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First World Problems

Book Four

River is gone and Athens abandoned. With nowhere else to go, the Tartans evacuate both their citizens and the Hawaiian refugees to Galveston, the capital city of New Texas.

Story: SWS: World Of Ashes: Services


First Draft

It wasn’t something I noticed when she was born. In fact, I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t the one who noticed it at all. Instead, it was my wife who brought it to my attention; hesitant and curious, as if afraid to sound stupid for even asking.


“When does a baby usually turn over?” Maria asked in Spanish, her language of choice, when Luc slipped between the sheets. He jumped at her voice. It was so late, he’d expected her to be sleeping. With a new baby in the house, any amount of sleep was rare.

Luc chuckled and slipped his arms around his concerned wife. She was too cute for words.

“It’s only been a few months, love,” Luc said. “She’s well within the normal parameters. She’ll roll over when she’s ready.”

Maria turned over, and Luc could see her brown eyes gleam in the sliver of moonlight that cut through the crack in their curtains.

“Ana started rolling three months ago,” Maria said, her voice low, and maybe a little scared? “I didn’t think anything of it then; she’s been strong since she was born. But yesterday she started crawling, and I thought … well … isn’t that something that comes later?”

Luc stared at his wife for a long, blank moment. Riana started crawling? But he could have sworn it wasn’t even five months ago that they brought her home. Had he really missed so much of his little girl’s life?

“I know what you’re thinking,” Maria said, smoothing out the wrinkles on his forehead. “And you’re wrong. It’s only been four months. And barely that.” Pushing herself up, Maria hovered over him, and Luc turned onto his back to better meet her eyes. “Our daughter should not be crawling yet. I may not know much about babies, but even I know that.”

“Oh,” Luc said, still not processing exactly what Maria was saying. “Well … at least I’m not a complete failure of a father.”

Maria slapped his shoulder. “I’m being serious, Luc! There’s something wrong with our baby!”

“Because she’s crawling a little early?”

“And talking! And staring at things like she understands them! I swear there are times it looks like she can read.”

Now Luc was sitting up, his blood rushing in his veins as his scientific mind grasped hold of the bizarre but incredibly promising ramifications of what his wife was saying. “What do you mean read?”

“I mean read,” Maria repeated. She sounded almost frantic now. “She sits up with the books I read her—just normal things like Dr. Seuss or Corduroy—and then she … reads them.”

“She’s probably just looking at the pictures.”

“She makes noises! And turns the page! Luc, I’m not making this up. There’s really something strange.”

“Okay,” Luc said, taking his wife’s shoulders to calm her down. Maria sighed, almost whimpering, before sinking into Luc’s protective embrace. “Look, why don’t I take Saturday off? You can go out with your friends, and I’ll stay with Ana. If there’s something wrong—” Luc stopped her before Maria could protest “—if there’s a cause for concern, I’ll notate it, and we can contact a specialist. Okay?”

Maria looked reluctant, pursing her lips as she stared at her husband for a long moment before she finally nodded. “Okay.”


The results of my studies were so immediate and definitive I couldn’t believe I’d missed it for so long. Not only was the subject physically adept, she was also mentally advanced to an unprecedented degree. She was, in a word, superhuman.


“Mama,” the ten-month-old said, tugging on Maria’s skirt. “Mama, hungry.”

“Stop it!” Maria scolded, yanking the cloth from the child’s hands. Riana’s eyes went wide in surprise, and she tipped backward onto her diapered bottom. She didn’t cry, instead she glared and raised a finger.

“No, Mama!” Riana shook her finger at her frazzled mother. “Not nice!”

“Shut up!” Maria stepped back from the over-advanced infant. “You’re not supposed to talk yet, so just shut up!”

“Not nice!”

“Shut up!”

“All right, enough,” Luc said, stepping into the kitchen.

“Papa.” Riana toddled over to grasp her father’s pants. “Mama not nice.”

Luc rested his hand on Riana’s head, glaring at his wife. “So I saw.”

He knew that Maria wasn’t a huge fan of ‘normal children’ let alone unusual ones. It took almost ten years of marriage before Luc could get her to even consider the thought of having a child together. But while Luc could recognize the reasoning behind her fear, he could not understand it.

Aside from her slightly advanced development, Riana wasn’t any different from a regular child, she was simply special. Exceptional really. And seeing Maria try to stifle Riana’s exceptionality made Luc’s blood boil. What good did it do to yell at Riana for being exceptional? It’s not as if she could change what she was. And even if she could, Luc would be highly against it.

“Oh, don’t give me that look!” Maria threw her dishrag into the sink. “Day in and day out you leave and she stays saying Mama-this and Mama-that! You think I was prepared for this? I read the books, I know the development! This is unnatural!”

Riana whimpered and buried her face against Luc’s leg. She was usually strong against her mother’s tirades, never shying away from scolding the woman for being ‘not nice’. But like any child, Riana eventually buckled under the strain of her mother’s anger and would turn to Luc for comfort. He lifted the girl into his arms and she clung to his neck, nearly choking him. Luc loosened her grip and propped her on his hip.

“Fine,” Maria said before Luc could speak. “Fine.”

She stalked from the kitchen without looking their way. With a sigh, Luc stepped up to the sink and turned off the water.


Preliminary tests showed strong immune resistance against most generic pathogens, such as the common cold and influenza. Later tests, including the introduction of higher strains of diseases, proved to enhance the range of immune resistance to a degree that eliminated the need for pathogen-specific vaccinations.


“You can get out on your own,” Luc said, encouraging Riana to jump the two-foot distance between the van floor and the driveway. The girl pouted but dropped her arms from their beckoning position. She jumped, landing without the slightest stumble.

“How do you feel?”

Riana shrugged, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her hot pink jeans. Luc’s jaw clenched.

More and more often, Riana would respond to his probing questions with silence. He tried not to get angry, she was only fifteen months, but it made his studies more difficult than they needed to be. If she would just answer him the first time, he wouldn’t have to keep asking.

 “That’s not an answer, Riana.”

She shot him a glare that he easily matched. He’d long learned that the best way to handle his daughter’s stubbornness was to be twice as stubborn.

“Didn’t hurt,” Riana grudgingly said. “I landed on toes and rocked like Papa said.”

Luc beamed. “Good girl.” He ruffled his daughter’s hair before leading her toward the house with a gentle nudge. “Can you tell me what Mama made for dinner?”

Riana rolled her eyes but obliged with a deep breath through her nose. She blinked, startled, then drew another breath. Luc’s eyebrow rose, and he bit back the knee-jerk demand that she hurry up.

“Is it something new?”

She shook her head. “Mama not home.”

Luc blinked. “What do you mean Mama’s not home?”

Riana shrugged. “Not home. No food, no feet, no Mama.”

Luc pursed his lips. Maria’s car was still in the drive way, and so far as he remembered, she wasn’t planning a night out with friends. But it was a Saturday. Why shouldn’t she go out? And so what if her car was still there, she probably got a ride from Becca. Bertha. Hannah? He was pretty sure it ended in ‘ah’.

“Well, I guess it’s take out, then,” Luc said, striding toward the door. Riana ran to keep up. “You want Mexican or Chinese?”

Riana stuck out her tongue in disgust as she caught the screen door before it closed. “Mexica is hot.”

“Chinese it is.” Luc went to the kitchen to call Nana Cho’s and place the order. There was a yellow sticky-note on the phone.

Happy Anniversary.

Luc swore.

Maria never came home.


Naturally, workable samples were procured at the first opportunity. Such samples are invaluable to any microbiological investigation, but as the subject changed and adapted, more samples were required on a more routine basis.


Riana screamed. Her vocalization and breath-support were both impressive for a two-year-old, but her riotousness was unhelpful as the phlebotomist worked to draw her blood. Every time the needle came anywhere close to her, Riana’s screams and struggling intensified.

A vein pulsed in Luc's temple, sending a deep ache through his skull in time with his daughter's screeching. It was like this every time they needed to draw Riana’s blood or marrow, and he was well and truly sick of it.

Reaching out, Luc slapped his daughter's gaping mouth, and she went silent, stunned. He knew it didn't hurt her—Riana's pain tolerance and durability were as impressive as her rapid cognitive development—but the shock of the blow was enough to render her silent. She gaped at him, tears leaking from her wide brown eyes.

"That really wasn't necessary, sir," the attendant said, her brow drawn as she attached a new vacuum tube to the needle in Riana's arm. Luc ignored her. He didn’t need some upstart twenty-something telling him how to raise his daughter.

Riana whimpered, straining against the leather straps holding her to the chair; a precaution to stop her from hurting herself or others. Her eyes squeezed shut and more tears broke free. Luc sighed.

"Honestly, Riana, it doesn’t even hurt."

A sob broke through Riana's lips. She opened her clenched eyes just enough to glare daggers at her father.

"I hate you."

Luc heaved a long-suffering sigh. This was hardly the first time she'd overreacted about this, and he doubted it would be the last.

"Of course, you do," Luc said. The attendant replaced the full vacuum tube a second time. Riana clenched her eyes.


The Subject’s enzyme and stem cell samples have provided the means of a substantial and undeniable breakthrough in the mapping and manipulation of the human genome.


“Please, Luc,” Carson said, desperation dripping off his every word. “She’s dying.”

Luc passed a hand over his face, considering. The drug was far from ready; he’d only entered phase-1 of the human testing three weeks ago. But if the paperwork was in order, and if Carson signed the proper wavers, there was no reason not to add one more person to the list.

Besides, Eryn was already so bad off, the drug could hardly make her worse. And if she died, the data he pulled from her autopsy would be well worth the complication.

“All right,” Luc said. “Let’s try it.”


These findings will revolutionize the world.

Story: SWS: World Of Ashes: About
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