The visit was no more welcome for being unexpected. The day was calm, the pier populated by only a few residents, the sun-seekers still several weeks from their seasonal descent. The rock of the gentle harbor swell was soothing, and Murray was eight thousand lines into the code of a breakthrough new game, his mind and his fingers flowing smoothly, the Roboz whirring an accompaniment.
It was an adventure game, a new departure for him, and Murray whistled tunelessly through his teeth. The Mask of Bozzo. The graphics were spectacular, the action sequences out of this world. Whoever saw this game was going to want it, and want it bad.
The Riptide's sway turned choppy and eccentric, and before Murray could react, the lights overhead sputtered. "Oh, no, Roboz, no - " Murray started, just as, with a crackle of static, the monitor in front of him flickered and went out.
"!" Murray grabbed for the disk drive, but before he could open it the lights flashed back on. The disk drive whirred to life, and Murray nearly sobbed. "No no no," he chanted, flicking the disk out of the drive and starting his machine, heart racing.
Moments later, his worst fears were confirmed. The power surge had wiped his disk. Cursing, Murray hit the off button, berating himself over and over. He had a backup, but not of the two thousand lines he'd worked all night on. Not of the new graphics breakthrough he'd made. Murray lowered his head into his hands, ignoring Roboz's apologetic nudging. The little robot flashed up SORRY MURRAY, but the message was ignored.
Murray heard steps on the deck above but ignored them, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to visualize the elegant loop that had solved the question he'd been working on for over a month. The variables, the locii points, the input procedure call... he sucked in a long breath. He'd really hit his stride last night, and he just hoped he could recreate the code cold.
Smothering a yawn, he raised his head and reached for his floppy-disk tower.
" Murray!" Cody bounded into the cabin, a pleased grin lighting up his face. "Oh, when you didn't come up for breakfast we figured you were still asleep."
"Breakfast," Murray said vaguely, fingers rifling through the disk-edges until he came to the one he sought. "Is there something you need, Cody?" He pulled the disk free with a practiced swipe, and carefully slid it free of its paper cover.
"Yeah, Boz, you." Cody was still grinning like a Cheshire cat, and Murray gave him a brief frown as he removed the useless disk from the drive. "Your folks are here! Come on up!"
"My folks?" Both disks clattered to the desktop and Murray spun in his chair, looking at Cody in openmouthed consternation. "Wh-who?"
"Your mom and dad!" Cody clapped him on the shoulder like there was something to celebrate. "C'mon, Murr, forget about the computer and come on up!"
Murray could feel all the color draining from his face, but Cody had turned away and didn't seem to notice. "My... mom and dad," Murray faltered, trying to force cheerfulness in his voice. "How - uh - nice of them. What a shame they didn't think to call first."
"Well, it's no problem, anyhow, Murray. We've got nothing planned this week, no bookings, so you'll have plenty of time to show them the sights!" Cody headed out of the room, and Murray found himself on his feet and following with no very clear idea of how he got there.
" Murray! My son!" His mother's cry of welcome grated on his ears, but he managed to arrange his features into a smile in time. Reeling from the force of her embrace, he dimly noticed his father clad in loud check golfing pants and a virulent green shirt, seated complacently on the couch. "Oh, baby boy, it's been so long!" She stepped back, one skinny arm still around him, her short red curls bobbing on either side of her narrow face. "Mommy's missed you, you know."
"I - I missed you too." Murray smiled uncomfortably, and held a hand out to his father. "How are you, Dad?"
"Well, son, well." His father puffed his cheeks and leaned back, crossing his legs. "I was disappointed when you made that fuss at DynaGame, but life goes on, and I daresay you'll soon make good again, boy."
Murray paled, letting his outstretched hand fall. "They were ripping me off, Dad - " he started.
"It's great to meet you both," Cody interrupted, stepping forward and holding his own hand out to Murray's mother. "Mrs Bozinsky, Mr Bozinsky, we're Murray's business partners. I'm Cody Allen, and this is Nick Ryder."
"Yes, yes, you helped our son out of that nasty mess in the army. I appreciated that very much." Mr Bozinsky got to his feet, stepping between Cody and his wife and taking Cody's hand. "Call me George."
Introductions were performed and Murray breathed more easily as his mother let go of him. But a moment later his relief disappeared in wave of embarrassment as she leaned close, sniffing audibly. " Murray!" she said in a penetrating whisper. "Are you showering regularly?"
Murray felt embarrassment heating his face. "Mom, I've been working all night - " he blurted out.
"Let me get you all some coffee." Cody, looking distinctly uncomfortable, moved from where he'd been standing too close to Nick and headed for the coffee pot. Nick, with a look of relief, bounded below.
"All night? Come now, son, you need to manage your time better than that. I daresay these boys weren't up all night, now were you?" George Bozinsky turned to Cody, and Murray felt a wave of sympathy as Cody flushed too.
"Uh - no," Cody said, bringing the coffee to the table. "But then, Nick and I don't do computer work. Right, Nick?"
"Right, pal." Nick appeared from the galley carrying cream and sugar, and set them on the table beside the coffee pot. " Murray's the technology whiz around here. Me and Cody are just the sidekicks."
Murray fashioned a jovial smile at the exchange, trying to ignore the long and involved story his father launched into about a man who'd worked all night for a week, only to find a competitor doing the same job, better, in half the time. "Forethought and planning," George expounded comfortably, leaning back and resting his coffee on his knee. "Isn't that right, Susan?"
"An ounce of planning saves a ton of work," she rejoined, and laughed. "That's what we always taught you, son, isn't it?"
"You sure did, Mom." Murray could feel his ears burning, and shot a glance at his partners. Cody was perched on the edge of the bench seat, arms folded across his chest, with a worried eye on Murray. Murray swallowed hard and gave him a little smile, which Cody returned, but he didn't relax his posture. Nick was standing next to Cody, knee against his, wearing a puzzled expression that didn't change as Murray tried to smile at him.
No-bullshit Nick. Murray couldn't decide whether to be pleased or worried at Nick's refusal to pretend everything was okay. He couldn't imagine how the five of them were going to make conversation for the rest of the visit, and couldn't think of a way to get rid of his family.
Murray's mother poked into every corner of the Riptide, raising a pointed eyebrow at Nick and Cody's shared cabin and giving Murray a long lecture on tidiness when she saw his stateroom. "It's no wonder you don't have a nice girlfriend," she scolded him, shooing him up the stairs to the salon. "No-one worth her salt would want a man who can't even make his bed and put away his underwear."
Murray turned scarlet, and didn't blame Cody when he found urgent business in the wheelhouse. The visit was going even worse than he expected. Nick, giving him a supportive half-smile, came to sit next to him on the bench seat, but that almost made Murray feel worse.
"We met Melba a couple of months ago," Nick put in, when Susan had sat down. "She's doing real well on her thesis. You must be proud of her."
Murray raised a hand belatedly, but his parents didn't notice. "Proud," George snorted. "A few years ago we were proud of both our kids, I don't mind telling you. But now - Murray's out here frittering his life away, and Melba's gallivanting about the world instead of settling down and getting on with her life."
"Now, now, Melba's a good girl," Susan interjected. "She's just got a little wild since she's been at college. Although I don't mind saying, I think she's in with a bad crowd right now. Drugs and - and orgies and I don't know what else!"
"Orgies?" Nick said faintly. "Look, I don't think Melba's that kind of girl - "
"Appearances can be deceiving," Susan Bozinsky said darkly, and Nick rushed to his feet.
"Hey, I hear Cody calling me. Sorry - " With an apologetic glance at Murray, Nick sketched a wave and hurried up the steps.
Murray swallowed hard. It was better this way. He could block out the awfulness of it all better if there were no witnesses. And anyway, there were ways to manage the situation.
"Hey, Mom," he said, pasting on his biggest smile. "How about I get you a drink? I've got all the ingredients for a mint julep down in the galley."
Three hours later, Murray finally ushered his parents off the boat. His mother petted his arm and called him her Precious, and George, a little red-faced himself, grabbed her arm as she wavered. "Mother's having one of her turns," he said impatiently, and Murray nodded obediently. He'd been counting on it.
He promised to take his parents to lunch the following day, and saw them thankfully into a cab. Feeling drained, he turned back to the boat and slowly negotiated the rail.
"Have they gone?" The rear hatch squeaked softly open, and Nick's head popped out.
Murray grinned despite himself. "Yes, at last. Listen, Nick, I'm really sorry - "
"Don't be silly, Boz." Cody pushed past Nick, long legs unfolding him out of the hatch. "We're sorry for leaving you there alone. But it honestly didn't seem like we were helping any - "
"And if I'd stayed, I'd'a had to've shot someone," Nick interrupted, coming out too. "C'mon, man. We were thinking maybe we'd take the boat out to Fisherman's Island and make sure we don't have any more unexpected visitors today. Would you like that?"
Murray's eyes lit up. "Guys," he said solemnly. "That would be boss."
The peace of the shallow waters off Fisherman's Island was soothing. Close to shore, the Riptide lay at anchor, gently listing against the incoming tide. Murray stayed on deck for a while, half-listening to the gentle give-and-take between his partners, non-existent girls and long forgotten ball games. It was so familiar, so comforting, that Murray found himself distancing the afternoon's visit, the cushion of his new life pushing away the hard truths he'd tried so hard to forget.
As the sun set, he slipped back down to his cabin and switched his computers to the battery banks, wishing that was how he'd powered them the previous night. A cup of Nick's coffee with three sugars ought to provide enough impetus, he hoped, to recreate the work he'd lost.
The dinner Cody brought him was steak, so half Murray's brain realized that the lines they'd all thrown out hadn't yielded any fish. He ought to have been disappointed, but the code was flowing under his fingers, elegant, streamlined, and his heart had forgotten how to do anything but sing. He could see the program taking shape before him, dancing in the twilight, just beyond his reach, and was hardly aware of Cody backing slowly out of the door, or the soft click as the latch closed.
Murray awoke, bleary-eyed, with his head on the keyboard and his glasses askew. He struggled upright, aware of the steady throb of the Riptide's engines at his back, the quick light footsteps of his partners from above.
He rubbed his eyes and sat up, wondering where they were going, and whether he could help, and then his eye was caught by the final line of code of the screen in front of him.
Leaning forward, lower lip caught between his teeth, Murray scanned the monitor hastily, his heart swelling in his chest. Somehow he'd done it, exhausted as he was. With fingers that trembled, he took hold of the keyboard and carefully typed: RUN.
The screen was blank for a second, and then, dancing in green and black, came a line of masked armed bandits. They fell into nothing and from their passing rose the words The Mask of Bozzo.
Murray watched in delight as the graphics he'd imagined brought the screen to life. The game responded exactly as he'd planned, the graphics as vibrant and alive as he'd dreamed, and he sent Bozzo from adventure to adventure, pirate treasure to death-defying stunt, laughing aloud.
He didn't notice the engines throttling back. In fact, it took Nick holding a magazine in front of his eyes, blocking his view of the screen, before he realized his partners were there at all.
"Guys! Have you seen this? Come on, let me show you. It's so boss! I've used a multi-pixel manipulation algorithm that simulates a real-time missile launch and - "
"That's great, Murray." Nick lowered the magazine and took hold of Murray's shoulder, gently drawing him away from the screen.
" Murray, you didn't go to bed last night, did you?" Cody came up on Murray's other side and gently massaged the smaller man's neck.
"No, I was finishing the code and then there was the powercut." Murray rubbed his eyes. "Oh, Cody, that's good. Then we had dinner, and I guess I napped right here for a while. What time is it?"
Murray didn't see the worried glance his partners exchanged. He let his eyes sink closed, relaxing back into the chair as Cody kept on rubbing his neck. He could hear Nick moving around the room, and a few moments later, his arms were grasped and he was half lifted to his feet. "I'm kinda tired," Murray muttered, opening his eyes again.
"I'm not surprised." Nick steered him towards his bed, and Murray noticed it was freshly made up. "Boz, you haven't been to bed for two nights. Come on, sleep."
Murray didn't have to be told twice. He was asleep before Nick and Cody had got him between the clean sheets.
Murray woke to the noisy peace of the dock - seagulls scolding, the soft suck of the bilges, the chuckle and lap of the sea. By the light streaming in the skylight he judged it was the middle of the afternoon, and he lay still, bathed in happiness.
The Mask of Bozzo was a success. It would keep them in royalties for years, and more, Murray knew, it would keep him in speaking engagements for the rest of his professional career. Sometimes, he reflected, allowing himself a proud grin, it was good to be a geek.
He got up slowly and took his time putting his room to rights. He fixed himself a sandwich, wandering back every few minutes to touch the precious disks that held Mask, chatting companionably to Roboz. It had taken him only a few minutes to tell that he was the only one aboard - big though she was, the Riptide documented every movement, and even if Murray couldn't feel them himself, the Roboz's carefully calibrated sensors missed nothing. Nick and Cody weren't aboard, not even in their cabin or in the head, and Murray wondered idly where they were as he made his way to the shower.
There were no cases, and Mimi was in tip-top shape - as tip-top as the veteran aircraft could achieve, anyhow. Nick had spent the weeks since Melba left and, according to Cody, every dime they'd made since Christmas, overhauling her and the huge project had been completed barely a fortnight ago. Murray finished shaving, surmising his partners might have gone to the beach for a game of volleyball or maybe a surf. Maybe he'd walk down and join them.
He was halfway back across the salon when he saw a handbag lying in the corner of the benchseat. It was made of yellow braided raffia, and he froze in his tracks. His parents. His mother. How on earth could he have forgotten?
Hiccupping anxiously, he nearly ran back to his room. It was close to four, more than three hours after the time he'd been supposed to meet them at the Parklin Hotel. He scrambled awkwardly into a pair of tan slacks and dived headlong into his closet, rummaging until he found a shirt in a pale blue plaid. He held it up to the light for a minute, doubtful. Was it the one his mother had given to him for Christmas, that year?
He couldn't remember, but realized time to consider the issue was a luxury he didn't have. He donned it regardless, and ran, breathless, up the steps to the salon.
" Murray." His father's thickened tones met him and he blanched, freezing as the elder Bozinsky came ponderously down the wheelhouse steps, his mother at his heels.
The Riptide's lights flickered and died, and Murray watched in fascinated horror as his mother bumped the bank of switches on the wall as she passed, oblivious. His code had been lost not by a random powercut as he'd imagined, but by his own mother.
"H - hello," he stammered. "Dad, Mom… I'm really sorry about lunch. I didn't - "
"No, no. After your colleagues explained - well, Murray, we understand." His father held up a finger, and Murray stared at him in confusion. "We won't stay - your time's precious, after all - but we wanted to come and tell you we're proud of you."
"Precious!" his mother echoed, beaming, and hugged him hard.
Murray detangled himself with difficulty, and reached for the raffia purse he'd seen. "Your bag, Mom," he said faintly, and submitted to being kissed again. Three martinis and two glasses of wine, in his practiced opinion.
"Don't you let Melba take up your time with her harebrained schemes," his father admonished him, and held out a hand.
Murray shook it, wondering if he was dreaming. "I won't, Dad," he said faintly.
"Good boy, good boy." Murray submitted to his mother's goodbye kiss, and followed his parents up the wheelhouse steps. He found his partners standing at the bottom of the companionway, grinning as though they'd been up to something, and watched, his confusion only deepening, as his parents farewelled them and disappeared along the pier.
"Guys… what's going on?" Murray asked, as Nick and Cody swung aboard.
Cody waved after the retreating forms of the Bozinskys, and after a moment Murray did likewise. Nick slung an arm around him. "Well, your parents showed up for lunch, and when Cody and me said we weren't going to wake you, they barged downstairs."
Murray 's blood ran cold. It was exactly what he'd expect from his mother. But to his surprise, Cody gave a low chuckle.
"That new game you've been working on was playing on the screen when they went down. Something about an airplane and recovery and I don't know what else."
"The alpine rescue module." Murray nodded enthusiastically. "It's level nineteen and - "
"Boz." Cody grabbed his hands. "Your dad was about to start pushing buttons when Nick basically shoved him out of the room." His blue eyes brimmed with laughter. "Nick told him it was a top secret project for the army and that he didn't have security clearance. And then we took them out for lunch, and swore them to secrecy."
"You - " Speechless, Murray looked from Nick to Cody, not sure whether to laugh or cry. It was the neatest way of dispatching his family he could ever have imagined. "They really thought The Mask of Bozzo was a top secret army program?"
"Once I told 'em about your classified missions behind the Iron Curtain, they sure did," Nick said, struggling to keep a straight face.
"Behind the Iron Curtain! Oh, Nick, that's a good one!" Murray broke into laughter, grabbing at his friends' arms for support. "Guys, you're amazing!"
"We are at that," Cody said, grinning wide and satisfied beneath his mustache. "And next time your folks decide to pay you a visit, they're gonna make sure and call first."
"They are?" Murray's eyebrows shot up, and he stared from Cody to Nick in amazement.
"They sure are." Nick's lips twitched as he nearly lost the battle with his brimming laughter. "They were real worried when I explained about the real-time missile launch algorithm."
Murray dissolved in helpless laughter, and his partners followed suit, all three of them holding onto each other for support. The idea of his game closing the door on the subtle bullying he'd endured all his life was so overwhelming that Murray was almost scared to stop laughing, in case he cried.
He looked from one to the other of his partners, and his heart swelled. He had them to thank for getting rid of his biological family. Nick and Cody, his partners, his friends. His brothers. Murray sighed happily, and tightened his grip on their arms. They were all the family he'd ever need.
"Hey guys! Who wants to go a round of The Mask of Bozzo before supper?"