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Every Broken Tie

William's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Little Blue Marble, House of Zolo, The Centropic Oracle, Kraxon, Write Ahead/The Future Looms, and other fine venues. William can also be found on Twitter at @DelmanWilliam.

"Remember, keep him talking." Doctor Hofstadter's cobalt eyes are glued to mine, her expression serious as a funeral mask. "You can help him make a better choice."
Her concern feels as real as her hand on my shoulder.
I try to match her facial expression and nod; the forest seems to twitch, sparrow and insect chatter skipping a beat before resuming.
"We're ready, Mr. Wells," she says.
I step out of the woods. A familiar dirt road littered with detritus winds toward the cabin my dead husband, Raymond, and I bought thirty years ago. We brought David here for a dozen summer vacations, maybe more.
Its drafty joints, squeaky floorboards, and cold water plumbing were always more to Raymond's and David's tastes than mine. After Raymond died, after David and I grew distant, the cabin sat dormant.
Leaf-clogged gutters skirt a shingled roof and solar panels covered by green tarps. The steps up the front porch look ready to snap. A cool breeze dances through the blushing foliage, passing over my skin like an unwanted caress. I should have sold this place years ago.
My son is a murderer: The bomb he planted killed four Numinia board members, and now they say only I can help him.
I want to want to be here, I tell myself.
Placing my foot on the first step feels like an admission of my failure as a parent. The second step is easier.
Before my arthritic knuckles can rap against the door, David's voice yells out, "Who's there?"
"It's Dad. I'm alone."
Silence for ten, fifteen seconds. Then, "Okay."
Slowly, I turn the knob, appreciating the cracking rust-resistant paint crumbling under my fingers, an impressively crisp sensation. The door opens on a dusty room shot through with anemic sunbeams bleeding around plaid curtained windows.
David is at the table, wearing a pair of LED magnifying glasses. There's a gray brick of what looks like modeling clay and some chipboards.
"Gutsy move, old man, coming here." He doesn't get up. There's a shotgun on the floor next to him, black and ominous, as unexpected as a cobra in a bathtub.
Burning flux, rubbing alcohol, and dry timber; the scents mix in the air, recalling memories of an office fire, people screaming.
RELAX. YOU ARE SAFE. The words blink in bright red capitals in the corner of my eye.
"So. Why, exactly, are you here, Dad? They send you in to talk me out the door and into a sniper's bullet?"
"David, no," I say. "You're my son."
"Sure," he says, "but they're still out there. Only way I leave this cabin is dead, or as a guest of the mind state." He smirks. "Not sure which one is worse."
He goes back to work, connecting a wireless receiver to the chipboard in front of him.
"Son, listen, I understand. The world is on fire, but you need more faith in humanity, more hope."
"More hope? All I have is hope. 'Never lose hope. Be persistent and stubborn and never give up,' just like the good book says."
"Raymond never should have given you that stupid thing," I growl. "It infected you like a virus."
David sighs with satisfaction, puts down the soldering iron, wipes his forehead. "Your company, Dad, the virtual world you've all built--it's a distraction. Civilization is going under.
Hurricane Zara just turned Florida into Atlantis. Cape Town is dying of thirst. Vancouver is burning. There's no app for resurrecting...." He trails off, suddenly looking confused.
"What, David? For resurrecting what?"
"Doesn't matter," he says. One hand drops closer to the shotgun.
"You know," he says, "it's strange. I got a feeling like deja vu, right? And then there's the other thing, where I feel like I can't quite remember what I was doing before I woke up here and started working. You ever feel like that, Dad?"
"Deja vu? Sure. We've been having this argument for years. But people are adapting. Some cities are thriving; look at Anchorage or Oslo or Boston now the New England Seawall is finished. Things are getting better."
"Sorry, but I don't think you're right about that," he says and picks up the gun. "Tell my jailers to do a better job with the memory cutouts when they repeat this little torture."
I don't even feel it when the roar comes.
I blink and I'm in the interface room, one of dozens in the prison's psychological reorganization center. There are hundreds of places like this one, each running their own pocket Numinias, each one dedicated to helping the violent and disturbed.
David's caseworker needed my personal input. Now, looking into her stoic face, I find my doubts reinvigorated. "That was awful."
"If he surrenders," she says, "if he gives himself up, we think he'll be ready for the full treatment. With practice, I'm certain you can help him make the leap."
"I wasn't there, you know," I say, looking down at my hands. "Thought his ideas about Numinia being dangerous were nonsense."
A wall-screen shows my son, recumbent, vulnerable inside his pod, the Numinia halo almost invisible against his forehead.
"Mr. Mallory?" Hofstadter finally says, "We're ready to try again. Are you?"
Still staring at David, I say, "Never lose hope, doctor, and never give up, right?" Then I close my eyes.
The forest rises like a curtain.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 5th, 2020

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- William Delman
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