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On Spec

Podcast: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

This story appears in my short story collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More and is licensed for downloading under a Creative Commons license. Download it here

This is part of the cycle of stories that started with Shadow of the Mothaship and continued in Home Again, Home Again.

I’ve written usuccessful fiction inspired by my activist past for years, but I think I’ve finally nailed it. I’m sure glad it’s found a home.

“Mama, I’m not a super-villain,” Hershie said for the millionth time. He chased the last of the gravy on his plate with a hunk of dark rye, skirting the shriveled derma left behind from his kishka. Ever since the bugouts had inducted Earth into their Galactic Federation, promising to end war, crime, and corruption, he’d found himself at loose ends. His adoptive Earth-mother, who’d named him Hershie Abromowicz, had talked him into meeting her at her favorite restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s Gaza Strip.

“Not a super-villain, he says. Listen to him: mister big-stuff. Well, smartypants, if you’re not a super-villain, what was that mess on the television last night then?”

A busboy refilled their water, and Hershie took a long sip, staring off into the middle distance. Lately, he’d taken to avoiding looking at his mother: her infra-red signature was like a landing-strip for a coronary, and she wouldn’t let him take her to one of the bugout clinics for nanosurgery.

Mrs. Abromowicz leaned across the table and whacked him upside the head with one hand, her big rings clicking against the temple of his half-rim specs. Had it been anyone else, he would have caught her hand mid-slap, or at least dodged in a superfast blur, quicker than any human eye. But his Mama had let him know what she thought of that sass before his third birthday. Raising super-infants requires strict, loving discipline. “Hey, wake up! Hey! I’m talking to you! What was that mess on television last night?”

“It was a demonstration, Mama. We were protesting. We want to dismantle the machines of war — it’s in the Torah, Mama. Isaiah: they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Tot would have approved.”

Mrs. Abromowicz sucked air between her teeth. “Your father never would have approved of that.”

That was the Action last night. It had been his idea, and he’d tossed it around with the Movement people who’d planned the demo: they’d gone to an army-surplus store and purchased hundreds of decommissioned rifles, their bores filled with lead, their firing pins defanged. He’d flown above and ahead of the demonstration, in his traditional tights and cape, dragging a cargo net full of rifles from his belt. He pulled them out one at a time, and bent them into balloon-animals — fanciful giraffes, wiener-dogs, bumble-bees, poodles — and passed them out the crowds lining Yonge Street. It had been a boffo smash hit. And it made great TV.

Hershie Abromowicz, Man from the Stars, took his mother’s hands between his own and looked into her eyes. “Mama, I’m a grown man. I have a job to do. It’s like . . . like a calling. The world’s still a big place, bugouts or no bugouts, and there’s lots of people here who are crazy, wicked, with their fingers on the triggers. I care about this planet, and I can’t sit by when it’s in danger.”

“But why all of a sudden do you have to be off with these meshuggenahs? How come you didn’t need to be with the crazy people until now?”

“Because there’s a chance now. The world is ready to rethink itself. Because –” The waiter saved him by appearing with the cheque. His mother started to open her purse, but he had his debitcard on the table faster than the eye could follow. “It’s on me, Ma.”

“Don’t be silly. I’ll pay.”

“I want to. Let me. A son should take his mother out to lunch once in a while.”

She smiled, for the first time that whole afternoon, and patted his cheek with one manicured hand. “You’re a good boy, Hershie, I know that. I only want that you should be happy, and have what’s best for you.”