Happy Families Are All Alike…

Landon von Rutzer looked down upon Amycus crater with rheumy eyes. His ship had parked itself in orbit above Dione’s trailing hemisphere which, paradoxically, was riddled with impact craters while the leading face remained relatively smooth. The universe doesn’t give a Sam Hill for your expectations. It just is as it is.

He squinted as he floated weightless, but the facility complex was impossible to see from this height.

“Will you be going down yourself?” asked a brassy voice behind him.

Landon mumbled something incoherent but obviously derogatory. “What do you think, Malcolm? You know I don’t believe in gravity.”

Malcolm, as quick with his wit as he was light on his feet, said, “Don’t believe in it? Newton pretty well licked that problem 500 years ago. You’re behind the times.” He smiled, mostly good-naturedly.

Landon wasn’t having it. “A bunch of upright apes figured out how to converse without stupidity when cuneiform was still a distant dream, so who’s behind the times?” He shot a sideways glance at Malcolm. “Gravity takes decades off your life. See if you look this good when you’re 125. I thought you hybrid types were supposed to be smart.”

The smile faded from Malcolm’s face, which made one appear on Landon’s. To Landon, they had a zero-sum relationship.

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Malcolm said. “And I’m 87, so I’m not doing too bad.”

It was true. Malcolm appeared no more than 20 years old, while Landon was feeble and frail, ill-suited for his own rough temperament. He muttered something again to himself and fixated back on Amycus—on the complex. Finally, he said, “I want you to go down there. Take the shuttle.”

Malcolm just rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips. Taking that posture, and floating in zero gravity as he was, he could have been a caricature of Peter Pan. A high-flying, perpetually unaging, overconfident troublemaker.

“What am I picking up for you this time? Have you got some hot lead down there? Some stolen bit of tech, or maybe another—”

“My son.”

The words stopped Malcolm cold, like a spell. A tense silence held them together like a monstrous umbilical cord.

It was Landon who broke it. “Malcolm is down there—the real one. The flesh and blood Malcolm von Rutzer. Not the abomination who haunts me like a specter. Go down there and retrieve my son.”

Malcolm said not a word and floated away toward the shuttle, but Landon did not turn from his view of Amycus.

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