The air in the small cabin was stiflingly hot, the single round window opening up to overcast skies seeded with storms. The old man on the narrow bunk smelled of sweat, even stripped to his shorts the metal walls hummed with heat. Air conditioning was a privilege, and he did not have many of those left.
Funny how things changed.
The roll of the waves was hardly noticeable, but the sound of the door was impossible to ignore thanks to years of salty air and lack of lubrication.
“Are you still awake?” asked the young girl that peeked inside, face peeling from her tan.
“There’s a storm coming. An afternoon nap is the furthest from my mind right now,” the old man replied, scooting to the edge of the bed. “I thought you weren’t supposed to come and visit anymore.”
“You’re my grandfather, and besides, I like your stories.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “Even if what they say is true,” she added with a frown.
“Isn’t that funny.” The old man shifted on the bunk, scratching his greying stubble. “They think they know the truth. Ignorant morons.”
“They say you caused the ground to quake? The cities to fall?”
“They are idiots, Pumpkin. That’s not how it happened.”
“But isn’t that why they keep you down here? Mom says you tried to destroy everything she had worked for.”
“Your mother is a very troubled woman. And you don’t want to hear this; they’ve locked me on this ship for a reason.”
“I want to know. They say that the coast used to be lined with cities, all steel and light until the ground rose up against them.”
“The ground rose up. That’s almost poetry. But alas, this has turned fairy tale on me, and not the ones with kind fairy godmothers.”
“I still want to know. And not the fairy tale, I’m too old for that now.”
“You are too old I suppose. But don’t expect any knights or dragons here.”
“I won’t.” She sat down on the bed, crossing her legs as she watched her grandfather sift words from the still air in the cabin.
“I used to work in the diet industry,” he started, chuckling wryly. “It seems funny now, but back in those days there would be so much to eat that some people just could not stop. As the bodies grew fatter, the ideals grew slimmer, until this was one of the most profitable places to market new drugs.”
“So mom was right, you did make drugs for fat people.”
“I’d like to think I gave people a helping hand losing weight, because they couldn’t do it on their own. Do a little good for humanity, get a bigger bonus. And I wasn’t alone in that, and with the latest metabolic boosters it was a race to hit the streets first with a patent, so instead of submitting it to full testing as a drug, we released it early as a dietary supplement. Far easier to get approved.”
“This was before I was born, right?”
“Yes, about a decade before the quake. Back when we were the ones that thought we knew something. But we didn’t. That there were side effects came as a no shock to us, but the nature of them was a different story. There were deaths, unfortunate ones, enough that it could bring the entire company down, except that in some the metabolic changes resulted in weird and wondrous transformations.”
“Transformations? Like mom? Like me?”
“Not at first. They were far weaker, but this had never happened before and suddenly we had a woman that could set things on fire with her mind on live television, and a man that could levitate like the magicians of Las Vegas. But for real. Even as they came to close us down and prosecute us, the grabbed everything they could about our research and went to work.”
“They? You didn’t help them?”
“I was in jail at the time, Pumpkin; they didn’t think they needed me. They had the active compound after all, and they purified and tweaked it until they had a drug strong enough to kill most men. But the few survivors were far more than they had been.”
“Like mom and me?”
“Still not quite. It was still in its raw form, far too volatile. I could have told them what would happen, but who would listen to an old man? Even when he knew what he was talking about? The drug was banned of course, declared illegal almost immediately. Too many dead for every glorious success. How could anybody even think of injecting something that had a roughly 95% chance of killing you or turning you into a cripple for life?”
“I don’t know, it sounds pretty stupid.”
“It does. I never expected that it would catch on so. But there were people there willing to pay for it. The dreamers and the desperate, the thrill-seekers, the greedy and the plain insane. The manufacture had to go underground of course; I think a lot of it moved to Mexico. Things were quiet for a little, and then I suppose the nature of humanity reared its ugly head once more. The part of us that wants to play God.”
“Nanny says that’s what we are doing, playing God. That one day he will reach down and punish us for what we have done. That is why the quake happened, to wipe the world clean of sin.”
“God? God is an outmoded authoritarian entity. There is no greater goodness out there that, as long as we follow the rules, will take care of us. How many prayed and died as the ground cracked around them? The only reason that we are alive is thanks to our own actions. No gods here. Just men. Religion is nothing but socialism for the soul, if one believes that either of those concepts exists. There is no God, just us.”
“Mom says this will be a grand new age of gods and monsters.”
“Not gods. Narcissistic men wanting to be more than human, the bank-robber’s mask turned into the villain’s horned helmet. If you can call down lightning it is not a big jump to calling you Lord of Thunder after all.”
“Are we monsters then?”
“Maybe, my dear. They would certainly call us that. And in your mom’s case they might be right.”
“Mom’s not a monster,” she protested, mouth turning thin and stubborn. “I love her.”
“Of course you do, Pumpkin, she’s your mom.” There was a sigh there, as he decided to compromise his principles one more time. “Come here and give me a hug. You’re right, Grampa knows bukpis about these things. Your mother would tell you that. And does so repeatedly I’ll bet.”
Sometimes even true stories needed a fairytale ending, and sometimes even monsters loved their daughters.