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Chapter 13


Chapter 13

"No, no, no! You're not listening to me," Tom said severely into the phone, feeling his raw emotions bleed into his voice. "I don't care what it does to your timetable; we are leaving tomorrow, and that's that!"

The voice on the other end, some minor functionary working for the BOP, continued droning as if he hadn't heard, and Tom just sat there, stupefied. He felt the urge to laugh at the sheer pointlessness of it all!

"Listen," he finally went on flatly. "Your superiors can choose to go ahead without us if they want, but they'll be doing without our neural data, our experience, or," he choked up briefly, "or our best surgeon. They'll be flailing around in the dark. Not to mention Dr. Shalmers will never let them hear the end of it legally. They either give us a few days to say goodbye to our friend, or they go it alone from here on out!" He ended the call viciously, resisting the urge to smack his phone onto the table.

Almost unwillingly, he glanced through the window into the MEG testing area. Vicky was out there, working with two of the new inmates.

No matter how raw he was feeling inside, for her it must be a thousand times worse! Yet somehow she had kept her work going steady. Anyone who knew her could see the sadness in her eyes, but she still gave just as much attention to her work, and to the inmates around her.

Maybe she was using it as a distraction, or it was her way of honoring Amir. Maybe it was even her code keeping her from expressing the grief and anger she had to be feeling in destructive ways, so she only had the constructive things she'd been doing so far.

Tom sighed and looked back at the travel itinerary. They would be landing in Israel tomorrow, and have a few days to sit shiva with Amir's family. Amir was in the ground already of course; his parents were pretty traditional and it was Jewish custom to bury the deceased within a day of death. Tom was still somewhat amazed that he and Vicky had been invited at all. Apparently despite their estrangement, Amir had kept his parents informed on what he was doing. Though the invitation had been signed only by his mother.

Irritably, Tom scratched at his chin. According to Orthodox Jewish beliefs, the friends and family of the deceased weren't allowed to shave for a full month. They were also supposed to show up without jewelry or leather shoes, so Vicky was leaving her already limited earring collection here.

He sighed. It was going to be a long week.


Ordinarily shiva was supposed to be held at Amir's house, but as he didn't have one in Tel Aviv, they went to his parents' place instead. Amir didn't talk much- or hadn't talked much- about his childhood home, but Vicky had picked up clues about how wealthy his family was.

It was clear upon arrival just how much she'd underestimated those clues. The Hoberman estate was massive and opulent, complete with an immaculately trimmed lawn, topiary trees throughout the yard, and a stereotypical gated wall on the outside. There was even private security in place. Through the dull ache inside, Vicky couldn't help but be impressed.

It was packed, too. When they were escorted inside, Vicky could see the entire floor was flooded with people of varying heights. All the men were wearing yarmulkes, and the hairstyles were definitely orthodox in fashion. Kids were present too, but very reserved. The background noise was subdued despite the large numbers.

Vicky was actually wearing a wig. Her real hair was growing out, but it certainly wasn't long enough to cover up the code yet. To avoid awkward questions, she had decided to get something at least reasonably realistic-looking before leaving Alabama. For a moment she'd been afraid the code would keep her from putting it on, but apparently her subconscious didn't view wigs as something 'wrong.' It was actually strange to not get curious looks from people around her for once. Well, other than the looks they got just for being obvious outsiders.

Her group was larger than expected, too. Devin Chen had asked to come along as well, to pay his respects. It seemed he'd been a closer friend to Amir than she had known, which was comforting actually. Vicky knew they'd gone to med school together, but apparently they'd collaborated on many papers and training courses. Devin certainly looked as broken up as she felt.

Amir's mother Dina spotted them immediately and gently pushed her way through the crowd. Vicky recognized her from a picture Amir had shown her once. It seemed Dina had aged quite gracefully since then.

"Welcome," she said steadily, but Vicky could see that the skin under her eyes was still swollen. She'd been crying recently. "I know Amir would be glad to see you all here."

"Thank you, Mrs. Hoberman," Tom said softly, after they had all been introduced. "I hope so too. I must say, we were surprised to get your invitation. I got the impression that we weren't that welcome in.. this part of his life."

Dina shook her head. "We may have disagreed with his decision to stay, but Amir kept in touch with us every week. He kept us informed of what he was doing, and he spoke highly of you. All three of you," she clarified, looking at Chen. "He seemed to think that you would make a good successor to his work, Devin. Whatever that would be- he said he couldn't explain it."

Devin looked away for a moment. "I hope so, ma'am," he put in, his voice cracking a bit. "I'll try to be."

Dina gestured to her left, and a tall, quite beautiful woman in her thirties joined them. "This is Ruth. She and Amir were childhood friends. She's been helping me remember some of the best times we had back in those days."

Vicky felt like she'd been kicked by a horse. Of course none of them knew about Amir's decision- he hadn't had the chance to tell them. Ruth still saw herself as as Amir's fiancée, and practically a daughter to his parents! There was no reason to tell them now, though. All it would do is cut them up even more. Still, it was a crappy burden to carry, especially here.

Ruth spoke with them softly for a few moments, before an older man Vicky also recognized came over. Tobias Hoberman shook their hands solemnly. "Thank you for coming to pay your respects," he said stiffly. Dina looked up at him sharply, and Vicky started to think that maybe they weren't both happy to see Amir's American friends here.

"We're so sorry for your loss, Mr. Hoberman," Tom said respectfully. "Amir meant a great deal to us, and I'm glad to see so many people here felt the same way. He would be happy to see us all together remembering his life so fondly."

"Would he, now?" Tobias asked coldly. "I think he would be distressed at seeing his family sitting shiva with his so-called friends. As I am."

"Tobias," his wife said warningly, but he ignored her.

"I was willing to let him go to school in America, as long as he came home afterwards!" He said heatedly, but thankfully still in a low tone. "It was you people who convinced him to stay out there; to forsake his family. If you hadn't manipulated him into staying, he would have come home years ago! He was my only son! If it weren't for you, he would still be-" he broke off, clearly upset, and looked away.

Now they were drawing attention from the others. "Ruth, would you take him out to the balcony, please?" Dina requested quietly. "I'll be right out."

Ruth nodded and drew the poor man, nearly in tears, out of the room. Vicky felt, if possible, even worse than before. Tobias was right. Amir's life would have been totally different if he'd come home right after med school. If she hadn't come to his door that rainy night, he might still be alive!

"Please excuse my husband," Dina said, clearly embarrassed. "He's taken this very hard, but that's no excuse for rudeness."

"Not at all," Vicky put in right away. "We're all hurting right now. I can't blame him for how he feels. I might have done the same in his place."

"If you want us to go, though-" Tom added, looking nervously around them.

"No," Dina said immediately. "No. Please, stay for the day at least. I want you to get to know some of the people Amir knew here. He would want that, I'm sure."

The ceremony, or rather just the day itself, proceeded more smoothly after that. Sitting shiva was a strange concept to Vicky, but she did her best to fit in, sharing memories of Amir from America with the others. The kids seemed especially interested, peppering the three of them with questions about Amir's life in college and after. Vicky let Tom and Devin handle the majority of them.

Tobias kept his distance from them, but he didn't leave. From time to time Vicky could see him across the room, giving her the stink-eye. Perhaps he knew how Amir had really felt, or it was just his previous dislike of them. It didn't matter either way. Amir was gone, and that was something they'd both have to get used to, she reflected bitterly.

She still couldn't believe it. Not really, deep inside. He'd been there for her for so long: a kind of support beam holding her life up. The part of the house that's essential, but barely noticed at all until it's gone.

Late in the day, Dina took them aside into some kind of anteroom. It might have been for exercise or public presentations before, but there were no chairs in there right now. "I'm glad the three of you are here," Dina said sincerely, "but it might be better if you don't come back after today. Tobias is a man of strong convictions, and he might do something regrettable if he sees you again."

"Yeah, we got that impression," Tom said wryly, and Vicky elbowed him.

"There's something else you needed to know, and it's somewhat awkward. It has to do with your work, whatever that is," Dina said hesitantly. "Are all three of you involved in it?"

Vicky nodded. "Devin only recently, but yes, it's all of us."

"Good." Dina hesitated. "Years ago, my husband and I set up a trust in Amir's name. It was his to use as soon as he got his MD. When he chose to stay overseas, we stipulated that the money could only be used to start his own practice. We wanted that to happen here of course, but as long as he was running his own practice, we were content." She paused. "Well, I had to convince Tobias to be content, but in the end we agreed with Amir."

"Now that he's.. gone, the money has no purpose," she said sadly. "Legally it became ours again, but I don't want it. I'm sure Tobias doesn't either. I think that Amir would want you to have it. For your mysterious project, whatever that is."

Vicky glanced at Tom for a second. He looked just as concerned. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Dina?" She had insisted they call her that in like, hour two of sitting shiva. "I mean, your husband doesn't exactly like us. Won't he object?"

Dina shook her head. "He doesn't even want to think about Amir's trust, much less talk about it. If I make it go away I can take that off his mind, and honor my son at the same time. Besides," she added in a wry tone, "Tobias' family is wealthy, but not as much as mine. I was the one who contributed most of that fund in the first place."

That made sense. Just like Amir's engagement to Ruth, his parents' marriage had probably been arranged as well. It partly explained how massively wealthy they were now. Vicky looked at Tom and Devin for a few moments, before nodding along with them. "Thank you, Dina," she said gratefully, turning back. "We'll put it to good use. We certainly need all the help we can get right now."

Tom gave her an annoyed look, probably upset that she'd given away too much information, but he gave a slight smile. "Thank you, really. We didn't come here expecting anything like that," he added hastily.

Dina gave a small smile. "Should I send it to your company, then? BPH Corrections? That way you could use it equally as needed."

Overcome by.. everything, Vicky moved forward and hugged her. Dina seemed startled at first, but then gripped her just as tightly. An orthodox, traditional Jewish mother being embraced by a farm-kid engineer from Minnesota. It did seem ridiculous, but Vicky didn't care. It seemed Amir's spirit of generosity and kindness was alive and well, here in this home.


Tom got the email while they were in the air back to the States. He was using his laptop and the plane's WiFi, so it came up immediately. "Whoa."

Vicky turned slightly to look at him. She was next to him in coach, and they'd already been in the air for a few hours, so she looked a bit uncomfortable. "What is it?"

"I just got an email from the bank we use for BPH. They want to confirm the transfer of funds from Dina to the company."

"Already? That's diligent of them," she said, apparently disinterested.

"Not really. They wanted confirmation because the amount is slightly.. larger than a usual company transfer of funds."

"How much larger?"

Tom turned the laptop to face her. Sighing, she leaned down and read through it from the top. Then her eyes widened. "Holy crap!"

"Yeah, I know," Tom agreed, still feeling stunned. "I knew they were loaded, but this is something else entirely."

The in-flight movie continued in the background, but Vicky's attention was clearly all on him and this email now. "What.. does this mean for us? For our project?" She put a hand on top of her head briefly, feeling through the wig to the edge of her code.

Tom smiled. She couldn't hit people, or lie to people unless she was sure they wouldn't believe it. She could swear though, he realized. For a moment he wondered what a code would allow him to do if he ever got one.

"I'm not sure," he admitted after a moment. "It opens up a lot of options, but we'll have to think carefully about which one to take, and when. We owe it to Amir, and to his mom, not to waste this chance they're giving us."


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