David Pax

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 A Cookie

There were no cookies. Johnny was upset about this. He was supposed to have his cookies, loaded with chocolate chips, but there were no cookies.

School had been OK that day, Johnny liked his third grade teacher, and he really enjoyed geometry, playing with all the shapes and how they fit together.

There was nothing unusual about his ride home, the school autovan always brought him right to the side door of his house. A pendant around Johnny's neck let him into the house. Every kid had some form of ID tag; eight year olds were all far too young for implants. Johnny liked his pendant. Lots of the girls had bracelets, one for their ID and then others just for fun, which rattled against each other on their wrists with a musical tinkle. All the bracelets were colorful, and you could never tell which one was for ID without looking at it closely.

 Aside from letting Johnny into the house, the pendant kept information about him, information that he knew his doctor used, and his teachers, and of course his parents. What the tag did not have was any cookies.

 Johnny's mom had promised she would make cookies today. He spoke to the pendant around his neck. “Albert, am I supposed to have cookies today?”

 “Yes.” Replied the pendant. “Here is the recording.” The voice of Johnny's mother came from the pendant.

 “You got an 'A' in geometry, so this afternoon we'll make your favorite cookies together.” Her voice rang sweetly in his ears and Johnny couldn't understand why she wasn't there to make cookies. He liked helping to spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet, making sure each cookie would be large enough.

 He went to the door to see if she were outside, but it wouldn't open.

 “Please stay in the house.” Came the voice from Johnny's pendant.

 “Where is Mommy, Albert?”

 “I am not able to locate your mother at present, but have found your father. He would like to speak with you.”

 “OK, Albert, let me talk to Daddy.”

 A place on the wall lit up, and the face of Johnny's father appeared. “Hey, bud, are you OK? I'm on my way home now.”

 “Where is Mommy?” Johnny asked. “She was supposed to be here.”

 “I'll explain when I get there.” Something did not look right in his father's face but Johnny could not figure out what it was. “Right now I want you to stay in the house, OK, buddy?”


 “Get a glass of juice, and you can watch some video instead of starting your homework, does that sound good?”

 Juice did not sound as good as cookies, but Johnny responded “OK.”

 His father's face disappeared from the wall as Johnny walked to the refrigerated unit. “Albert, I'd like a glass of juice, please.”

“There are three juices available." His pendant replied. "Usually you choose apple.”

 “Is there grape?”

 “There is no grape juice in the house right now, just apple, orange, and cranberry.” Johnny's pendant informed him.

 “Apple, please, Albert.”

 With a soft whirring sound, a slot on the refrigerated unit opened to reveal a short glass filled with apple juice. Johnny took it from the slot and wandered into the family room. As the lights faded down in kitchen and brightened in the family room, he thought about reading one of his books. There were several books he enjoyed in a basket next to the sofa, but he decided just to watch a video.

 Setting his juice carefully on the table so he wouldn't spill it, Johnny climbed up onto the comfortable cushions of the family sofa. Right now he could sit wherever he wanted, so he sat right in the middle, facing the video wall.

 “Albert, play my next video, please.”

 Lights in the room dimmed as the video wall brightened. Johnny had been watching a series of videos where a boy his age went on adventures and met all kinds of interesting animals. Many of the other kids at school liked these videos as well, and he wanted to keep up. A whole episode played, and just as another one was starting Johnny could hear a vehicle pull up by the side of the house. His video paused by itself, and he heard the kitchen door open and saw the kitchen lights flash on to full brightness. His father ran into the family room.

 Johnny was not quite sure what his father did when he left the house, but usually he was neatly dressed.  Johnny could see his father's clothes were mussed as he entered the room. Something was wrong.

 His father gasped as he fell onto the sofa next to Johnny. It took a moment for him to collect his thoughts before he turned to Johnny and took the boy's hand.

 “I have some very bad news, John.” The man paused, trembling a little. “I just want you to understand that.”

 A coldness swept over Johnny. “Is Mommy OK?”

 His father had never cried around Johnny before, but now tears mixed with gasps for breath. “No....son. Mommy is not OK.”

 Johnny began to cry. He grabbed his father and clung to him.

 For several moments the two of them cried together, until slowly the boy loosened his grip just a little. “Wha...what happened?”

 It took a moment for his father to be able to speak. “Your mother was crossing a street...an autocar...I don't know what happened to it...but it hit her.”

 “That's impossible!” Johnny sat up straight. “Autocars can't hit people!”

 His father slowly shook his head. “Most times, no. Something went wrong with this one.”

 “No!” Johnny punched a cushion on the sofa. “Autocars can't hit people! Autocars can't hit Mommy!”

 “Johnny, we need to go soon, your sister is with Aunt Shannon, and we need to go over there.” His father shook back more tears. “But I want you to know your mother loved you very much. I want you to see something.”

 For a moment the video wall went blank, then a video came up, just in the middle portion of the wall. It was Johnny's father, a few years younger, holding a bundle of blankets with a tiny face poking out with tiny scrunched up eyes.

 “You know how Albert can record things for you?” Johnny nodded. “And that when you are older you can get implants, and they can record what you see and hear?” On the video Johnny's father stretched out his arms and handed the baby to the person recording.

 They sat and watched as the video looped to the beginning.

 His father continued. “This is the very first moment your mother saw you, as seen with her eyes.” He choked back tears. “This is the moment she met you, and she wanted to remember it forever. She saved this in her implants so that no matter how you grew and changed she would always remember this moment.”

 Johnny snuggled into the warmth of his father's chest.

 “Your mother shared that with me long ago,” his father wrapped an arm around Johnny's shoulders, “and she also shared this.”

 With a small flicker, the video changed and Johnny could see himself, but smaller. His mother's arms were reaching out to hang a pendant around the boy's neck. “Do you remember that day? Your first day of school?” Johnny nodded. “I bet you don't remember this, though.” He could see himself walking through the school door, turning back on the top stair. He saw his mother's hand blow him a kiss, and then the younger him smiling and running into the school building. For several moments the video remained fixed on the door, then faded out.

 “That was another video she shared with me. I'll save these videos to Albert if you like.” Johnny nodded.

 His father breathed deeply. “It's going to take time for us...to...” he could not finish that sentence just yet. “We have your mother's memories, though...her memories of us. We can see what she saved of us in her implants, the memories that were most important to her. Here's another one.”

 With another small flicker, a new video appeared on the wall. At first it was just the kitchen, but her vision tracked out the open window, and a breeze was stirring the lemon yellow curtains. Framed by the dancing curtains, Johnny and his father were in the back yard. In the video, Johnny had a puzzled look on his face as his father slid a bulky leather glove over his hand. Stepping back a little bit, his father gently tossed a white ball, which Johnny watched land between his feet. He looked up, even more puzzled.

 After a few words from his father, Johnny bent down and picked up the ball. Bending his arm back at the elbow like some ancient catapult, Johnny threw his body forward, pushing the ball out in an imitation of what he had seen his father do. The ball arced up and then plopped back down into the grass halfway between father and son. With a few gentle words, his father picked up the ball, and lightly tossed it toward Johnny.

 Reaching out his gloved hand, Johnny smacked the ball out of the air and it rolled away. The boy looked around, then ran after the ball to pick it up. Putting all his strength into it again, he flung the ball in the general direction of his father, who scooped it up with his own glove. Laughing and running back to his father, the younger Johnny waved his hands in the air, shouting to throw the ball again.

 For a long time the video recorded the backyard scene framed by the yellow curtains. The young boy, laughing and screaming with joy, slowly learned to catch the ball and throw it back.

 Johnny could picture his mother's warm brown eyes, and the way they twinkled when she laughed. He could imagine her standing in the kitchen, just watching out the window as he learned to catch the ball. His father had played catch with him many times since his mother recorded this scene of the two of them in her viscomm, but Johnny never knew his mother had watched them play in the yard.

 “I never knew about this one.” His father's voice brought Johnny back to the present. “I...never knew she had watched us playing in the yard that day...I thought she was busy in the house. She just watched us play for a long time, that's how much she loved both of us. She saved this memory of us because we were special to her. In her implants it was saved as a special file.”

 They sat quietly for a few moments, holding on to each other.

 “Let's get over to Aunt Shannon's. Others are on their way there now.”

 Outside the door sat the family autocar, a bubble shaped dome with a dark blue body. Doors opened as they approached, and it did not take long to get Johnny strapped into his seat. For just a moment Johnny's father had a faraway look in his eyes as he oncommed with the car and set the destination, then the doors closed and the vehicle rolled smoothly into the street.

 On the way to Aunt Shannon's father and son shared a few other video memories on the vidsceen in autocar. A short time later the autocar rolled quietly to a stop in front of a neat house with several well-tended flowerbeds in front. Father and son sat watching one last video for a moment before climbing out of the car.

 Several other vehicles were parked nearby. They walked up to the front door of the house, which opened as they approached. Inside they recognized family members and close friends immediately, standing or sitting around the living room.

 Aunt Shannon, slightly older than Johnny's father, had clearly been crying. She hugged both of them tightly, trying to speak, but not getting many words out. Shannon's wife, Nancy, came over and helped guide all of them into the room. Johnny's sister was sitting on the couch, and ran over as soon as she saw them enter. All they could do was hold each other for several minutes.

 “I've made some soup.” Nancy said. “If anybody wants some.”

 “I'm not ready to eat yet.” Johnny's father replied. “Kids?”

 Johnny and his sister both shook their heads.

 Aunt Shannon picked up a tablet. “It looks like more of her memories have been downloaded. They said it could take a while to save them all.”

 A relative that Johnny had only met once or twice before spoke. “Are all her memories intact?”

 “They don't know. There was a lot of damage, but they are saving everything they can.” Aunt Shannon set the tablet back down. “She had backed up some memories, but nobody backs up everything they have in their implants.”

 “She backed up this memory.” Said another relative, and the vidwall showed many of the same people in the room, jumping up at a surprise party.

 “She backs up birthdays, hers and everyone else's, as a matter of habit.” Johnny's father said. “She doesn't...didn't...like surprise parties as much as the rest of you.”

 “My sister never liked surprise parties.” Aunt Shannon nodded. “But she went along with them for family tradition.”

 “I guess even with all our implants you never really know a person.” Nancy said. “Not entirely.”

 “No.” Johnny's father responded. “We shared a lot of memories, even ones from before we met, but there are some I never knew she saved. One of Johnny and I playing catch, for example.”

 “I would not have guessed that.” Aunt Shannon shook her head. “She was never interested in sports.”

 “It was in the first set the hospital sent me.” Johnny's father said. “I would not have guessed it either, but she saved it as a special memory.”

 “Makes you wonder.” Aunt Shannon mused. “In the end all we are is our memories, and the memories other have of us. How did people survive before implants? Can you imagine that, not having the memories of your loved ones?”

 “It would be impossible.” Johnny's father said. “I can't even think about it right now.”

 Johnny smelled something familiar in the kitchen, and wandered that direction.

 Nancy was in the kitchen. Johnny liked her well enough, though he didn't know her well. She and Aunt Shannon had come by Johnny's house sometimes, and when they came over there was always a lot of loud chatter that he didn't understand.

Nancy looked up as he entered. “Getting hungry?” Johnny shook his head no. “Did you know that I knew your mother before Shannon? We were college roommates. Your mother introduced me to Shannon.” She paused, remembering. “Your mother and I were good friends from the start. We both loved cooking. Shannon does not cook, and it's really for the best that she not try. But your mother and I had lots of fun figuring out the things we could secretly cook in our dorm room.” She smiled with happy memories. “I'll share some of those video memories if your father says it's OK.”

 For a moment Nancy got a faraway look in her eyes, then turned to look at Johnny. “Sorry, was just commed into the oven. It will be another minute or so. Your mother and I shared most all our recipes. She taught me how to make Shannon's favorite dishes, even the curries. You know, it's not just videos that make a person real to us. It's important, of course, don't get me wrong. But many other things matter as well, the stories and poems we love, the facts that make it easier to navigate daily life, and in the case of your mother and I, our recipes. We had such fun making Shannon guess which one of us cooked each dish.”

 With a deliberate motion, Nancy slid her hand into a glove-shaped oven mitt covered with little flowers. She opened the oven door and pulled out a tray. “Your mother's recipe, made exactly the way she bakes them." After moving the cookies to a cooling rack she picked one up and held it out to Johnny. “I thought you might like a cookie.” Nancy said softly.