Mia tracked her brother down to the garage, where he was sitting on the workbench and swinging his legs. She wasn’t surprised. The garage was hot and stuffy and smelled weird, but she found herself ending up there a lot, too.

“I’m bored,” she said. “What are you doing? Do you want to play hide and seek?”

Joe ignored her until she grabbed his foot and twisted it, when he said, “I don’t care, nothing, and no.”

“Come on, let’s play inventors.” She let go of his foot and swung herself up onto the bench beside him. “I’m the youngest ever science professor at — ” She paused and groped for something impressive. “Harvard,” she continued, since she’d heard it on a TV programme the previous night, “and you’re my assistant. The chief of our department has been kidnapped and it’s our mission to find clues. This is the secret project he was working on, and we have to find out what it is.”

Joe glanced at what she was holding and snorted. “It’s a flowerpot, genius. Case closed. Can I go now?” He looked away, but didn’t get down.

If Mia was honest, it did look like a flowerpot; a taller, thinner version of the pots their mother grew her herbs in. “Maybe,” she said. “But if it is, then it’s for growing… special things. Like space vegetables. That’d be cool, right?”

“Space vegetables?” Joe shook his head. “You’re such a baby, Mia.” He snatched the pot out of her hands and slammed it back onto the bench. It wobbled on the edge and she held her breath, but it didn’t fall.

“He’s not coming back,” Joe said, staring straight ahead. “Don’t you understand that? He hasn’t been kidnapped, or gone undercover, or flown to fucking Mars. He just left. He’s not an inventor, he never made anything useful at all. He’s just a sad loser, and he left us. Get it?”

Mia clamped her lips together so that they wouldn’t tremble. She picked up the pot again and cradled it to her chest. “You swore,” she said. “I’m going to tell.”

“Tell whoever you fucking like,” Joe said, “I don’t care.”

There was silence for a while. The broken cuckoo clock in the corner gave its customary springy groan.

“It’s not a flowerpot,” Mia said, hugging it. “It’s a teleport device. Or a time machine. It’s really clever, and it just makes itself look like a flowerpot so that it won’t get stolen. It’s a shape changing machine. And our Dad invented it. He used it to go exploring, to make sure it’s safe in… in outer space. And when he’s checked it all out, he’ll be back. He’ll come back for us.”

“Right,” Joe said. His voice sounded husky. “He’s out collecting space vegetables for us. Yeah. That’s cool. Next time somebody asks me why I haven’t got a dad, that’s what I’m going to tell them. That I have, but he’s just gone shopping in hyperspace.”

He swiped a hand furiously across his eyes and jumped down.

“But Joe, we — ”

“Shut up, Mia. Just shut up and leave me alone.”

When he was gone, Mia stayed on the bench, humming and swinging her legs the way Joe had done. She looked into the pot. A small leaf lay at the bottom, and she picked it up. It was bright blue, and felt furry to the touch. She hummed to it. After a while, it began humming back.

Mia tucked it into her pocket and slipped out of the garage.

Michelle Ann King was born in East London and now lives in Essex. She writes mainly speculative, horror and crime fiction. Her stories have appeared in various venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Penumbra eMag, Wily Writers Speculative Fiction and others. Links can be found at http://michelle-ann-king.blogspot.co.uk/p/stories.html.

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