Twins Across Two Times
Anders Macbeth waited at what he presumed to be the analog of a café. The patio was ringed in verdant foliage of some unknown variety, and filled with people speaking in the strange accent typical of Rondella Duo. It was still English, old and proud, but it had a sick, throaty quality to it that Anders disliked. It sounded to him like a croaking of some cadre of amphibious creatures, and did nothing to aid his anxiety.
“Here you go, dolly-wa,” his waitress said in her strange tone, and dumped a wide cup of a mocha-brown liquid in front of Anders.
“Thank you.” Anders looked up with a smile. The waitress smiled back sweetly. At least that gesture never changes from world to world, or age to age, he thought. “You must forgive me, but do I pay you now, or at the end of our exchange?”
“Bully, you daft?” She closed an eye, but kept smiling. Her hair was arranged so that it made dozens of product-stiffened blonde points around the top of her skull. It seemed at odds with the simple beauty of her unadorned face.
“Also,” Anders went on. “Are galactic trade credits acceptable?”
“I gets it,” the waitress said, and pointed upward. “You’re from elsewhere.” Anders nodded. “Pay when you like. Have to ask the boss ‘bout credits.” She looked him over. “My, but you’re cute, dolly-wa.” She shook her head and ambled away. Anders let himself watch her body move under a loose robe that seemed to hug only her hips.
He took a sip of the drink and realized right away it was not coffee. It was cold and powerfully bitter, but before he could spit it back in the cup, the taste changed to sour, and finally sweet. He looked at the brown liquid again. He took another sip, and this time held it in his mouth. It became even sweeter.
“Interesting,” Anders said to himself, watching the sway of the waitress as she walked from table to table. “Must change taste as it gets warmer.”
“It’s actually a bitter starch reacting with your salivary amylase.” Anders looked up to see his twin sister Claribel standing behind him, just to his left. He put down his cup and stood up in a hurry. She drew him into a quick hug. She released and gave him a warm smile. “It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too,” Anders said. He looked over his sister. It was definitely Claribel. Her eyes were the same pure blue as his own, though they were now crowded by crow’s feet and fine lines. She wore the same smile as when they were children, but it was now framed by laugh lines pulling on skin that had grown slightly loose. Her hair, once striking blonde, now held little of its former gold, fading to grey. She still wore it long and loose about her shoulders, the vanity of her youth now a piece of pride in her old age.
“How long has it been?” She said, sitting down. She flagged over the waitress.
“Galactic standard years? Some fifty-five hundred,” Anders said. “Ship’s clock, about five ancestral years.”
Claribel nodded. “How old are you now?”
“We celebrated my twenty-ninth a few weeks ago,” Anders said. “You?”
“Sixty. I’ll be sixty-one in about a month.” The waitress came and put another mug of the brown liquid in front of Claribel, who smiled kindly at her.
“That’s almost as old as da’!” Anders said, then added with a smile, “Well, you don’t look it.”
“I see that you’re still a terrible liar,” Claribel said, and sipped her drink. “Half a percent loss of velocity makes a hell of a difference when approaching light speed, eh?”
“Yeah,” Anders said. “We’re working on another engine upgrade right now. Getting a few ticks closer to the limit.”
“I know, I’ll be overseeing some of the modifications.”
“What?” Anders said, gulping down the bitter drink before it could become sweet.
Claribel gave Anders a forced smile. “I’m coming back on board the ship-fleet.”
Anders leaned forward. “You are? That’s great news, but why?”
“Masahiko died about two years ago,” Claribel said. “I know our communications have been sparse…” She looked at her drink.
“I’m sorry,” Anders said. He reached a hand out and touched hers. The skin felt different than he remembered. “Masahiko was a good man, or I wouldn’t have let him take you away from us.”
“We are powerful, Anders. All the spacing clans are, but we cannot turn away the inevitability of death. I have accepted it. Now is the time to think of the future.”
Anders nodded. “Almost forty years with the Hosokawa clan… that’s more than you spent with us. You willing to just walk away? Leave all those connections behind?”
“The Hosokawa accepted me and respected me,” Claribel said. “But I have no children. I have lived as a Hosokawa, and contributed to their prosperity, in my own way. I could be very powerful among the fleet-ship, even without my husband, but ultimately, I will always be a Macbeth.”
“Well, it will be good to have you back,” Anders said, and raised a cup. “Shall we keep your birthday as the same day as mine, or move it backward?”
“I prefer chronological accuracy,” Claribel said, raising her own cup. “But of course, an old woman never cares to be reminded of her age in any event.”
“Good, I never liked sharing a birthday with you. You gathered far too much of father’s attention.”
“And you gathered too much of mother’s”
Claribel’s face went downcast. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Think nothing of it,” Anders said, and clanked his cup against his sister’s.
They both drank.