Before Isa was even born, Abram—like all fathers, probably—began often to wonder what he would be like when he grew up. His mind tended to gloss over the early developmental years of his son’s life, skipping infancy and toddler-hood and getting right into the formative years of childhood. Not that those years weren’t important. They just didn’t interest his imagination.
He knew that his baby boy would spend a lot of time in a nursery, that he would make strange sounds, that eventually his babbling would become attempts at sentences, that he would teeter around on unsteady legs. He knew that his infant son would need attention and affection and all the things a baby needs. But his role in that time, he knew, was at a much lower level. Even then, his child yet unborn, Abram felt a visceral, biological imperative to care for and protect what he felt deeply to be a part of himself. Baby needs, baby needs.
But that’s just a baby. At a high level (he remembers these thoughts with some embarrassment), Abram sometimes regarded his own child as a lump of mewling flesh that ate, shit, cried, and did little else. This was an “it,” not a “he,” not Isa. He remembers resentment that on occasion overpowered his love even though his own essential need to care for his child would never wane.
When Isa began to talk, though, and learn to read and to interact with the world, what would he be like? This is what Abram wanted to know. Would his son be a smart child or a dim one, Abram wondered. Would he be kind? Cruel?
Abram—like most fathers, probably—came to find out.
* * * * *
On Isa’s 10th birthday, Abram moved his family to Thelas IX where he had found a job as a structural engineer for a budding Republic colony. When they arrived, the colony consisted of a single, small, domed city of two thousand citizens and rapidly growing. The colony was founded by a government agency—not a private interest or some Imperial religious cult—and was headed, in those early days, by an ordinary bureaucrat.
There wasn’t even a planetary Governor, let alone a half-human, ever-present, untouchable and unknowable Peer overseeing the colony’s progress. So the people of Thelas IX enjoyed a certain lack of oversight while remaining well provided for with all the amenities and civil order Republic citizens depended upon.
Life was simple on Thelas IX. It was the perfect place to raise a family.
As a pre-adolescent, Isa was every bit as wonderful a child as a mother and father could hope for. He was bright and adored by his teachers and classmates alike. He never shirked his chores or schoolwork. When Abram was promoted at his job, his bosses and their spouses all remarked at how well-behaved Isa was.
Isa was curious. He had a thirst for knowledge. This got him into trouble, but only once or twice.
When he became a teenager, Isa developed a challenging attitude toward authority that went beyond his usual curiosity. They were turbulent political times, and a number of the young people in the colony had similar experiences. The Republic had gone to war with the Conglomerated Free States, and the CFS waged a “hearts and minds” media campaign that appealed greatly to Republic youths who felt oppressed by the bureaucratic nature of their society.
Isa colored his hair black and changed the way he dressed. He got into numerous fights that he swore he didn’t start, although he managed to finish most of them. He was never in trouble with the law, but he questioned it outright, openly, and near continuously. Isa was not bound by mental moral or ethical constraints, and he had his whole life ahead of him. At times, Abram found himself living vicariously through his son…not enough that discipline became difficult, but just enough that discipline became upsetting for child and father alike..
Isa made friends easily and was popular with girls. He was a social animal.
So it was no great wonder when, after six years abroad earning his credentials in cognitive neuroscience, Isa returned to his home town on Thelas IX and ran for public office.
Shit, Abram thought. My son, a bureaucrat.
But Isa was not just another cog in the churning engine of government. He climbed the ranks quickly, before long becoming mayor of his home city, now with a population of two hundred thousand. As cities built under pressurized domes on planets with un-breathable atmospheres go, it was an impressive city indeed. He used his training as a scientist and his natural charisma to his full advantage. Isa exposed corrupt officials, built hospitals and schools and research facilities, and set policy that measurably improved the lives of the citizens he served. As much as one man can express pride in another without shaming either of them, Abram was proud of Isa.
Eventually, Isa ran for Governor. Victory was assured, and the celebration had already begun at his campaign offices. But it was too perfect. The invitation came.
With an excited look on his face, Isa pulled his father away from the group and into a private conference room.
“Dad! You’re not going to believe this!” Isa exclaimed as the conference room door slid shut.
“What am I not going to believe?” Abram said and smiled. He thought perhaps the race had already been called and Isa wanted his father to be the first person to know that he was the new planetary Governor.
But that couldn’t be it. Everyone knew Isa was set to win, and Isa was shifting from foot to foot and looking around as if wondering who else might be listening. He couldn’t stop grinning. He said, nearly whispered, “I got a message from the Reagent. Just now.” Another nervous glance at the door.
“What, early congratulations?”
“They want me to become a Peer!”
Abram was stunned. He didn’t know what to say. So he tried to say that, at least. “I—I…” he stammered.
Isa continued, “It’s not a sure thing until after the election results are official of course, but…wow, it’s like I’m dreaming. It’s—Dad? What’s wrong? Dad, sit down. Are you okay?”
Abram wasn’t okay. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He looked at his hands, and they were pale. He sank slowly, shakily into a meeting chair and took a glass of water Isa proffered. “I’m fine.” He wasn’t.
“Are you sure? You’re as white as the wall, Dad.”
Abram knew his son was about to realize his life’s ambition, and he knew he should be happy, but he wasn’t. So he did what most fathers do when they feel a way they know they shouldn’t. He lied. “I’m so happy for you.”
Isa wasn’t fooled. “No, don’t worry! I’m not going to lead an expedition. Not yet, anyway. The agency wants me to become Peer of Thelas IX. I love you and mom! I’m not going anywhere!”
Abram looked his child dead in the eye and sighed. “I guess this changes your acceptance speech.”
Two weeks later, Abram watched his son transform before his eyes. He had a front-row seat to Isa’s transformation from infant to boy to teenager to adult, but this was all those years and more compacted into a single instant. He watched as his boy (his child) was taken by the machines, unmade, and made new. Abram should have been happy, but he felt guilty instead—guilty for wanting his son for himself, even when he knew Isa could now benefit so many more lives than he would ever be able as a mere human.
And he knew without a shadow of a doubt that his son would survive him. Shouldn’t that be a relief to any parent? Some Peers are over fifty human lifetimes old; they’re practically immortal. Isa will get to see and make history time and again. He will be able to witness the advancement of science from a perspective few are able to attain.
But, now, Isa isn’t there anymore. Not for Abram. Sometimes he can barely stand it. He drinks. He sleeps as much as he can. He forgets to wash. The mewling lump that grew into a man and stood before him—walked beside him—has now metamorphosed into something entirely other.
Isa isn’t there. He’s not anywhere. Now he is a Peer. He is everywhere.