Federation Legal Code; section II, part 36, line i
It was dry, the summer that Nila Kirk and her son Jim returned to Riverside, Iowa.
It was hard to say, really, if the weather actually reflected a person's mood or if one simply paid more attention to it when a mood was afoot. Science, of course, would say the latter, but science didn't always account for the importance of emotion. Suffice it to say, it was the driest summer that southeastern Iowa had had in decades. Not quite drought conditions, they never let things get that bad on Earth anymore, but far, far to the end of that side of the Acceptable Norms.
Nila had grown up in the Federation colony on Corinth Prime, which was just as dry, or drier, though it didn't matter when your export was mined instead of grown and when condensators were cheap. Corinth was moderate in temperature with regards to human expectations, and it rarely rained. Nila's first summer in Iowa, seven years before, had been a graduate seminar in thunderstorms. They had seemed to shake the old timbers of the farmhouse in the same way that love had shaken her, physically and emotionally, but she'd grown to love them, like she loved George.
Maybe it wasn't scientifically sound, but it wasn't overly surprising that, at the time when she'd lost that love, the storms didn't come.
Other things were different, for that matter. Her older son didn't know her, not really. He'd only been three when they'd left, eleven months ago; he clung to her legs initially, almost on instinct, but most of the time, when she called his name, he barely looked up. Of course, part of that was the fact that he went by Sam now. Not George, of course, they had never really been able to call him that, and now it was impossible. He had never been a George, anyhow.
But he had been Samiran. George's parents looked sheepish when they told her. They had wanted to complain, but Mr. Brunswick didn't take that kind of criticism well, and Sam hadn't seemed to mind, and...
What Nila wanted to know was if he had been able to say his own name at three, then why would his creché instructors, bleeding adults, have a problem with it?
Whatever. Whatever. It was lost in the haze of the summer sky and the pain and dealing with a newborn. Later, Nila thought she should have said something, but it would have taken energy she didn't have. Jim never cried, was nearly a model baby, but even so, everything--2 am feedings, Sam having nightmares, the fact that nearly all of the day he was born was blank in her mind--tore at her enough that getting up and dressed and sorted was enough that an argument was next to inconceivable. Maybe she'd have been able to leverage the situation, coming in with a baby in her arms, playing the grieving widow, but that, the image almost like those two-dees of ancient peasants, had seemed worse than just letting it go.
By the by, James was after her father, and thereby his great-great-grandfather who had invented the diametric phase inhibitor at the University of Toronto eighty years ago. Sometimes Nila wondered if George hadn't picked the name, there in those last fateful moments, over Tiberius, over anything she might have liked, so that his second son could have it easy. It was a name for Mr. Brunswick and the primary school children of Iowa.
Her father had always disliked his name. The brother of the Christian Jesus, the name of kings who had failed to unite nations, a mealy-mouthed mystic, he had said. The half-rate throughout history, save for my grandfather.
He would have preferred Tiberius, if he'd had a say; though Nila sent her parents a communiqué twice a week, she had never bothered to tell him. By now it was all water under the bridge.
Her son was Sam. Her son was Jim. And that was how it was. A force of nature.
Like a lightning storm in space.
Nila sometimes forgot that she had learned not to complain to her parents, even when things got so damned frustrating that she was almost literally going to pull her hair out. They always said the same things, and they almost always sent messages back that they'd made together. It was just like when she'd been told important things as a child, and they'd sat her down and stood in front of her, a team. Always serious, always in Tamil, even if they'd been conversing in Standard five minutes before.
Thirty years and uncountable lightyears apparently didn't make much of a difference. They were still, in all honesty, the good cop and the bad cop.
"I don't know how many times we have to tell you that you should've relocated," Harini said, fingers steepled in front of her. "Earth is one thing, we understand not wanting to travel all the way back out here, but the fact that you live in the arse end of nowhere..."
James Ganapathi gave her a look--he'd learned to not comment on his wife's language, but that didn't mean he cared for it--then leaned forward, towards the screen, cupping his jaw in one hand. His expression was that of someone resigned to repeating himself. "Look, Vennila, we understand that you miss George, that his parents are a help, but going into exile because of him isn't necessary. Even if Corinth is too far, your cousin still lives in Toronto, and the com--"
Nila hit the mute button on her screen, then the speech recognition one, so that she could skim past the usual reminders and discussion of her decision to stay in Iowa, past her parents' banter, and forward to the attachments--a couple of local news articles and a children's book. They didn't help much in keeping her from thinking about why she'd sent that sort of message to her parents in the first place.
Like any small town where an outside influence that dominated the entire economy, Riverside was intensely divided. Spacers and townies dwelled in separate spheres, and everyone knew it. Even if a townie worked on the base, it still meant being a townie. No socializing, no real interaction outside of work; the spacers didn't understand Iowa, and that, quite simply, was that. Iowa was stockyards and quarry workers and cornfields, people whose families had lived there since before First Contact, before the Third World War, since the colonisation, and in a few cases, before. No one lived in Riverside town unless it was tradition; why else would they bother? No transit, little employment outside artisan farms and the few jobs at the quarry, the middle of nowhere. The children of Western Europe had built their own culture, Iowa culture, and they were sticking with it.
Sometimes, when Nila was feeling charitable, she would think it wasn't all that unlike Corinth Prime, had Corinth had centuries to stew amongst itself and a single near-homogenous sociocultural mindset...and frankly, Nila didn't have much reason to be charitable.
It had been better when George was there. George walked well in the liminal spaces between the two, the townie who'd gone to space and come back to tell about it.
Until he didn't.
It wasn't that Nila was blamed for his death, and it wasn't as if she was treated poorly, or pushed away, at least in name. People were courteous, expressed their sympathies, but that was all. No acts of kindness, no offers of help. It was as if the people of Riverside didn't know what to do with her and her children. As if they thought the help they could give would not be correct.
Initially, when she'd come back after George's death, people had stared at her on the street. Now they didn't see her at all, as if her skin faded into the colours of the quarry in the summer, the crackling dead cut-off stalks of corn in the winter.
At least staring had meant she was a being; different, but there. Now she was essentially an object, a building, part of the landscape. But she couldn't uproot the children. Not when they were all that she or Ti and Lena Kirk had left of George. Jim had hated Toronto every time he'd gone, and Sam was doing too well in school.
Nila flicked her PADD over to the document of re-enlistment that she'd completed, and pressed Send. The Kirks would think it was her being hungry for space, daring herself to go back.