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(677 words)

The kettle began to scream on the stove, and Angela couldn’t have been more relieved. She took the kettle off the heat, its cry instantly calming an awkward silence. It’d only been ten minutes since her son had arrived, right at the time they’d agreed upon. But to Angela it felt so much longer.

He looked somewhat like himself. Same height, same build, same eye color and hair color. They’d even built the little dimple into his chin—that must be an indication of the excellent craftsmanship the commercials were always advertising.

They hadn’t hugged when he’d arrived. Angela’s hands had worried at the seam of her apron while his were stuffed deep into the pockets of his dark jeans.

Her son’s hands: now fabricated skin to feel human, their warmth generated not from the homeostasis of a body surviving but from the whirring of a machine. His hands were not the hands that had driven miniature backhoes through sandboxes, not the hands that hadn’t quite been able to make sense of piano keys but then had calloused from hours over guitar strings. They were not the hands that she’d held during the diagnosis and the treatment and the remission and the bad news that it was back and that it was much worse.

Angela had held her son’s hand when he’d told her he’d elected to be “relocated.” That he would have his consciousness (his mind, his essence, his self) placed into an artificial body.

She’d almost dropped his hand then, but she hadn’t. She’d managed not to let go, and now he was here. Or at least some semblance of him was here.

This synthetic person sat in her kitchen for the first time after months of therapy getting used to the new vessel he wore, and Angela had no idea how to be his mother.

“How do you take your tea—do you still drink tea?” she asked without looking up from the counter. She really meant can you drink anything at all but didn’t want to offend. She really meant where did the tea go and will the caffeine keep you up at night like it will me? Really meant do you need to eat at all and will the food mess up your stomach? Do you have a stomach? And if you do, should I buy you Gatorade or something completely different now? Will you still love my cooking? Will you still love me?

“Absolutely,” he said.

Angela pulled two mugs down from the cabinet, letting the wood laminate door slap loudly shut when she meant to ease it closed. She pulled two tea infusers from a drawer, the little cages and chains jingling as she did, and she tried to steady her shaking hands as she poured the water, not wanting it to slosh.

“Two sugars, please,” her son said from behind her, and she nearly dropped the kettle.

His voice wasn’t exactly the same, though she was sure only she could tell the difference. The tone was slightly different—higher maybe, or possibly just lacking a bit of depth. But maybe that was her own organic bias.

His voice was different (possibly), but she knew those words, had heard them a hundred times. How often had they sat in this kitchen, at this green vinyl covered table, with their hot drinks and talked about his music, about the books she’d been reading, about the world going to hell in a handbasket thanks to capitalism, about how they both ached deeply with missing his late father. And each time—each time!—two sugars, please.

Angela put two cubes in his cup, one in hers, and turned to her son.

“Here you are, Matthew,” she said, placing cup and saucer in front of him.

For the first time since he’d arrived, she met his eyes and didn’t immediately look away.

He smiled a familiar smile—how beautifully familiar.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.

And even though she hadn’t said it, they both knew she meant still, and that was okay.

Jordan Hirsch writes while occupying the ancestral and current homelands of the Dakota people, Mni Sota Makoce. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, The Future Fire, and other venues, and her debut poetry chapbook is out with Bottlecap Press. Find her writing on and her thoughts on Bluesky

Radon Journal Issue 6 cover art
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