Rachel stepped off the transport shuttle at the stop at the end of her drive, grunting a weary pleasantry to the shuttle operator as she stumbled down the high steps. Her travel bag was grey with grit, wrinkled with the accumulated hours of time shoved into narrow baggage apertures, precious space.
She didn’t know if she had ever felt this tired before in her life.
The drive was long and dry and Rachel started to cough. A nervous affectation she was unable to control or fully explain. This was home. What was there to be nervous about?
Tired feet moved automatically towards the two storey dwelling, surrounded by drought adapted shrubs and an artificial lawn. The lawn had cost her more than the house but it had seemed worth it at the time – those optimistic days and months just after the birth of the twins.
Now, some nine years later, the sight of the unnaturally green and flat surface made her feel immeasurably sad. It was a signal of all that was wrong, all that had gone wrong, of the artificiality of hope.
First of all the father of her children had gone and been killed in a screwed up robbery at a time when he wasn’t even supposed to be in the town. Rachel knew it should have been her.
To support the payments on the lawn, and the house and food for the children and all the other little things that added up to a monthly fortune, Rachel had been forced back into the job that she had hated before she had hastened to settle down. The money was still good. But everything else had changed, the worlds had changed and she had changed more than even she had realised. Now the travelling was no longer exciting it was only drudgery. Now the thrill of the closure of a deal was just a dull thump in the otherwise dreary monotony of her day.
So coming home had been the only thing that made things worthwhile.
Until the last couple of times.
Rachel’s organisation was unforgiving and inflexible so she worked six months on, two weeks off. Two weeks was no longer enough for the children to be re-accustomed to her. It has been so much easier when they were younger, less aware of time, less fraught with expectations. But now? Last time she had been home she had seen resentment in their eyes and heard rebellion in their voices. By the end of the two weeks their expressions had softened slightly into politeness but she saw no love for her in them.
Her footsteps faltered as she neared the front door and she realised that she hadn’t even contacted the android parent to let it know that she was due back.
Why go? She stopped. Guilt mixing with rising hope. Why go home at all? She felt the ghost of a smile rise to her lips. It was wrong to think so, she knew she should think that it was wrong, but was it really.
The android was a better parent than she had ever been, even before Robbie’s death. It taught her children what they were expected to know and how they were expected to be. It was consistent, it never ran out of patience or challenged the orthodoxy they were growing up surrounded by.
Rachel’s views were old-fashioned, verging on the dangerous. She couldn’t help challenging the twins when she was home, suggesting that things were not always as they were told on the vids. They were better off without her around. Not that they listened to her anyway – she had seen them on that last visit, looking sideways to the android as Rachel had tried to talk to them about the unseen civil war that was being fought on the outer rim of the system, looking annoyed at her.
She sighed. She raised one foot on to the threshold of her immaculate lawn. And then she knelt suddenly, running her swollen fingers through the cold lifeless blades of grass, feeling the softness that was unnatural but so much more efficient.
Standing again, resolved now, she turned away from her home. Rachel headed for the main road, intent on hitching a ride to the nearest bar, her dry cough gone but her thirst increased by her decision.
Behind her a puppy she didn’t even know she owned growled unheeded.