Annaliese scanned the pick up line outside of Columbia Metropolitan Airport, searching for her cousin’s car. She checked her watch. Four o’clock on Monday afternoon, right on time. Kieran tried to get Annaliese a flight on Saturday, but the President and Vice-President were traveling that weekend, so it was easier for her to wait until they returned on Monday to get her flight privledges. She fanned herself in the sticky summer air. Kalea still had a bad habit of running late. Then again, she should have known better than to wear a black pantsuit and two inch high heeled sandals on the flight. Congressman’s wife or not, southeastern summers are too brutal for formal dress.
Kalea finally pulled up five minutes late in her metallic blue luxery car. Annaliese raised an eyebrow, thinking that her cousin was taking well to her role as a successful business owner – until Kalea stepped out of the car in light blue jeans, a pink shirt, and slip-on walking shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” Kalea said, reaching up to hug Annaliese. Annaliese stooped slightly into the hug. She was five foot five, but the heels made it awkward. “I just got finished with a school inspection and they ran over.”
“They still make you do that in this heat?” Annaliese said, stashing her bag in the trunk and ducking in the car, where the air conditioner blew her dark brown, shoulder length curls. She knew the flat iron would be pointless in this humidity, so she left it at home, knowing she’s envy her cousin’s long, straight hair hanging obediently down her back.
“School starts Wednesday. We have to make sure it’s safe for the kids to walk in the building by the time the first bell rings.”
“How are you doing?” Annaliese asked as Kalea pulled away from the curb.
“Busy, but I think that will settle down over the next few weeks. I’ve had a lot of catching up to do from the time I missed helping with Uncle Carson over the past couple of months.”
Annaliese drew a sharp breath. “Kalea, I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I wanted to and I feel guilty about you having to play my role in this. It’s so crazy up in D.C. between my practice and Kieran fighting to fund his projects with the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. As chair, a lot of the burden falls on him. The President is still threatening to discontinue the program, you know. Kieran is fighting to keep the Space Program alive.”
“What’s the President’s problem with it?” Kalea asked. “I certainly thought his tirade would end after the controversy and media fallout over his comment on wasting resources on empty space?”
“The President’s supporters on cutting the program claim that the funding would be better spent on building up our military. The unrest in the East is building to proportions not seen since World War II.”
“I know China is involved now, but how will funding our military help? The United States pretty pulled out of everywhere and stopped getting involved in national matters five years ago when Russia and the Middle Eastern alliance started butting heads.”
“That whole side of the world is at war and it’s going to spread. The United States is under pressure from most of Western Europe and Australia to support the cause for democracy.”
“I didn’t know democracy was under attack. I thought it was this three way battle of theocracy, communism and socialism taking over the region.”
“It isn’t now, but no matter what the outcome is, it’s not favorable for democratic governments,” Annaliese said. “A lot of people believe we’re on the brink of World War III.”
“This is why I don’t watch the news.” Kalea laughed. “Of course, if they cut the Space Program and an asteroid smacks the planet and fries us all, all bets are off. Then everybody will be in the hereafter arguing over why we didn’t keep our eyes on the skies.”
Annaliese returned the laugh. “It does seem that the things that undo us usually hit where we aren’t looking.” She looked down, studying her two carat diamond ring and gold, diamond studded wedding band. “I try to help Kieran as much as I can. Some of my clients are well connected, and if I help them personally then they’re gracious with helping politically. Kirean needs all the support he can get to keep the Space Program alive. Most of our technological advances have come through it.
Kalea held up a hand. “You know politics blows up my brain, so you don’t need to explain. I trust that you’re both busy with matters of National importance.”
“I still should have been here for Dad. There’s no excuse for that.” Annaliese blew a long sigh. “Here I am a psychiatrist, and I couldn’t help my own father.”
“There’s nothing you could have done. His Alzheimer’s was too advanced by the time the nanotech that could have reversed the damage was released to the public.” She paused. “He’s fine now, so it doesn’t matter.”
“I still should have been here more. You’re stronger than I am, to be able to watch this progress day by day. I just couldn’t face seeing my father slip away.”
Kalea smiled. “I’m an engineer. I don’t have feelings. I’m all logic and function, remember?”
Annaliese returned the mock smile. “So are shrinks, but I didn’t pull it off this time. My baby cousin showed me up.”
“I think six months hardly makes me a baby to you,” Kalea said. “Did Avery give you a hard time? Because he hasn’t been around a lot either. I think it’s ironic that he was fussing about you not being here last week, but before Uncle Carson took that bad turn it had been,” she paused, thinking. “Easter. He came for a three day weekend at Easter.”
“He did get on me a little, but I passed it off as immaturity and his own emotions getting the better of him. He just turned thirty. He has yet to gain our perspective.”
Kalea laughed. “So give him six more years to grow up, eh?”
“Well, the truth is that he did make a point. I felt guilty about not being around ever since Dad fell after the fourth of July. He went downhill fast.”
“He had a subdural hematoma from that fall on the front porch. The doctors didn’t do surgery because of his advanced Alzheimer’s. They thought it might go away on its own anyway.”
“I forgot about that. Does he still have it?”
Kalea shook her head. “They did a scan before they released him last week, and it was gone. In fact, they did a full check-up, and he’s the picture of health. Your father is the man you remember again. Well, mostly.”
“What does that mean?”
“He seems different to me.”
“How?” Annaliese asked.
“I don’t know, it’s little things. Like sometimes he looks at me like he can see right through me, or like he sees something that nobody else can. And he says strange things sometimes, like he’ll be watching the news and he’ll blurt out ‘what a waste of energy when there are worse things coming.’ Then when you ask what that means, he either passes it off as a joke, or he doesn’t remember saying it.”
“I imagine coming back from the brink of death has shifted his paradigm significantly. Didn’t the nurses say he only had a matter of hours left just before he woke up?”
Kalea nodded silently.
“When you fight the reaper and win, then I imagine a lot of what we worry about seems silly.”
“I suppose so. You can talk to him and decide for yourself.”
“I will,” Annaliese says. She paused. “I saw your interview Friday night. It was good.”
“I shouldn’t have done that,” Kalea said sharply.
Annaliese stared at Kalea, shocked at the bitterness in her voice. “Why not?”
“I made a fool of myself. I looked as bad as those people proclaiming that we’re living in the end times.”
“No you didn’t. I thought it was a great interview. But there was a point where you didn’t seem like yourself. It’s when the reporter asked about your scar.”
“I don’t know what came over me or why I said that,” Kalea said. “And I don’t know why that scar flared up like that right before the interview. It had been faint until that day, and they they turn on the cameras and it’s practically neon red.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Have you had it checked?” Annaliese asked.
“I did this morning. They scanned it and said it’s cosmetic. They offered me nanotech to fade it, but I said no.”
“It’s expensive and a scar isn’t worth it, especially if there’s no medical reason for it,” Kalea said, “and I don’t like he idea of robot doing stuff in my body.”
“Oh, I see. You’re one of those types that don’t believe in mixing biology and technology.”
“I don’t believe in doing it indiscriminately, especially for something that isn’t terminal or life threatening. If you body can heal it, let it. Besides, it’s still too new and too expensive. I thought you of all people would understand that.”
“I do,” Annaliese said.
“Besides, the body has a remarkable capacity for healing itself. Just look at Uncle Carson. He recovered completely without any nanotech whatsoever.” Kalea smiled mischievously. “You can’t let robots perform all the miracles, can you?”
Annaliese stared at Kalea in surprise at the out of place comment. “So you believe what happened to Dad was a miracle?”
Kalea sombered. “I’m not sure what it was, but I’m certain we’ll all find out soon enough.” She turned on the gravel driveway mostly hidden from the main road. “Welcome back to The Kerner Complex, as the locals call it. Do you want me to take you to your house, or your parents’?”
Annaliese thought as Kalea wound through the road leading to the houses spread out on their five hundred acres of wooded family land. “Take me home. I’d like to unpack and change into cooler clothes. I’ll meet Mom and Dad for dinner. Will you join us?”
Kalea shook her head. “Thanks, but I have to pass. I have some work to do from home tonight. Maybe another time.”
“Maybe,” Annaliese said softly, still staring at Kalea.
“You enjoy some time with them,” Kalea said, her eyes seeming to sparkle in a shaft of afternoon sunlight streaming through the trees. “I’m sure you’ll be amazed at what you find back here at home.”