Interesting tidbit: The first draft of this episode had a typo at the end, resulting in Theo’s heart-wrenching confession: “I’m blond, Mom.”
* * *
I’m surprisingly calm as I make my way downstairs. No rivulets of sweat trickling down my face, no heart hammering in my chest, no clammy palms tingling in anticipation. Just the sounds of the morning, the smell of incense wafting from Mom’s studio. It must be the lack of sleep—I’m simply too deprived of the energy needed to worry myself into a fit. Or maybe it’s the silent mantra I started repeating as soon as I left my room, the words of wisdom inspired by that dude in the secure proxy: My dick’s in my pants and not on the floor…my dick’s in my pants and not on the floor… It actually makes me feel better. (You should try it to see what I mean—well, if you’re a guy, that is.)
I pause at the entrance to my mom’s studio, peering inside. She’s doing acupuncture work on a pair of middle-aged men. When she sees me, she smiles and holds up her hand, gives me a done-in-five-minutes gesture.
I sit on the narrow guest sofa in the hall and wait, listening to her work. Every so often I hear a sizzling noise followed by a surprised gasp—followed by Mom’s patient reminder to “keep relaxed.”
Homeopathy is such a funny thing. People hate their doctors sticking needles in them, but they’ll pay good money for Mom to do the same thing—with flaming needles. It seems to work, though. Clients come from all over, sometimes scheduling appointments months in advance. Part of me (the dumb part, no doubt) wonders if maybe there’s some organic treatment, some special balm or tea that Mom can give me that’ll flush the nanobots right out of my eyes. You never know.
The five minutes pass quickly enough, at which point Mom steps out into the hall. She sits beside me, wraps me in her arms. She kisses the top of my head. “Good morning, hon.”
I clear my throat. “Good morning, Mom.”
She always asks me that, and I always tell her the same thing, even though it’s never true. “Yeah, I slept just fine.” For that lone hour or two. “How come you didn’t wake me at eight, like usual?”
“You’re twelve now. And a freshman in high school. You don’t need me hounding after you anymore.” She smiles. “Besides, it’s Saturday.”
I nod, staring at the floor and fidgeting.
“What’s wrong, hon?” she asks after a moment.
I say, “I got this, um, chat program for school. It was supposed to be for an assignment. I had to learn five things about my classmates, and they had to learn five things about me. But the program isn’t just for chatting. It lets you upload and download to and from other people’s homes.”
Mom nods as if she understands—but she doesn’t. I can tell. She thinks I’m talking about uploading and downloading files.
“I…I met someone,” I continue, still fidgeting, still staring at the floor. “His name’s Beta. He’s living on a laptop in my bedroom because his real body got deleted during a server crash. He gave me New Eyes to impress this girl, but I didn’t want to keep them because I knew I’d get in trouble, so I asked him for Old Eyes to restore my original sight, but the Old Eyes didn’t work right. Instead of getting rid of the nanobots from the New Eyes, they just clogged up my vitreous, and…” I trail off, realizing I’m probably not making any sense.
Mom’s still smiling, still mostly oblivious, though it looks like she might be starting to understand that something’s wrong. “Theo…I don’t understand. What are you telling me?”
I barely get the words out before the first tears start trickling down my cheek: “I’m blind, Mom.”