Tanner is acting crazy again but this time he’s not getting a rise out of me. After flipping out about the garbage droid’s twenty percent drop in efficiency, the poor quality of the new designer goji/purana snacks and dust he’s found under the table, he tells me I’ve failed again at my partner duties. I apologize in calm measured tones. It’s the only way of dealing with him. Otherwise the tirades will continue. I’m so weary of it.

I serve him dinner from the replicator, an old recipe I got it on the mesh for something called beef stroganoff. In the original recipe they used actual meat. I can’t even imagine…

He picks, uninterested, and then I remember the report that came by holo-mail. Ariel, our miracle baby has tested off the charts.

After we tried every kind of enhancement to my reproductive organs, IVF, quantum egg augmentation, genetic amplification we gave up. Then she came as a surprise.

She sits in her little hover chair, whipping food overboard and she laughs when the cleaning bot captures a piece as it falls in a sweeping arc through the air. She is my life, my joy. Tanner seems oblivious. He has been ever since her birth and I’m fed up.

I’m in the middle of telling him about the happy results, not a trace of DNA anomalies, above genius bio brain scans, and he interrupts with a click on his iGlasses just to see the score of his favorite team on the smart screen that pops up in front of his handsome face. Am I boring him?

I pull my daughter out of her chair and we walk to the front porch and listen to the susurration of the waves. I don’t expect him to follow.

All I can do is speculate about his erratic behavior. It’s like he’s hyper-engaged with what’s important to him, but oblivious to everything else. Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a charming sociopath, someone who’s living solely in his own world for his own pleasure. Scary, but it always passes.

I know he loves it here at our oceanside cottage, but he loves the desert more. It’s where he grew up. Cactus and sand and vast expanses–that’s what soothes him. He still has family there; a sweet uncle, who we hang out with on the weekends. We go on the hyper-loop that takes our car the two hundred miles from ocean to desert in just five minutes. I don’t know why, but the high speed rattles me.

Within a few hours of our arrival, he calms down.

Jep, his uncle, always wants us to check in as soon as we arrive. He raised Tanner after his parents died in a maglev accident just before we met at Yale. I was in Women’s studies, eager to change the world and Tanner, well, he’s the brains. Advanced Robotics and Quantum Bioengineering double majors kept him busy, but he always had time for me.

He told me I was his light of a thousand stars, brought me flowers every Wednesday just because, and always let me win at backgammon. It was heaven–until it wasn’t.

We had four years of wedded bliss in our little cottage on the shore. Now, Ariel is two, and he’s having temper tantrums. Sometimes he cycles through emotions so fast it makes my head spin.

He’ll go from a moment of high praise, from “Darling, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.” to “If you don’t start putting more effort into your appearance, I’ll be forced to look elsewhere.” What? But a visit to the desert always brings him back. So I endure.

Yesterday he did the unthinkable. A swat across my face came with lightning speed. Poor little Ariel started crying and toddled over to my side hugging me so tight, I thought she would meld into me.

“Don’t ever question me again,” he said, when I asked him why he stays out late and where he goes all those nights.

Now I’ve had it.

So, I seek help from a shrink, one of the new AIs. Advanced psycho-algorithms get to the root of the problem faster than a human.

I lie on the couch and spew my complaints and in no time at all it says he is a classic narcissist. Gaslighting, stonewalling, triangulation, devaluation, blame shifting. I’m not buying. It’s much worse than that.

I think I need to confide in Jep. I’m at the end of my rope.

We go early in the morning after Tanner leaves. The hyper-loop is packed. We arrive and take a carbot to Jep’s house.

We’re at the gate. Ariel’s floating beside me in her hover walker, giggling madly. We’re recognized, and we go in.

What a place. I’m always amazed by it. Ceilings that don’t seem to end, an artificial sun and moon, and a weather system that nurtures the organics everywhere that in turn clean the air, making it look more like a lush Babylonia than an a desert home. Butler hovers down from his perch and greets us.

“Good morning, friends,” he says while scanning our retinas. Ariel reaches out for him, and he tickles her with a hand that has grown feathers.

“Is Jep in?” I ask.

“He’s very busy right now. Best to come back tomorrow,” he says.

Ariel hovers over to Butler and starts pressing spots on his arm.

I’m surprised to see him respond, and he says, “This way.”

I look at my baby girl with wide eyes and she smiles back at me. Must have been some fluke.

Ariel glides ahead of Butler and the doors to the lab open for her as if she’s a queen entering some grand hall. What I see makes me almost drop to the floor.

Tanner is strapped to a table, wires and tubes coming off him as if he’s phasing into a cephalopod. There is another empty table next to him. Jep looks up, pauses a second, blank stare directed at me. Then Ariel scoots over to me, points to Tanner and says, “Dada.”

A maelstrom of emotions is threatening tears, but I wait for the explanation and remain calm. Jep pushes his lips together in a “you got me” smile, walks over and tells me to sit down. He reaches for Ariel’s hand and she swats him away then gives me a reassuring look.

A chair grows up from the floor and I slump into it. I start to hyperventilate, Ariel notices and coos into my ear, “Mama, no worry.” This makes me worry even more.

Jep walks over to Tanner, presses some dials, checks some numbers and walks back to me. He sits down in another sprouted chair.

“OK, here’s the deal. Are you ready? Because it’s quite a lot to take in.” I look into those deep blue eyes that are exactly like Tanner’s.

“When Tanner’s family was in the maglev crash, no one survived.”

The statement is brutal. I’m dumfounded. He’s making no sense. Surely he misspoke.

“I was able to retrieve Tanner’s body before the authorities got to the scene. I had monitors on the whole family because, well, they’re all I had. Officially, he’s been a missing person for all these years, but with some help from my sponsors at Amazon Intergalactic, I was able to get funding, reconstructed him and gave him a new identity.” I put my hand over my mouth because I’m afraid I’m going to vomit.

“No, no, no, don’t worry,” Jep says. “He’s still your Tanner. I uploaded a copy of his consciousness the day he was born.”

By now my head is spinning and I’m feeling faint. What kind of mad scientist is this guy? Is he even telling me the truth? All my preconceived opinions of him have disappeared. I feel like fleeing, taking my child and never coming back.

Ariel kisses me on the cheek and zooms over to the control board.

“Why is he all tubed up? What are you doing to him?”

“I’m assuming you’ve seen some strange behavior manifesting lately, yes?”

“Lately? How about the last two years,” I say.

“Look, He’s a work in progress and the hyper-loop, it’s been a problem. It created an anomaly in his neural grid. I know he’s been erratic. You must have the patience of Jarbeth.”

“That’s what my shrink says!” I exclaim. Then I cover my mouth and take a sharp breath in as if I can suck the words right back into my mouth.

“Don’t worry, you did the right thing. I should have told you sooner, but I always thought each fix would be the one that would work.”

A violet beam shoots across Tanner’s body. Then a soft bell sounds. Then he wakes up. The apparatus attached to him withdraws, and he sits up and rubs his eyes.

“Did you tell her?” he asks Jep.

“Yup, everything…almost.”

Tanner nods.

“Darling, can you ever forgive me?” says Tanner, holding his arm out to me. I mull it over.

Ariel reaches her tiny arm to behind her left ear and Tanner says, “Wait, honey, not now.”  She ignores him, presses the back of her head, and laughs hysterically—that little baby laugh that’s so contagious—and beautiful little iridescent blue wings unfold from the top of her shoulders. I gasp and almost fall off the chair, which adjusts to my imbalance and catches me.

Tanner and Jep are all smiles as she pushes away from the guy I thought was my soul mate, grabs Butler’s feathery hand, and twirls around with him in the air in some sort of mad baby dance. Then she swoops up to an impossible height, zooms down, does a flip in midair, and plows into Tanner, pushing him back down on the table. She says, “Bad Dada,” echoing my thoughts.

I must be hallucinating or having a psychotic episode or…maybe this is real.

I faint.

My eyes open, slow as a turtle swimming through tar. I’m still sitting in the same chair, but my shoulders are killing me. I must have fallen. I feel different, but I don’t know how.

Ariel and Butler are flitting around the tables that now hold Jep and Tanner­­–strapped in and tubed up. Lights are flashing on the control board. Ariel spins dials and pulls levers.

Ariel punches one last button, flies over to my side, and kisses me on the cheek. She cuddles in close and the warmth of her little body relaxes me.

Jep and Tanner sputter when the tubes that have been in their throats retract.

The violet beam scans their bodies, then the soft bell sounds. Everything retracts and they sit up.

I feel the pressure of Ariel’s hand on the back of my head and enormous transparent blue wings sprout from my back. She pulls me up into the air and I’m amazed at how light they feel and how easy it is to maneuver. I feel giddy. I’m soaring with my baby girl and I’m surprised how well I’m adjusting to the high strangeness my life has become in a matter of hours.

Tanner and Jep just stare. I don’t know what Ariel has done to them, but I trust her.

We grab Butler’s hands, he opens the skylight and we fly off into the desert sky, the full moon alight on our faces, Antiliean Blue moths accompanying our spiral into the night.