"Well, actually your half-sister," Dragon continued calmly. "Her name is Selene."
Once again, I was completely taken aback. So many astonishing things were happening all at once: newly-discovered relations coming at me from every side and then some kind of delivery job on offer which I completely failed to comprehend. I felt completely overwhelmed.
Brandon clearly recognized my reactions and reached over the breakfast table to put his hand on mine reassuringly. "I know I'm dumping a lot on you all at once," he said soothingly, "But, trust me, it's better this way - to give you the whole picture as a sketch and then help you fill in the details. It'll take time, so bear with me, please."
"What happened between you and Mom?" I blurted, striking out for metaphorical solid ground.
"Oh, the usual," he replied, "Two people trying to get along with each other because they feel they must. Eventually it all reaches breaking-point. At least your mother had the good sense to dump me as soon as she was able to - she always was a strong-minded and self-determined individual. In any case, a lot of what you are is down to your Mom, not me. It was she who made the suggestions about your modifications, and it was she who raised you on her own - and a damn fine job she's made of it too."
He smiled proudly at me.
"All-in-all, a particularly well-balanced individual, I would say," he continued, leering appreciatively, "As well as an astonishingly sexy one."
I stuck out my tongue at him, and he blew me a kiss in response.
"As you know, I am still friends - and occasional sex partners - with your Mom, although I don't get to see her as often as I'd like," adding with a shrug of the shoulders, "So many other distractions and drains on my time."
I had recognized at the party that there was considerable warmth between Mom and Dragon, that they genuinely enjoyed each others company in public, and very probably less public ways, too.
"I wish it was the same with Selene's mother," Brandon continued sadly, "Marianne, her name was."
Dragon paused for a long moment, twirling his coffee cup and evidently caught up in some deep introspection.
"I met Marianne a long time after your Mom," he continued, shaking his head as if to dislodge a particularly painful memory, "We had a wild and deeply emotional relationship for several years. When it became clear that I might be allowed to father another child, I was natural that I asked Marianne to be the mother."
"How did you get permission to become a parent?" I asked, still fascinated with the whole process.
"Well, it’s a long and complex procedure," Dragon replied, "And takes a great deal of money. In another age, this process would have been called bribery, but I prefer to think of it as payments for services rendered."
"OK," I said, still puzzled, but decided I was not going to get much further on this right now.
"Anyway," Dragon continued, "When Marianne became pregnant with Selene, she had a huge change of heart for some reason. To this day, I don't know what caused it. Perhaps it was something from her own childhood that reared its head, some ingrained notion about the way in which children should be brought up, and perhaps some repressed fear of the Pervasive Automation."
I shook my head in wonderment. How could anyone be worried by the PA? It always did everything you expected, and usually before you had fully formed the thought in your head.
"Marianne got to be increasingly eccentric," Brandon explained, "Firstly, she insisted that we had a girl - fine by me, of course. Then she declined any non-essential genetic tinkering in the womb. Again, I wasn't too bothered about that - a Norm daughter - and a second child! - was more than I could have hoped for."
He paused, again sipping his cooling coffee.
"Finally, she upped and left for a commune before Selene was born, a religious enclave known as Eden, and I never saw her again. I've never seen my other daughter in the flesh - just a few pictures and letters - and I've never been allowed to visit."
"Why not?" I asked, astonished, "People can go anywhere they want, surely."
"Well, no," he replied, "Eden is a designated NNZ."
"What do you mean, an NNZ?" I asked, struggling with the unfamiliar terminology he was now using.
"A No Nanotechnology Zone," he replied then, seeing my confusion, expanded on his explanation.
"When the Pervasive Automation - back then called Nanotechnology - was invented, a great many people were nervous that it might somehow be dangerous. So, it was first introduced in strictly limited regions, and the geographical area in which the PA is allowed to work is firmly wired into its basic technology and simply can't be changed by self-modification."
"As the advantages became apparent, and most people were won over, these areas grew and spread and joined up. Even so, there remain to this day groups of people who are still suspicious or afraid of the automation, or maintain moral beliefs that declare the automation somehow unacceptable - 'evil', in the jargon. In these enclaves, there is simply no PA."
Dragon took a deep breath.
"So, since there's no automation, people can make up their own rules of behavior. They can hurt each other and, since there's no pervasive medicine, people really do die there."
I gasped in horror, my mouth open involuntarily in shock.
"Marianne moved there forty years ago," Dragon continued sadly, "She expired - from what was once bizarrely known as 'natural causes' - nearly a decade ago. Died from old age. Quite unnecessarily."
I was speechless, flabbergasted. The notion that someone - anyone - could die was incomprehensible.
"Selene managed to smuggle a message out," Brandon continued, "Perhaps the death of her mother brought things home to her. Now, she wants to get away from the commune."
"So what am I supposed to do?" I asked.
"Go in to Eden, as a visitor - to see your sister," he said bluntly, "Smuggle in some PA - I'll provide the goods, and the automation will be programmed to help you. And bring her out."
"Why don't you go yourself?" I demanded.
"I simply wouldn't be permitted to enter," he replied sadly, "I know, I've asked repeatedly, and they've always said no. I guess my commitment to our society - and my actions in bringing it about through my investments in Pervasive Automation - are too well-known to be acceptable."
"But they'll let me in?" I asked.
"You have a legitimate claim for entry - she is your sister, after all. And you were born into a world already saturated with automation - so they can't blame that on you."