“There never used to be dragons in the valley. We all paid the price for those inflated egos didn’t we?”
Grandma was off on one of her tangents again.
“Those trillionaire playboys got to keep their country clubs while the rest of us paid the price! Now they’re doing it again. You’d think solving economic slavery would be worthwhile but no, ‘Donnie has a triceratops in his garden so I want one too!’ They’ll be coming after us again. You can mark my words.”
Mama denied that Grandma was on a decline or getting irrational but I spent more time with her and had some misgivings. In addition to her acrimonious soliloquies against the Point-Five-Percenters, I’d often catch her talking into her mirror or abruptly hiding benign objects in her underwear drawers when I walked into her room. She’d get paranoid if she perceived any of her belongings out of place.
I gave a weak smile to Lester and Jean. We all knew better than to engage with her during these rantings about the ultra-elites. The crew seemed to brush off these tirades easily but I figured they could get more work done if Grandma wasn’t perusing the morning news in their presence.
“How about we check out our garden?” I suggested.
Grandma's bony fingers slicked back a few of the thick grey hairs she refused to dye from the wrinkled face she refused to Derm-correct. A smile came over her face and she nodded slowly. She closed her ancient laptop and got up from the desk near the outdated spectrometer. Grabbing the cane she preferred to use instead of getting silicone joint replacement therapy that would have normalized her mobility, she used her other hand to wave to everyone in the stainless steel appointed basement.
“If you need me, I’ll be with my granddaughter in the gardens,” she proclaimed in a theatrical manner as she made her way out of the laboratory she’d designed so many years ago.
Grandma's lab seemed outdated by most standards, but it still produced breakthroughs that kept it competitive with the expansive facilities the ‘trillionaire playboys’ had at their disposal. I dared not tell Gram how aware I was of the modern technology they utilized or how persistently they were courting me. Grandma and Mama were expecting me to continue with the family legacy and I knew I probably would eventually. I just wanted to have some of my own experiences first and to me, that meant exploring all my options.
Mama and Grandma were scientists and therefore so was I. The others living in the house were scientists entrenched in the Old World as well. Dinnertime discussions were never about fun gossip or lighthearted news events, they were, too often, serious philosophical debates or analytical discourse.
We took the elevator up to the main floor of the home where we all lived. The rickety mechanics rumbled ever so slightly and moved upwards at an exasperatingly slow pace. Everything associated with Grandma and our family was a relic of the Old World past.
I felt the paranoia and the science wars should have also been ancient history. Science wasn't a competition, it should be a collaboration. If or when I had my way, it would be.
I felt increasingly stifled in this old-fashioned home inhabited by my family and the friends who had joined them during the Turmoils. Their generations had experienced numerous conflicts, economic uncertainty, and numerous areas of chaos. My generation was basking in the resolution to all of it. We lived in a time of plenty and on Titan it was a generally peaceful cohabitation. I couldn't help but feel that the people in this house never wanted to let go the aggressions of the time before.
I was the youngest person in this house by over 50 years but I was no longer a child. I wanted the independence that was owed to me as a newly established adult. I longed for the luxury and glamour that one could find on Titan.
I was desperate for some fun, perhaps a little dancing, and yes, I wanted to laugh about celebrity entertainment. I wanted to eat at exotic restaurants and fly to anti-gravity outposts. The few weekends I had spent on the New Planet made me resent the legacy I was expected to continue. I suspect my family knew that and made excuses as to why Mama was the one to travel back and forth on family business, instead of me, as I often argued.
As if reading my mind, Grandma said, “I know it must feel dull being in a place most people fled, but trust me, Lila, amazing things happen here and you’re a part of it.”
“It’s OK, Gram,” I lied. “The Old World was an interesting place.”
I spoke about it as if was in the past and not something I was living with on a daily basis. I knew my family would never leave this home, especially as long as Grandma was still around. The old girl still had quite a few decades ahead of her, of course, but I didn’t see why it would be cconsidered an act of defiance to live on Titan with the rest of humanity.
I smiled and resumed a more composed posture as I opened the elevator gate.
The Old World mansion was impressive by the standards of a bygone era. It was comfortable and aesthetically pleasing but it also had the underground lab and reinforced walls that could withstand any disaster, natural or man-made origin.
The original house had been expanded as more of the scientists chose to move in with us. The newer wings seamlessly resembled the first ones, with minimal technological updates and the signature mahogany accents that were prominent throughout. The dark hardwood, which was now considered extinct, was everywhere from the ceiling accent beams to the thick elaborate moldings to the polished wainscotting that matched the floors. The wide, gleaming planks creaked slightly as Grandma and I made our way down the hallway that brought all the different areas of the house together.
As in most of the common areas, the wallpaper above the lower wainscotting was almost completely obscured by an array of rectangular and square frames in various sizes, assembled with a precision that left no open gaps in the arrangement. Everyone in the house was represented here in the awards, certificates, and news articles that were proudly exhibited, including my own relatively low number of academic accomplishments. Regular family photographs were randomly hung among the countless markers of achievement, reinforcing the idea that research and engineering were ingrained in our ancestral heritage.
Near the courtyard was an enlarged news article describing the ‘great hoax’ Grandma was said to have perpetuated around the time of The Turmoils, an era that took place when I was a toddler and ended when most people fled to Titan. The photograph featured in the story from a now-defunct news site, showed Grandma standing with a blurry person purported to be "a reptilian being from another world".
The report’s author claimed to have discovered the alliance through extensive surveillance and surmised that Grandma's highly regarded patents had been obtained from alien technology instead of diligent research. This kind of sensationalist journalism had been at the forefront of dismissing her ideas. Although most of her patents were now obsolete, at the time she was considered a prodigy and it was hard for people to believe she had come up with her brilliant ideas on her own.
Conspiracy theories and outrageous statements heralded as truth without evidence were at the heart of the destructive forces that brought on that crazy period in our history. It was also around that time that Darvon industries had created their hybrid dragons, a disastrous hybrid species that created food shortages and infrastructure damages when they quickly overpopulated beyond the fantasy exhibitions Darvon had intended.
“No one listened to me,” said Grandma with indignant conviction as she saw me study the photograph. “I told them it would be a genetic abomination with an appetite for our most important crops. They’d rather believe a hack reporter than an actual scientist who specialized in gene manipulation.”
Grandma normally delighted in the notoriety the episode had brought her. Lately, however, she’d been becoming more bitter and regretful. “We all failed your generation, Lila,” she would say.
We made our way outside where Grandma inhaled deeply and remarked that Titan could never smell so sweet. Grandma seemed to have a knack for touching on ideas that were running through my mind. I briefly wondered if there were something to those conspiracy rumors of old.
Grandma seemed to have more stamina when she was outside. She relied less on her cane and we walked easily on the worn flat stones along the trails.
I began to feel less resentful of Gram and sympathized with her in the forest area where her reinvented ancient trees stood. Darvon and Turner-Ellison had gotten all the press, back in the day, with their sensationalized monster animals but Grandma had used gene manipulation to bring back something that was actually needed and she had been mostly ignored.
We walked along a path that took us through fields smattered with groups of wheat, corn, and soy. Grandmas manipulated crops had been designed to be unappealing to the dragons, some of which still roamed but were little more than an occasional nuisance now. She'd done many amazing things, of course, even if most of her ideas were obsolete now.
We ended our trek by stopping in her reflective garden. Mama used to say all of Grandma's ideas grew there. More than place of introspection, there were literally dozens of reflective panels that directed sunlight to neglected areas hidden beneath larger plants. The result was a lush alcove with multiple layers of flowers in every hue.
I told Grandma that I needed to return to the house for a few minutes. Grandma gave me a sly type of smile when she nodded in agreement. It made me more uncomfortable than I already was. I could swear that she possessed some level of precognitive abilities.
Inside, I rushed to my hologram communicator and turned it on in time to see Rollen Hygrath materialize in my bedroom. He was, as usual, impeccably dressed, and sporting a new hairstyle.
“Do you like the red highlights?” he asked with confident ease. “I call this look, Summer on Mars. What do you think?”
“Very becoming,” I laughed. “And very appropriate. Are you headed to the Red Planet next month?”
“I’m still mulling it over. It seems so elitist to play at the country clubs there.”
“You wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re elitist,” I said sarcastically. As the heir to the Tygron Corporation, Rollen was a well-established member of the Point-Five-Percenters.
I felt at ease with Rollen discussing mundane happenings in the regular world ( i.e. Titan). Of course, eventually, Rollen would get to the point of his meeting with me, but in the meantime, I enjoyed the minutiae of regular conversation with the ambassador to my future life. All I had to do to for this to happen was find out about something called SIIDE 1050.
Rollen had convinced me I wouldn't be divulging any family secrets. He wasn't looking for biological samples or secret formulas. He only wanted some insight into a term he'd come across.
“It’s got your Grandmother written all over it,” he said with a charming smile. “We just need a point of reference we can expand upon. Anything substantial that can be built upon. It’s in that haunted house of yours, Im sure of it. You just need to look in the right place.
If I could provide that, I was guaranteed a place on his board and all the privileges that would come with it.
Something I’d looked at recently jumped into my mind.
I got rid of my holographic guest and opened my computer whose screen appeared as a 3D projection taking the place of Rollen.
I searched for articles about Grandma’s great hoax. I remembered seeing something in that article that flashed in my mind. The author's name stuck with me but also something he’d written. He referred to the alien that Grandma supposedly interacted with as a ‘sentient intelligent interdimensional entity’. He used that exact sequence of words several times in the article. In follow-up stories, he’d separated inter-dimensional. In some, he used the acronym SIIDE.
Did Rollen’s family believe the hoax was real? My hopes for the future were fading. Of all of the trillionaires that had been trying to recruit me, Rollen had been the most natural and required the least of her. Being a conspiracy theorist changed everything.
Was it a conspiracy though?
I made my way back downstairs to get Gram in time for her late lunch. I was both dejected and curious. Rollen had really given me a new project and I wasn’t sure how it would go.
As I slowly approached Gram I heard her talking to herself again. It was one of those conversations that scarred me into thinking my Gram was losing it because it seemed very involved. It made me stop and consider what it would mean for the future.
But as I was waiting under the green canopy of large maples and oaks, I was sure that I heard another voice. It was quiet and garbled but very distinctive. Perhaps one of her friends had joined her. I felt better about the state of my Gram’s mental faculties.
The path I was on curved so that Gram’s bench was in view. I saw no one with her. Then I noticed that in one of the mirrors there was a reflection of someone else. I tried to keep myself concealed but I saw the face in the mirror as he said something I heard with clarity. It made my stomach lurch.
“She’s working on betraying you with those who will destroy everything.”
The lizard-like entity in the mirror looked directly at me. Then, Grandma turned her head to gaze in the same direction. The face in the mirror never took his long pupils off of me.
Then, Grandma did something unusual.