.”

“But you would say something if Gloria is in danger, if we were in danger, wouldn’t you?”

He shook his head once, his eyes on mine, then handed me a package from inside his briefcase.  “For your Earth room,” he said, then kissed me again, and walked briskly towards the waiting capsule. 

I opened the package in the kitchen.  Framed in a glass case was a box of disposable diapers.  I scoffed, set it against the wall, and shook my head at such barbarous methods of hygiene. 

On the way to the baby’s room, I changed the settings on the lawn so the grass shone a brilliant amethyst, a color Victor detested when he was home.  The Curio still sat near the crib, her unblinking eyes fixed on Gloria. 

“I’ve barely heard a peep out of her,” I cooed, reaching down to lift my daughter from the crib and hold her close.  She wrapped her tiny fingers around one of mine and squeezed. 

The Curio rose from its seat and came toward us.  “She is a blessed child.” 

I started.  The Curio’s were designed not to speak unless to report illness, or a grievous emergency.  I had never heard ours speak before, and her voice was beautiful.  “Yes,” I said.  “She is a blessed child.”

The Curio reached out her long, thin green fingers and stroked Gloria’s cheek.  My daughter opened her eyes, and I gasped.  They were black as night, and sharply tilted.  She grinned up at me and gurgled.  The Curio’s lips parted in a long, thin smile, her teeth a deep red.  “I have been singing her the songs of my people.”

Gloria’s gurgle turned to a happy squeal when she turned her head to the Curio, and her arms stretched out towards it.  I could do nothing as she gently took my daughter.  The song filled me, cool as the air off the canals from my old home on Earth, whispering of a civilization long forgotten.  Gloria was in the melody, clear as a silver church bell, and her future filled with hope.