100.2 \ 292

The ladies had taken their first few bites of Leyga’s hearty improvised dish, when an unfamiliar yet familiar knock landed on Navann’s door. Exchanging a concerned look with her guest, the retired nurse went to answer. Isten pushed in gently through the crack, looking and smelling like he’d been camping. There was a hint of rose perfume. Spoon in hand, Leyga screamed silently. Isten, smiling calmly, was ready to embrace his mother. Navann shut the front door.

“You’d just left our apartment when I got back, and this is the first other place I checked. I’m okay! I’ve just been through a lot, but it’s going to be okay. It was important, and I’m fine. I love you. I’m back.” Once emotions settled beneath his reassuring litany, Leyga figured out that her son had grown up. Her wonder overtook her alarm, and she let him talk.

The older women took a seat, and Isten stood hovering at the edge of the table while he aired his state of being. “Some of us went and met the Strangers, and we joined thousands of people to neutralize a bioweapon held in development by the government. The Strangers are called Vedani. They wanted to do that with us, and for us – I guess some kids came up with it, both kinds of kids, and there were Aquarii that joined us.

“They’re a lot like us, more like us than the Aquarii, and really different. There were also some Aquarii there. Anyway, I’m not trying to convince you, and you don’t have to convince anyone. Everybody’s going to know.” The two listening at the table were taken aback, and coming to terms. “It was a really good trip, actually. We did it. Being younger, me and my bros were chosen for an early group to get sent homeward. I took that offer because I didn’t want to make you wait.”

Leyga’s hands were fixed around her bowl. This sank in for half a beat, and she lifted the bowl toward her son. “Do you want to eat?” The food was still warm enough.

They both laughed, and all three laughed. “Yes. Thank you.” Isten began stuffing his face.

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