The wise old one contacts the space cowboy. It’s about familial love. The genre/topic: dystopia. Word length: 1800.

SciFi Prompt Bot (@SciFiBotPrompt) April 2, 2019

I'm choosing to release this one with only about half the target wordcount because it's stalled out there and I'm not sure what else to do with it.

Maurice, when are you coming home?

The words sat on the screen of the egg, light text on darkness. He stared at it in silence, knowing he should be asleep. He didn’t have to wonder who the message had come from — grandma was the only one he knew who’d dare send a message direct to the egg like that. Everyone else complied with the regulations; sending the messages through the WorldNet knowing that every word, every point of punctuation, would be analyzed and every message would wait for his return to earth.

He’d cut off his blackLine feed after Jessica had become a fugitive. The device wiped during his sleep cycle that very night and dumped out the waste airlock to join the other detritus in orbit, the only consideration spared first was reading her final message to him. Flowery words of apology, a promise to reach out to him when it was safe to do so, and reassurance that she loved him. All of it meaningless because he knew that they’d track her down the moment she made contact with him. That message was the last contact they’d have.

You can’t hide up there forever.

He sighed, pulling out the keyboard. Slowly he typed a response.

They will eventually force me to
return to Earth, but I am not in
any rush to be grounded.

When he didn’t receive a response right away, he put the keyboard away and tried to settle in for sleep. Just as he was starting to drift off, a new message blinked up on the screen.

She isn’t the only one who loves you.
What about your mother?

She doesn’t have time for her little
Space Cowboy after James, Lonnie,
Tim, and Jim all take it up. I need to
sleep, they only give me six hours
off-line a day. Besides, the more
messages we exchange, the more
likely they are to notice your back

He waited again, and as minutes ticked past he grew hopeful that she’d taken the gentle reminder to heart and he’d be left to sleep in peace.

Don’t you lecture me on how your
egg works, or the WorldNet for that
matter. I helped write the code, and
your grandfather did his time in the
first generation eggs.

Back in my day, we coded up hill,
in the snow crash, and we liked it.

Very funny, young man. Your mother
is throwing me a surprise party for my
seventieth next month. I expect you
to be there. Good night.

If it’s supposed to be a surprise,
why do you know about it?

He sat there, staring at the screen. No response came. After a half hour he drifted off to sleep.

When he opened his eyes again, a number of messages had piled up on his screen. He double checked the time, expecting he’d probably overslept despite these things being designed to wake him immediately at the end of his sleep cycle... but he had probably another fifteen minutes before he was due back online. He fumbled with the food dispenser to spit out the slop that was nearly tea, but not quite.

Maurice, I need your help. <3

He blinked as he read the message three times, maybe four, as he sipped at the not quite tea. Had Jessica really dared back channel to the egg? There was no way he could respond to the message — even if her headers gave him the correct routing information, responding would connect him to a wanted fugitive. Maurice quickly flicked the message off his screen and started to work his way through the remaining.

The first three were just updates to the guidelines on what was high priority for his routing and sifting today, the next one was a notification that he was scheduled for a home cycle starting in eight days, and the last was a commendation for the high quality work he’d been doing. That last one was likely to come with a pay raise, and probably being assigned to one of the larger multi-person eggs the next time he was deployed. He’d heard stories about working the egg nodes—how paranoid everyone was, how quickly your pod mates would turn you in if you strayed from the path—he’d planned to put in for his retirement before he’d qualified for that promotion, to settle down and start raising a family, but...

Eight days? Good, you can help me
practice my surprised face so your
mother doesn’t suspect that I
knew about my party.

I told you to stop back channeling.

Don’t tell your Gran what to do.

I just don’t want you to get in trouble,
that’s all.

That’s sweet, but you don’t get to be
my age without learning a thing or
two. Don’t you worry about me.

Now, I just wanted to tell you. Your
favorite peach is getting ripe, so
your being grounded in eight days
is good.

My favorite peach? His mouth silently formed the words and his brow scrunched. What could she– His eyes wide, he responded quickly.

How long until it’s ripe?

It would seem an odd question if anyone picked up on the exchange, but he wasn’t sure how else to put it.

Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it.
You’ll be home in time.

His fingers moved up and down as his lips counted silently. It had been at least six months since he’d seen her last — but why wouldn’t she have said something? Then his computer chirped its warning, he was due to start in five minutes. That’s why, she wouldn’t have been certain it was going to carry until after he’d committed to this duty cycle, and she’d expected him to be grounded a month ago with an extended leave.

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